Robocop, the remake of the eponymous 1987 cult film starring Peter Weller, is a mostly plotless, if visually almost decent, snoozefest. Set in the near future of 2028, it presents us with a dystopian world in which highly efficient robots, all built by the same multinational, Omnicorp, are keeping the streets outside America safe, but the Dreyfus Act stops the company from putting robots on US soil where crime is rampant.
Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), a right-wing TV anchor, narrates the story’s framework through his show The Novak Element – an obvious and cheap shot at The Bill O’Reilly Factor on FOX News so much so it doesn’t deserve to be called satire. Novak constantly and openly manipulates the truth to fit his narrative but keeps failing and eventually simply descends into swearing.
Omnicorp is desperate to enter the lucrative market of America and put more merchandise on the street, but needs a product to sway the public’s opinion. Enter Detective Alex Murphy, who gets blown to pieces by Detroit’s most dangerous druglord. The head of Omnicorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and his PR manager (Jay Baruchel) talk wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) into letting them rebuild him as a robot with a human mind that the American people can rally behind.
Although Dr Norton (Gary Oldman) rewires Alex’s brain so the computer controls him and not the other way around, Alex – very predictably – almost immediately overrides the system and puts himself back in control. How he did it is a throwaway ‘I don’t have a clue’ line uttered by the doctor. Alex tracks down and kills his murderer within the space of five minutes (talk about “most dangerous druglord”) and then (in a twist so boring it’s hard not to fall asleep) realises that Sellars wasn’t the nice man he pretended to be.
That’s the entire film, right there, and it’s very hard to find any redeeming features. The plot is full of holes – Dr Norton and his assistant constantly talk about Alex’s heart rate, but when we see him without the suit it turns out he doesn’t actually have a heart anymore. The violence is bloodless and the effects look so much like a shoot-em-up computer game that you wish you had a controller to put some more action into those scenes.
It is actually sad to see Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson and Abbie Cornish waste their time trying to pull out something of a script that really has no depth. It’s not entirely clear why anyone thought Jay Baruchel was a good casting choice, but he also doesn’t get any decent lines or character depth to maybe show some potential. Michael Keaton does his best, but the moments when he could have shined as the villain are all compressed into his final scene and that’s a very short one. Joel Kinnaman’s flat performance as the titular Robocop is entirely forgettable, which is actually not even the script’s fault.
The problem with Robocop isn’t that it’s a remake. The problem with Robocop is that it is a really bad film. The prescience of the original is entirely lost, because it’s almost two decades later and neither writer David Self nor director José Padilha bothered to really update the themes to the current climate. You could easily blame this on the fact that the film was watered down to a PG13 / 12A. You shouldn’t, because a lack of blood isn’t the film’s problem. The lack of a villain and the lack of a plot are.
Robocop starts off slowly, and then doesn’t gain momentum for its entire two-hour run. Where the trailer promised quick cuts and action, the movie has neither. The CGI is mostly nice to look at (although you can clearly see in which shots they saved money) but making everything look shiny and new doesn’t qualify as good – remake or not. There is a hint of an interesting question early on when they show the effects of replacing Alex’s body with a robot: are we just the thoughts in our brain or is the perception of ourselves based on our bodies? Unfortunately, that question vanishes as quickly from the screen as does the will to live from Gary Oldman’s eyes.
Robocop could have been a poignant analysis of today’s technologies and its political and moral implications. It could have been a great psychological drama about human consciousness. It could have been a violent action film with a lot of bloodshed. Really, it could have been all those things at once, but it is none of them.
In short, Robocop is already the frontrunner for the most predictable, least original film of the decade. If it will be remembered at all, it’ll simply be for how abysmal it was. Save your money, save your time and go see Inside Llewyn Davis or The Wolf of Wall Street instead.