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"ROBOCOP (2014)"
(2014) (Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A critically injured cop is rebuilt as a part-man, part-robot police officer in the near future by a billion dollar robot technology corporation that's eyeing that prototype as a means of increasing their profits.
PLOT:
It's 2028 and OmniCorp is a multi-billion dollar corporation at the forefront of robot technology, especially as used by the military. But a law named after U.S. Senator Dreyfuss (ZACH GRENIER) prevents such drones from being used on the domestic front to battle crime, a point not lost on outspoken TV show host Pat Novak (SAMUEL L. JACKSON). To get around that restriction, OmniCorp's CEO, Raymond Sellars (MICHAEL KEATON), has tasked scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (GARY OLDMAN) to head the RoboCop program that will inject a debilitated human into a robot to create a super-enhanced crime fighting unit.

They get the chance to test that when Detroit cop Alex Murphy (JOEL KINNAMAN) is severely wounded by a car bomb planted by crooked cops on the payroll of crime boss Antoine Vallon (PATRICK GARROW). With Alex's life on the line, Norton convinces the man's wife, Clara (ABBIE CORNISH), to sign off on her husband's use in the program. With just his head, trachea, heart, lungs and one hand left, Alex is encased in an armored robot suit equipped with software that allows for scanning of criminals. But before he's put on the street, he's tested by military tactician Rick Mattox (JACKIE EARLE HALEY), all while the company's lawyer, Liz Kline (JENNIFER EHLE), and marketing director, Tom Pope (JAY BARUCHEL), try to figure out the legal and public relations waters they must navigate.

Months after the explosion, Alex is reintroduced to Clara and their young son, David (JOHN PAUL RUTTAN), as well as Alex's former cop partner, Jack Lewis (MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS), who's happy to see him back in action, as is police chief Karen Dean (MARIANNE JEAN-BAPTISTE). But Alex is a changed man, especially after Raymond orders Dennett and his assistant, Jae Kim (AIMEE GARCIA), to alter the half-man, half-robot's brain chemistry to temper as much human emotion as possible. But as RoboCop starts to clean up the streets of Detroit, there's no stopping his humanity that starts to reemerge.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Back in 1974, ABC debuted the TV series "The Six Million Dollar Man" about an astronaut, Steve Austin, who's severely injured flying an experimental aircraft. With his legs, right arm and left eye severely damaged, he's repaired (at the titular cost) and turned into the Bionic Man. Those of us who watched it religiously will never forget the opening narration each week that stated "We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better...stronger...faster." Part man, part robotics, and with superhuman powers, he then worked as a secret agent for a government agency for the next five seasons in pure good-guy, hero form.

Then, in 1987 director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner put something of a spin on that material with "Robocop." In that, Detroit is a near-future city on the verge of collapse and overrun by crime. When a good cop is gunned down and left for dead, he's used to create the part-man, mostly robotic title character whose programmed directives are to serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law.

But things don't go as planned for the city officials or the corporation behind the technology, resulting in the human in the machine starting to emerge. Oh, and lots of violence. Lots. In fact, the film originally received an X rating for that, but was edited down into its eventually R-rated form. I saw the film back then but haven't since, although I do remember a somewhat satirical tone permeating much of that mayhem.

Considering its age (27 years!), the advance of movie visual effects in the intervening trips around the sun, and the increased use of robotics, drones and such in both warfare and civilian matters, it's not surprising that we now have a remake (or "reboot" as the kids call them nowadays) of the film. Directed by Josť Padilha from an updated script by screenwriters Joshua Zetumer and Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner, the pic mostly follows the rough plot outline of the original.

Both feature Detroit cops (Peter Weller the first time around, with Joel Kinnaman taking over the part now) of the near future who end up mortally wounded while trying to uphold the law. A big bad corporation (lead by Ronny Cox in the original and Michael Keaton here) uses what's left of the cop to create a crime-fighting cyborg. But things, natch, don't go as planned and it turns out there's just as much or more human in the title character as there is a robot.

Much of the black comedy and satire of the original has been abandoned, although Samuel L. Jackson has an amusing, extended cameo bit as an outspoken, blow-hard TV talk show host who rails on about Congress being pro-crime since they don't support protecting American streets via robots that are already doing the same overseas in military zones.

There are certainly interesting thematic elements at play beyond that, including the current and growing use of robotic style prosthetics for the severely wounded; what it means to be human (mind vs. body); whether police officers (and soldiers) should put their lives on the line in protecting the freedoms of others; and the old cop movie stand-by, corruption in the police department.

The filmmakers don't ever delve too deeply into any of those matters, but all of the above is present to enough degrees to ensure that the overall project is more than just a glorified, shoot 'em up video game movie. Granted it's clearly also that, and fans of high-end tactical display games of such carnage will likely enjoy what's offered, even if they're just passive "participants" in this case.

Yes, truckloads of ammo are fired, plenty of people are shot and there's destruction aplenty. But the filmmakers opted to tone down the severity of that from the original to get a PG-13 rating (although the high death count and various ooey-gooey visuals might have some parents reconsidering).

The visual effects are mostly good (some larger robots don't quite blend in seamlessly), as are the performances, with Kinnaman managing to make us feel for his character (much like Weller similarly managed during his turn).

While it's nothing great (and certainly not original), this 2014 version of "Robocop" clearly wasn't needed, but it's better than I originally feared it would be. Take that for what it's worth, faint praise or relief. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 10, 2014 / Posted February 12, 2014


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