RoboCop

The ghost in the machine.

RobocopPhoto courtesy Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-MayerIf we must have a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 RoboCop—and it appears that we must—Brazilian director José Padilha has found a smart way to do one. First, hire actors who can enliven the proceedings beyond the call of genre. Then, dial down the bloody mayhem just a bit and expand the story’s original focus—on municipal and corporate corruption—to also take in the alarming contemporary phenomenon of militarized police forces. The philosophical themes that made Verhoeven’s film so unexpectedly touching—what is free will? what does it mean to be human?—naturally remain in place.

Casting Joel Kinnaman (of AMC’s The Killing) to succeed Peter Weller in the role of Detroit cop Alex Murphy was a wise call. Like Weller, Kinnaman has a quiet, graceful presence, and is capable of projecting internal concerns with a minimum of facial signaling. He’s just right as Murphy, a man who comes to have more on his mind—or what’s left of it—than he can easily express.

The story has been significantly revised, but the outline is familiar. Murphy’s pursuit of a drug and weapons kingpin named Vallon (Patrick Garrow) marks him for termination. Vallon assigns a team of dirty cops in his employ to take Murphy out. When a car bomb renders Murphy dead—well, mostly—his wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish, making the most of a stereotype role), and their son David (John Paul Ruttan), are of course traumatized. But Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), the head of an international robotics company called OmniCorp, welcomes the news.

OmniCorp manufactures crime-fighting robots; they’re already in use around the world, but their clomping menace is scary, and pantywaist politicians have banned them in the U.S. What’s required to win over the public, Sellars decides, is a human touch. When the surviving bits and pieces of bomb victim Murphy become available, Sellars assigns his top researcher, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), to install them in a new kind of robot—“a product with a conscience.” Norton is reluctant, but initially plays along. OmniCorp armorer Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) is disdainful of the Murphy project (he cues up the Wizard of Oz song “If I Only Had a Brain” during training sessions). But a right-wing cable ranter named Novak (Samuel L. Jackson in full feather) bellows approval from the sidelines.

Padilha (Elite Squad) is an urban-action specialist, and he’s right at home with the rainy nightscapes and shaky-cam shootouts on view here. But he also deploys the requisite sci-fi CGI for emotional effects. The lab scenes in which Murphy’s high-tech cyber-suit is pulled away to reveal what little is left of his body (he’s basically a head, a hand, and a pair of lungs) are eerily poignant. (“It’s not a suit,” Norton gently explains. “It’s you.”) And another scene, in which the doctor is treating a patient who has lost his hands, neatly thrums the story’s central chord: the patient, a classical guitarist, has been outfitted with electro-mechanical prosthetics; we see these new “hands” expertly negotiating a guitar fretboard, but when the patient becomes caught up in what he’s playing, the piece falls apart—music stirs emotion, and human emotion short-circuits the OmniCorp robotic system.

To overcome this problem, the post-human Murphy is medically drained of all residual feelings, turning him into little more than a passenger onboard a high-tech killing machine. Cutting a merciless swath through the local underworld, he becomes a hero to the crime-plagued populace. But within his metal exterior, a human heart (or maybe a soul?) still resides. This becomes a problem, and Sellars begins to wonder, “What’s better than a hero?” Answer: “A dead hero.”

The movie is a lot more fun than anyone might expect. (Keaton, especially, seems to be having a ball.) It’s a fresh take, fast, funny and touching. If it’s not a masterwork, at least it’s not just another robo-remake, either.

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  • Agammamon||

    So maybe its not Ro-bro-cop as expected?

  • ||

    So maybe its not Ro-bro-cop as expected?

    Two words; "Human. hand."

    I hope they made some money off this fluff piece. At best, it's (yet) another repackaging of the Ironman CGI, just like every sunglasses-automatics-and-bullet-time movie since 1999.

  • ||

    That is, I hope Reason made some money off this article. Couldn't care less about a bad remake.

  • ||

    Lame 80s fan is lame.

    Here let me remind you how bad the first one was:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnRks2KkJy4

  • Cytotoxic||

    Someone does not understand the point of CinemaSins.

  • ||

    I'll watch it, but it'll be tough. For me, the original RoboCop was the perfect movie.

    Nuk 'em. Heh.

  • Outlaw||

    Will RoboCop be shooting dogs and busting into people's houses, ruining their lives over owning marijuana plants?

    Will he take suspects to hospitals and force them to do colonoscopies on them?

    Will he shoot at an unarmed criminal, miss, hit innocent bystanders, and then get the DA to charge the criminal with attempted murder?

    If not, fuck this movie.

  • Loki||

    If not, fuck this movie.

    Yeah, I'm not sure I can suspend disbelief if it's not realistic enough.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I'd buy it for a dollar, but not fifteen.

  • ||

    Pirates bay awaits!!

  • Pro Libertate||

    I always liked Peter Weller, who has been in a few sci-fi classics and has--very unusually for an actor--become an academic in his later years. I remember the first time I saw him narrating a history documentary--"What, Buckaroo Banzai?" But he clearly loves history and is a good presenter of it.

  • ||

    become an academic

    ? Tell me more.

    He's a regular on Sons of Anarchy, as both an actor and a director.

  • Pro Libertate||

    No, he's still in the business, but he has a masters in classical art history and is getting a PhD. He seems at least as interested in the history as the art part of his discipline, hosting some documentary series (e.g., Engineering an Empire). Very unusual for Hollywood, which seems almost universally composed of people who dropped out of or never attended college.

  • GILMORE||

    He also plays saxamaphone and is hip with that beatnik jive.

    I honestly think he should have won the 'biggest balls in acting' Award for daring to do Naked Lunch. It actually *wasn't horrible* either. Cronenberg. No one would have signed off on that thing with anyone else.

  • Loki||

    When a car bomb renders Murphy dead—well, mostly

    There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do... Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Okay, so how long before they reboot The Princess Bride? Never is the wrong answer, just so everyone is clear.

  • Loki||

    Ugh, knowing Hollywood, they would probably have a CGI Fessik, the fight scene between Wesley and Enigo would be all slow movion Matrix-esque wire stunts, Princess Buttercup would be reimagined as a skin tight leather clad (NTTAWWT) waif-fu specialist, and Miracle Max would be played straight up by either Ian McKellen or the actor who played Dumbledore.

  • Loki||

    Oh, and I forgot the best/ worst part: The Pricess Bride, directed by Michael Bay.

  • Pro Libertate||

    With explosions. And cart chases.

  • ||

    Not enough potential for buildings, cars, guns, or explosions for Michael Bay.

    Probably Guillermo del Toro or Peter Jackson, maybe. I pray they manage to keep Tim Burton's meathooks off of it.

  • Brandybuck||

    Nope, they'll get JJ Abrams to do it.

  • Pro Libertate||

    "You kill my father. Prepare to. . .dance!"

  • The Last American Hero||

    The first Dumbledore or the second one? I think the first one is mostly dead.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Sadly. I always liked Richard Harris.

  • Paul.||

    Who didn't?

  • Agammamon||

    Two words. Two horrible, horrible word.

    Steam Punk

  • LibertarianX||

    Some movies should not be remade. This is one of those that should not. The original was so good and so unexpected, to copy it and "update" it is a mistake. It falls in with "True Grit" - another that should not have been remade.

  • Pro Libertate||

    White House. Tagline: In Casablanca, you come for the waters and stick your neck out for nobody.

  • ||

    Men In Black. The original Three Stooges version was superb. The remake with aliens and shit sucked donkey dicks. Will Smith is no Jerry Horwitz.

  • Paul.||

    It falls in with "True Grit" - another that should not have been remade.

    Apologies in advance, but I really enjoyed the Cohen bros. treatment of True Grit.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I thought it was decent, and a little closer to the book. But the original film was better.

  • Paul.||

    I argue that the original film was great because John Wayne was portrayed as a kind of anti-hero for the first (only?) time in his career which made the film notable. But I also admit it was a great film.

    I just have a thing for old-timey dialogue-- dialogue done well, and the Cohen bros. can do some old-timey dialogue.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I usually appreciate anything the Coens do. The only movie they've made that I can remember thoroughly disliking was that one with Tom Hanks as Col. Sanders.

  • GILMORE||

    huh? what?

    Even the hudsucker proxy had JJlee. Meow.

  • Paul.||

    Yes, the Tom Hanks was their worst/most disappointing.

  • GILMORE||

    oh...

    The Ladykillers

    There is a reason some things fall into a memory hole.

  • ||

    oh...

    The Ladykillers

    Which was also a remake.

    Shittiest film I saw that year, and it wasn't exactly a banner year for movies. And I was a bored 17 year old, so I actually saw a lot of movies then.

  • ||

    the Cohen bros. can do some old-timey dialogue.

    Everyone seems to want to talk about a perfect movie but just can't seem to talk about THE perfect movie.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYQNlJ5zrWA#t=128

  • Pro Libertate||

    What, Big Trouble in Little China?

  • Paul.||

    You'll get no argument from me.

  • Paul.||

    Miller's crossing was ok. Not particularly memorable to me.

  • ~Knarf Yenrab~||

    I argue that the original film was great because John Wayne was portrayed as a kind of anti-hero for the first (only?) time in his career which made the film notable.

    The Searchers. Ethan's aim for the entire movie was to find his niece and kill her since she had been defiled by the savages.

  • Cytotoxic||

    This is one of those that should not. The original was so good and so unexpected, to copy it and "update" it is a mistake.

    Absolutely.

    It falls in with "True Grit" - another that should not have been remade.

    Absolutely NOT. The remake was great and didn't have John Wayne ruining with his Shatner-level shit acting.

  • Paul.||

    What I find funny about Robocop, is that Detroit is arguably worse than what was portrayed in the original.

  • GILMORE||

    Because in the original Robocop, businesses still thrived by feeding on Detroit's dead carcass.

    Silly optimists!

    For the record, in my own personal 1980s memory, Robocop was one of the first films I recall where the "Dystopian Future Big Corporate Evil Business With The Shiny Office and Leering CEO and Puppet Government Cronies"-character was really given *full rein*. And its desire to take over Total Control of civilians though robot corporate police was really visionary. because we all know Procter & Gamble is much scarier than Bill DeBlasio.

    Big Evil Corporation has appeared in like, every single movie after that for about 30 years.

    In fact, "Evil Corporation" is probably more notable for films it *doesn't* appear in.

  • ||

    Yeah the idea that any mega corporation would do research and development and then manufacture robots and cyborgs in Detroit is pretty laughable.

    In fact it is pretty laughable that a manufacturing mega corporation would have its corporate offices in Detroit.

  • GILMORE||

    No, I think the (bitterly) laughable point is that the film-makers in the 1980s thought that the Big Mega Corporation was what was going to bring on the Dystopian future.

    Instead, the beneficent fist of progressive liberalism starved it to death, and the city rots away lacking any further source of life-blood.

  • GILMORE||

    "Then, dial down the bloody mayhem just a bit..."

    WHAT!@

    YOU'RE FIRED. GET ME THE OTHER GUY.

    La Muerte de Murphy is one of the most poetic film moments, *ever*

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2RQtq9avOw

  • R C Dean||

    shaky-cam shootouts

    That moves it down from "I'll look for it" to "If I run across it, maybe."

    I fucking hate shaky-cam.

  • Cytotoxic||

    This is gonna suck.

  • XM||

    I knew they were going to remake him into an Iron Man clone, meaning the director never appreciated the first film.

    The best thing about Robocop's design was that he was slow and methodical in his movement. Every loud THUMP in his footstep and the mechanical "wwhhiirrr" noise when he moved his limbs made him fee like a convincing cyborg. And Peter Weller actually wore the suit!

    We know superheros and such can fly and jump all over the place in films. But they stopped exploring the way it's done.

  • Sam Grove||

  • anilkerone||

    Yes this is right

    http://kerone.com/

  • Stephdumas||

    True Grit...now Robocop, which classic movie will get a remake? Dirty Harry, French Connection, Bullitt, the Seven-ups, Death Wish (who just got a Blu-Ray release for its 40th anniversairy btw http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/.....ray/42645/ )? ;-)

  • Archie Bunker||

    So, I'm guessing the satirical underpinnings of the original have been completely eschewed in favour of a more typical action tropes. The PG-13 rating got me a bit worried. Everything in the original was heightened: the gore, the violence, and the silliness in order to satirize the excess of the 80's. It seems what we have here is a typical cash-in remake that tries to do enough fan service to the old farts while still attracting families for weekend viewing. "I'll buy that for a dollar!"

  • cheap soccer jerseys||

    This is one of those that should not. The original was so good and so unexpected, to copy it and "update" it is a mistake. It falls in with "True Grit" - another that should not have been remade.

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