Released in 1987 and having spawned a television series and two sequels, RoboCop might not be a classic movie but it is one that’s fondly remembered. The remake takes the basic premise and does something somewhat new with it, but the remake winds up being a far duller experience than you’d expect. There’s little joy, little action, no subtlety, and almost nothing worth seeing, save for Samuel L. Jackson, whose few scenes lighten up an otherwise drab watch.
Set in the near future, RoboCop‘s basic premise revolves around a corporation attempting to deploy robots onto American streets instead of police officers. It’s worked in other countries, we’re told, but the American public doesn’t quite buy in. The robots can’t feel, they say, and that’s bad. An idea is hatched: Put a human inside a robotic suit, thus giving us the best of both worlds. Once that’s accepted, robots can be used to fight crime. For the first chunk of the film, the only villain is a low-level arms dealer who tries to kill our hero, a police officer named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman).
Of course, the murder fails, but Murphy is left with only his head, one arm, and his organs intact. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a robotic body built by Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman). He’s programmed to fight crime, but spends a good portion of the film riding around on his bat-cycle — I mean motorcycle. It obviously doesn’t look anything like Batman’s cycle because that character isn’t popular at all so why would anyone make something aesthetically similar?
Murphy eventually uncovers a more sinister plot involving people the movie hopes you don’t think are evil but you’ll be able to tell off the bat that they’re up to no good. Corruption in giant corporations? No, way! We also get not-too-subtle conversations about what it means to be human and a couple of action scenes — although nowhere near as many as you’d hope for or the trailer promises. If you were to count it out, I’d guess that Murphy spends more time riding that motorcycle than shooting bad guys.
The robotic suit has been given a different look, too. One of the characters suggests they should make it black to appeal to the American citizens, which I suppose somewhat addresses why it looks significantly like the bat-suit. Is the film using this to make a satirical point? No. It’s not smart enough for that. About the smartest it comes is when it says the phrase “it gives him the illusion of free will,” which is said in such a point-blank manner you have to wonder how much respect RoboCop‘s makers have for its audience.
There are only about two things that this film has in common with the original. The first is the general premise of a “robocop.” The second are hammered-in lines — “nods” — to the original. “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar,” one character declares as those who know the inspiration shake their heads in despair. The heart and soul that brought similar lines to life in the original have been replaced with a complete lack of passion here, making them fall flat like cheap fan service.
About the only joy to be gleaned from RoboCop comes from Samuel L. Jackson, here playing a television personality named Pat Novak, who gets to essentially provide a dump of exposition, but does it so well and so hilariously that it seems like it came from another movie. There are only about four of these scenes, but they serve as the sole worthwhile material to be mined from this almost two-hour long movie.
It didn’t need to be that long, either. There are so many scenes that could have been cut down or completely excised. There’s at least one go-nowhere scene near the end that makes the film seem as if it was chopped down by the studio late in production. Except that if that was the case, I’m sure at least a couple of those motorcycle scenes would have been removed. Or any mention of how .50 caliber bullets are supposed to be strong enough to kill our protagonist, because even when that’s explicitly mentioned, it doesn’t ever happen. Or some of the “emotional” scenes involving Murphy and his wife and son. These are two characters who didn’t even need to be in the movie. The film is too apathetic and mechanically created to work on any sort of emotionally level.
A strong cast has been assembled for RoboCop. It’s a shame that, besides Jackson, none of them make an impression. The lead is Joel Kinnamon, and if the hope is to turn him into a leading man that gets dashed within a few minutes of watching him on-screen. He’s not required to act much here, but even in the robot suit he seemed uncomfortable. Maybe it’s all the CGI. Names like Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, and Jay Baruchel show up but it’s hard to remember what most of them did except follow the formulaic plot; there’s so little character to speak of.
The 2014 incarnation of RoboCop is not the “death of RoboCop,” as we’ve already had RoboCop 2, RoboCop 3, and that television series everyone likes to forget, but it also doesn’t breathe new life into the franchise. This is an emotionally and intellectually repressed film, containing little humor, action, or characters. Apart from a few brief scenes starring Samuel L. Jackson, there is nothing to see, nothing to like, and nothing to remember.