Remember the good old days when a big-budget action picture could earn a hard R rating? It looks like those days are officially dead. “Die Hard,” “The Terminator,” “Total Recall,” these were three of the best action movies of the late ’80s and early ’90s, complete with all the gleeful violence and profanity a kid could desire. Nowadays, everything must be toned down to a PG-13 rating, including the recent sequels and reboots of the three aforementioned films.
“RoboCop” is the latest R classic to be neutered by the PG-13 rating. Watching the film is kind of like playing “Mortal Kombat” on the Super Nintendo. Why play the censored version when you could be playing the gory version on Sega Genesis? My lust for carnage aside, the new “RoboCop” really isn’t that bad. It’s a remake that at least experiments with new ideas and legitimately tries to expand on some characters. While it doesn’t always succeed in its attempts, at least the effort is there.
Michael Keaton has some fun as Raymond Sellars, the manipulative CEO of a robotics conglomerate called OmniCorp. Sellars wants to line the streets with his law enforcement drones, but congress is unwilling to place the public’s safety in the hands of machines. Sellars thinks of a loophole to beat the system by putting a human in a machine. Enter Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy, a cop who is critically injured after a car bomb accident. Murphy’s resurrected by Dr. Dennett Norton, wonderfully played by Gary Oldman, who supplies the cop with a shiny new robotic body. Billion-dollar idea for a movie crossover: RoboCop vs. Inspector Gadget.
The biggest change in this “RoboCop” is the characterization of Murphy. In the original film, Peter Weller played the title character in an effectively mechanical fashion, making us question whether he was more man or machine. Kinnaman’s “RoboCop” is clearly more human as the script by Joshua Zetumer allows him greater emotional range. One would think that the more emotionally complex “RoboCop” would be the more interesting character. Ironically, however, Weller’s expressionless “RoboCop” made for a much more mysterious and unpredictable hero.
This remake also elaborates on the roles of Murphy’s wife and son, who were merely glanced over in the 1987 film. This isn’t a bad idea and Abbie Cornish gives a genuinely good performance as Murphy’s wife. When you really think about it, though, does anyone really care about Murphy’s family? For that matter, does anyone really care that much about the film’s hammered in themes regarding identity and the meaning of being human? No, this is “RoboCop.” At the end of the day, we just want to see him shoot up some bad guys.
Speaking of bad guys, that’s one area “RoboCop” is drastically lacking in. There isn’t a thug in the film who can contend with Kurtwood Smith’s ruthless Clarence Boddicker. Keaton throws himself in his role as an evil businessman, but never emerges as a particularly menacing bad guy. The same can be said about Jackie Earle Haley as a military tactician who hates robots because … just because.
There’s very little humor or satire here, save Samuel L. Jackson as a loudmouthed, conservative talk show host. There’s also little fun to be had and surprisingly little action. Then when director José Padilha does finally deliver some shootouts, he bombards us with extreme close-ups, shaky cam, and next to no blood.
From an adaptation standpoint, this isn’t the worst “RoboCop” movie we could have gotten. It’s well acted and full of visual splendor. When all’s said and done, however, you just can’t beat the original, which never had to be remade in the first place. But hey, at least it’s not “RoboCop 2” or “RoboCop 3.”
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at email@example.com.