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Robocop – Film Review

 

You’d think that after the lame sequels that followed the original Robocop, the franchise would be all but buried.  But when Hollywood can’t think of anything fresh, it turns to past successes to see if it can freshen things up, and that’s what’s happened here. 

It’s 2028 and a company called OmniCorp is supplying robot soldiers to the U.S. Military overseas.  The company feels it has the perfect product to keep law enforcement in check in America, but there’s a complication.  A bill called the Dreyfuss Act, lead by Senator Dreyfuss, opposes the use of machines on American streets, stating that without feeling or emotion it’s always possible that a machine might act in a manner that will cause harm to innocents.  So, never one to let the opportunity of making millions, and probably billions, go aside, company CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) instructs his marketing team and scientists to come up with a machine that incorporates human traits.  We need to give America a product it can love,” he tells his team.

 

What his team comes up with is Robocop – a robot that is part human but mostly machine.  When honest policeman Alex Murphy (Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman) is injured beyond normal repair by some crooked Detroit cops, OmniCorp rescues what’s left of the body then outfits it with robotic arms, legs, and just about everything else.  All that’s really human is the face, what remains of the neck, and a pair of lungs.  The rest is all metal. “He looks like a million dollars,” says Sellars.  Two point six million,” corrects the company lawyer Liz Kline (Jennifer Ehle). 

But things don’t go as planned.  Robocop may have what it takes to change public opinion and help reverse the restrictive Dreyfuss Act so that OmniCorp can eventually have a whole army of Robocops parading American cities – “We’re gonna make a fortune,” claims Tom Pope (Jay Baruchel), head of OmniCorp Marketing – but when he starts thinking for himself, the crooks within the Detroit police get nervous.  He’s broken protocol,” states a nervous Detroit Chief of Police (Marianne Jean-Baptiste).  He’s off solving his own murder.”

 

Like the ’87 original, the new Robocop sprays enough ammunition and disposes of as many bodies to make it appear as if overseas wars were now being fought on the streets of America.  What it doesn’t have is the satirical bite, interesting villains, and overall clever wit of the first.  Because of the absence of any real humor, this practically straight-laced approach causes the film to lose its general appeal fast.  When a plot is as silly as this it needs humor to keep it palatable, but director Jose Padilha has abandoned the Paul Verhoeven approach.  He’s taking it seriously.  With the use of up to date effects and techniques, the director has produced a slick looking, well-oiled machine with the kind of action and violence that may well have teenage fanboys and general adolescents excited, but like the reason behind the complaints of the fictional Dreyfuss Act, there’s no heart.

Samuel L. Jackson livens things up as a Fox-like TV presenter, a personality whose bias towards having Robocops on the streets is evident the moment he poses the question “Why is America so robophobic?”  For the brief moments we stay with Jackson, the film actually leans towards the off-beat satire of the original, particular during the final moments when the presenter loses his temper and starts dropping f-bombs on TV in the way that only Jackson can deliver, but as soon as we return back to the streets of Detroit, whatever sly sense of humor the TV moments create, the wit is all but gone again.  The end result is that Jackson’s scenes feel as though they should all be part of a different movie.

 

Only Australian actor Abbie Cornish as Robocop’s distraught wife displays anything remotely close to playing something that feels real.  Despite occupying a role that should have been better developed, if the film has any emotional core, it’s Cornish.

Director Padilha handles the action well, even if the frenetic editing occasionally confuses the ability to see what is happening and to whom, but the continual use of the jerky handheld in dialog scenes that require a sense of stability spoils the flow.  Jumping from a solid, well-framed shot to a handheld within the same scene creates an odd rhythm. Plus, blowing the images up to a larger scale for use on the giant IMAX, like the recent Jack Ryan adventure, is redundant.   Handheld doesn’t work in IMAX, and there are no spectacular shots in Robocop to warrant the specialty of an oversized canvas.  If you’re going, go to a regular presentation and save some dollars.  Better still, wait for the DVD and save even more.

 MPAA Rating:  PG-13     Length:  108 Minutes    Overall Rating:  6 (out of 10)

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