US | 2014 | Directed by José Padilha
Logline: A police officer, critically injured and rebuilt as a cyborg cop by a corrupt conglomerate, seeks revenge.
This is one of those remakes where to give it any kind of chance you need to remove yourself from the original as much as possible, and if you know and love Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987), a dark satire that seethes with cruelty and bristles with conviction - arguably the director’s finest work - then it will be hard. Verhoeven’s RoboCop is one of those cult movies that had a lot of people upset when it was announced a remake was going into production.
José Padilha’s calling card is his political action thrillers; Elite Squad (2007) and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010), but also of note is his excellent documentary on a hijacking, Bus 174 (2002). When I found out he was going to helm the remake my interest was raised a little. Still, I knew it was a slim chance Padilha would (be allowed to) make anything remotely as ultraviolent and dark as Verhoeven’s powerhouse original. And I was right; it’s a PG-13 in the States, and an M in Australia.
The re-booted RoboCop has a screenplay re-fit by first-timer Joshua Zetumer, who uses very little of the Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner original screenplay. They get credit, but hey, it’s token for the most part. For starters five major characters have been jettisoned, or recreated; the white-collar criminals Dick Jones and Bob Morton have been merged into Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), also absorbing OCP’s CEO The Old Man. The creative part of Bob Morton becomes Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), and he’s rendered as anti-hero support to Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnerman), our officer with the most.
Murphy’s partner Anne Lewis becomes Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) and is shunted into the background, whilst Murphy’s wife Ellen, virtually a featured extra in the original, is brought to the fore as Clara (Abbie Cornish). Gone is one of the great villain nasties of the cinema, Clarence Boddicker, and there’s no one to replace him! But most significantly, Alex Murphy is not killed in this new version, and he is out for revenge for those that tried to kill him, unlike the Murphy of the original, who was killed, rebuilt, and subsequently has memories from his soul triggered, causing him to become a rogue.
In a nut(-and-bolt)shell, this RoboCop lacks the original’s soul. Yes, there, I’ve said it. It’s a cold and mechanical story that, whilst it sports slick production values, and is not without a few choice moments, like Alex Murphy having his RoboCop self revealed to him, it fails to provide any real empathy with the lead, or his wife’s anguish. Without splitting hairs, the central villain simply isn’t enough of a cunt to give the movie’s denouement any real punch.
The movie is bookended with an incongruous attempt to re-capture the original’s television news-style immediacy with Samuel Jackson playing a political broadcaster and all-round Grumpy Old Man with a conservative bone to pick. The infamous ED-209’s from the original have been emasculated, and only one original line of dialogue remains intact; “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”
I’d rent this for a dollar, but I wouldn’t buy it and have it sit next to Verhoeven’s original on my shelf.