Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish
DIRECTOR JOSE PADILHA
REVIEW SHANNON HARVEY
It might be a largely faithful remake of Paul Verhoeven's cult 1987 sci-fi actioner, and it might even add a few clever elements not in the original, but this prettier yet emptier model was never going to be as good.
How could it? Verhoeven envisioned a violent dystopian future where the cold-hearted haves lived in gleaming glass towers while the scavenging have-nots raped and pillaged on the mean streets. It posed difficult moral and ethical questions about the future of law enforcement and the line between man and machine.
It was heady stuff for a cheeky, trashy sci-fi actioner, hence its enduring reputation. And to his credit, new director Jose Padilha poses those same tough questions here while updating the era of corporate greed in the 80s to the era of political corruption and media manipulation. But while it has its moments, Padilha's Robo-reboot is too clean, too shiny and too toned down to have much impact.
Like one of the film's smarter jokes, this RoboCop really is like the Tin Man - no heart. To that I'd add no muscle or balls, either.
In 2028, robots are used to keep law and order in all countries other than the US, which has outlawed such a practice, fearing the droids' lack of compassion. Omnicorp's evil chief executive Sellars (Michael Keaton) uses a smarmy Fox News- style talk-show host (Samuel L. Jackson) to sway US public opinion, to no avail.
Enter good cop Alex Murphy (Swedish newcomer Joel Kinnaman). When he almost exposes a drug dealer and the dirty cops covering for him, a revenge attack makes him the prime candidate for Sellar's new sales pitch to the public; a part-man, part-robot cop - RoboCop! - with both the muscle and the morals to sway America's "robo-phobia".
Alex's wife (Abbie Cornish) signs him away to Omnicorp and a kindly surgeon (Gary Oldman) goes to work reanimating his body. Cue the body horror that was such an integral part of the R-rated original, even if it is toned down to rated M here, replacing Murphy's legs, hips, left arm and much of his torso.
And that's where RoboCop 2.0 starts to short circuit, as the powers that be soon make him more Robo than Cop, disconnecting Murphy's conscience and memory in order for him to do their bidding. Murphy's manly fight back is handled in such a clunky, ham-fisted way, and the drug busts and shootouts play out - ironically - as programmed and robotic as the Tin Man himself.
The best part of Robocop - also ironically - is watching Omnicorp's evil team at work. Keaton channels Steve Jobs as a high-tech corporate thug. Jennifer Ehle is his ice-queen number two. Jay Baruchel has some good lines as his yuppie publicity guru and Jackie Earle Haley is neat as his Napoleon-complex-suffering soldier. I could have happily watched an entire movie of their conniving in the boardroom.
Still, while it's hard not to wonder how Darren Aronofsky's once- mooted RoboCop remake might have played out, this one is well made, well cast, smarter than expected and enjoyable enough. And as far as recent remakes of 80s actioners go, RoboCop gives Dredd and Total Recall the Robo-boot.