Friday, February 14 2014, 01:55 PM MST
Movie Review: Robocop
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Director: José Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton
Genre: Sc-Fi, Action
Recommended To: Those looking for a Robocop film that sacrifices a share of its action and bloodshed in favor of sentimentality.
Synopsis: In order to build public support for their all-robotic police force OmniCorp turns injured cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) into a half-man, half-robot police officer.
Review: In 1987 Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Basic Instinct) successfully conquered Hollywood with Robocop, a bombastic B-movie extravaganza about a half-man, half-robot police officer filled with political satire and gore galore. It wasn’t high art, but it certainly was a lot of fun (and Verhoeven’s audio commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD is brilliantly entertaining). Two sequels, two television shows, two animated series, comic books, video games and a theme park ride followed; a reboot of the series was inevitable. After years of delays, director changes and who knows how many script revisions the long-expected relaunch arrives courtesy of screenwriter Joshua Zetumer (Quantum of Solace) and director José Padilha (Elite Squad) and the results of their labor is undoubtedly going to divide fans and critics alike.
Robocop was always a commentary on American culture. In Verhoeven’s film this is most evident in the various advertisements. In Padilha’s version it comes via Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as Pat Novak, a gun-happy news journalist. Whereas viewers could presumably look past the subtext in Verhoeven’s film, Padilha’s approach is more direct and impossible to ignore. However, the upfront politics isn’t the most dramatic change in the film. In Verhoeven’s version Alex Murphy’s family exists in flashbacks. In Padilha’s film Murphy’s wife and son are constantly in the spotlight. This gives the narrative a completely different feel. Lost is the gleeful energy with cartoon violence and in its place is a film striving to be intellectual while still giving the audience the expected action pieces and high body count. This smarter version of Robocop works to a degree, but like Murphy’s new black armor it just doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not that Robocop can’t be given a darker and more serious approach. The problem is that Jackson’s segments are pure satire, reflecting the tone of the original film, and the rest is straight-faced drama with a bit of mayhem thrown in. You can have it both ways, but making an action film that is both clever and heartfelt isn’t an easy task and Padilha’s Robocop can’t quite find the balance.
If you want a retread of Verhoeven’s vision there’s a good chance that you aren’t going to like what Padilha has done with the franchise. If you’re open minded or visiting the Robocop universe for the first time I suspect that you’ll have a good time. It’s not an instant classic, but it certainly works better than 2012’s Total Recall.
-Ryan Michael Painter