MOVIE OF THE WEEK #1 (2/12/14): ROBOCOP
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
KEY CAST MEMBERS: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Jay Baruchel, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Garrow, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, John Paul Rutten, Aimee Garcia, Zach Greiner and Samuel L. Jackson
WRITER(S): Joshua Zetumer (2014 screenplay); Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner (1987 screenplay)
DIRECTOR(S): Jose Padilhá
WEB SITE: http://www.robocop.com/site/
60 SECOND PLOT SYNOPSIS (OR AS CLOSE TO IT AS ONE CAN TRY TO MAKE): A film that shares little in common with its 1987 predecessor other than its name and the name of its main character, the 2014 edition of Robocop stars Joel Kinnaman (AMC's The Killing, Safe House) as Alex J. Murphy. A dedicated Detroit police officer with his partner Jack Lewis (Michael Kenneth Williams), Murphy is working to track down Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), an illegal gun running kingpin who may or may not have some of the city's not-so-finest on his payroll.
Meanwhile, Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) – think Nancy Grace or Bill O'Reilly except in the form of Samuel L. Jackson with his trademark vocal flair – is busy extolling the work of Omnicorp, a security company run by CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton). Already running military security in the Middle East, Omnicorp is looking to make its presence felt in the biggest market that hasn't allowed its robot security forces to run things: America. Standing in Omnicorp's way is The Dreyfuss Act, named after Senator Hubert Dreyfuss (Zach Greiner) who is firm – as are most Americans it seems – in his stance that robots lack the human capacity needed to serve as protectors. Sellers realizes this is a problem, so he comes up with a solution: Give the public a hero they can believe it, part robot, part human ... Robocop. But he needs a prototype that can fit inside the prototype designed by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), despite the objections of Sellers' right hand robot man Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley).
Following an attempt on his life that leaves him severely injured, Murphy – or rather his loving wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) – gives Omnicorp the authority to save her husband's life and sign him up to be Robocop. But what happens when man becomes machine? Is there any humanity left inside? Is he the future of law enforcement? Is there more going on with his creation than meets the eye?
WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST?: People not married to the 1987 Paul Verhoeven original, people who never saw the 1987 original, people who recognize the acting talent Joel Kinnaman possesses, Gary Oldman fans, Abbie Cornish fans, Samuel L. Jackson fans
WHO WON'T – OR SHOULDN'T – LIKE THIS FILM?: People who don't like remakes that aren't necessarily necessary and/or don't enhance/improve the legacy of the original film, Jackie Earle Haley fans, fans of film with haphazard socio-political commentary, fans who desire the dark humor of the original and/or better villains
BOTTOM LINE – IS IT GOOD, GREAT, BAD OR DOWNRIGHT AWFUL? It's definitely not great ... But it's definitely not horrible. It's just ... All right. But is all right enough to make you want to spend your money to see a new vision of Robocop? The following might – and should – help you make up your mind.
WHAT'S GOOD (OR BAD) ABOUT IT?: A couple of things about the 2014 version of Robocop, a.k.a. the remake no one was really clamoring for. There are a LOT of differences between the new one and the old one. Be it the origin of Murphy's transformation from family man to half-man, half-machine, his partner, his captain, his family, the motivations behind the film's villain, the color of his suit and/or the villain(s), the only things that are essential the same are:  the name of the movie,  the fact the lead character is half-man, half machine and  the location where (most) of the action takes place and the name of the all-seeing Omnicorp company that makes him.
Besides everything else mentioned above, the 2014 film is different from its 80s counterpart in terms of tone, execution, attempts at social commentary and humor – or in the new film's case, the lack thereof. Now, is that a completely terrible thing if you are a fan of the original film? Not as much as you thing given the positives that do exist in the new film. For one, Kinnaman does a pretty commendable job as the new Alex Murphy, really bringing out the humanity aspect of his character so that you never lose track of the fact there is still a man under all the armor. He really is the best thing about the film, making his version of Robocop one worth rooting for be it blazing bullets or struggling to come to terms with his new existence.
Cornish likewise does a formidable job as his wife in making you feel all of her concerns without ever coming off like a wet blanket or caricature of the loving spouse thrust into a spectacularly trying and unordinary situation. Oldman in turn does a good job of walking a fine line between conflicted scientist and man playing god as Dr. Norton, essentially channeling the same energy and moral fine line he did in the Dark Knight trilogy for Christopher Nolan. All things considered, Jackson does his best to serve as our tour guide through the world of America in 2028 as a cable news channel talking pundit complete with his perfectly coiffured mane, car salesman huckster suits and a trademark Sam Jax profanity thrown in for good measure.
No, the problems arise when you step outside of those three characters. First, the new Robocop is devoid of just about any of the humor and 80s cultural commentary (the future is coming! crime is easily fixable! live in excess without worrying about the consequences/are you not entertained?!) that undercut the original film, offsetting its grisly violence which also brought you into the story. No, this new version is full of bland, over-the-top "how far are we willing to go for security?" overtones that are as heavy-handed as they are predictable and lacking punch, despite an opening in the Middle East that fails to execute whatever point its attempting to make/have its characters create to grab you.
While no one is going to criticize Michael Keaton given his strong acting track record in comedies and his occasional dramatic turns, he is out of place here as a CEO whose slick talking walks and casual office demeanor have more feel like his character from Mr. Mom got to run a Fortune 500 company. Jay Baruchel also feels out of place as part of the evil Omnicorp brain trust, which is rounded out by a performance Jackie Earle Haley is likely not going to speak of in interviews in the near future. While Patrick Garrow is at least believable as Antoine Vallon, Haley's performance is straight up Karate Kid-era Billy Zabka with a bit of Yosemite Sam cartoonish anger throw in haphazardly.
By the time the film winds down into its final showdown, the feeling isn't so much of one of anticipation or excitement as much as it is an expected gun battle where you don't so much want Murphy to win as much as you simply want Omnicorp to just go away. A compelling hero deserves an equally compelling story driven by a just-as-if -not-seemingly-more omnipotent villain ... And Robocop in 2014 doesn't have one. This is just another action movie, albeit one with a really good hero, that instead of making the most of the interesting premise proposed at its start just kind of runs out of fuel once it approaches its final act. So, while the film is not horrible, it also does little to justify its need to exist. In other words, it's OK ... But when has "OK" been a good enough reason to re-do something that was fine to begin with in the first place?
Kinnaman is a talent, but as most who enjoyed the original film will say, it's doubtful most audiences will be willing to buy the 2014 edition of Robocop for a few hard earned dollars.
OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):