There has to be a reason to justify a remake, particularly when the original is Paul Verhoeven’s cynical 1987 crime-fighting/greed-corruption satire. What this new version has in its favor is contemporary timeliness. Read on…
Jose Padilla’s updated sci-fi fantasy is set in 2028, as law-and-order news commentator Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) reports how OmniCorp is testing its latest robotics technology, keeping the peace by enforcing the law in Tehran, and he bemoans the fact that politicians in the “robophobic” U.S. are adamantly opposed to non-human policing, led by adamant Sen. Herbert Dreyfus (Zach Grenier).
Recognizing the need for a missing ‘moral judgment’ element, OmniCorp’s devious CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) inveigles conflicted scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) and his team in a Chinese lab to interface a human brain into a robot. Its hapless owner happens to be critically injured Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), whose grieving wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) hesitantly grants permission. Within three months, Murphy is reformulated as a powerful, motorcycle-riding cyborg, as Dr. Norton rewires his brain to follow artificial intelligence rather than his own human impulses. “It’s the illusion of free will,” Norton notes. Problem is: Murphy’s humanity gradually begins to dominate his programming, and he’s determined to apprehend his murderer.
Best known for his “Elite Squad” thrillers, Brazilian director Jose Padilla tackles his first English-language feature, incoherently scripted by Joshua Zetumer, with a heavy-hand and mind-numbing, video-game mentality: if you can’t make it good, make it loud. Riffing on Basil Pouledouris’s original score, Pedro Bromfman’s music cleverly utilizes “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz.
Alongside seasoned pros like Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton, Swedish actor Joel Kinnamon of TV’s The Killing acquits himself well, as do Jackie Earle Haley as a weasely weapons expert, Jennifer Ehle as a corporate exec and Jay Baruchel as a marketing maven. Abbie Cornish has little to do but cry and look justifiably upset.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Robocop is a frenzied 5, undermining an intriguing, ethically-challenging existential concept with mechanized mayhem.