Movie Review: RoboCop (2014)

Joel KinnamanThe news that there would be a remake of “RoboCop” was met with hostility from both the press and fans of the 1987 original. I have yet to see the original. My bad, guys.

This did end up working to my advantage, however, because I had no bias going into this remake. Whatever this movie did, it would not feel like it was ruining any part of my childhood. As a movie, “RoboCop” could have done much, much worse. However, it is just there. It doesn’t do much, and it doesn’t contribute much to the character or sci-fi itself. It just kind of expects you to be thrilled.

“RoboCop” is set in the year 2025, a future that is dystopian only because of how generic it is. OmniCorp is a huge corporation that specializes in building giant killing machines. The company is headquartered in Detroit. I can’t even imagine the amount of people who okayed this remake because using Detroit would somehow make it socially relevant. The company’s ambitious yet morally bankrupt CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to release crime-fighting robots that will be put on America’s streets. This idea is not exactly warmly welcomed, given that robots can, you know, turn and kill people indiscriminately. Instead, OmniCorp decides to put a man in a robot suit. The man inside the RoboCop suit is Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit police officer who nearly dies in the line of duty. The RoboCop suit is the one thing that saves his life. He is literally a bunch of organs trapped in a suit of armor. The movie really misses the chance to explore what this actually feels like. Instead, it just decides to show a bunch of nauseating shots of a man’s lungs moving. Hey, at least this helped me realize what the line is between showing too much and not enough. Learn from your mistakes, everyone.

Of all of the people that could have picked up on the RoboCop legacy, I am not sure why it had to be somebody this boring. No offense to Mr. Kinnaman, who I am sure is a fine actor, but he brings absolutely none of the charisma or pathos that is required in order to be a leading man in a movie like this. However, this seems more like a failure on the part of the writers to make a man turning completely into an emotionless machine interesting. The director just kept yelling, “come on, guys! We need more shots of his lungs!”

In fact, all of the characters here are fairly boring, with barely a unique personality to spare. They yell trite lines of dialogue at each like “I can explain” and “we’re running out of time!” and in between that they yell at each other about whether Alex Murphy is a man or a machine without giving us much reason to care. They all make a lot of big speeches and throw around a lot of big words, their favorite being “dopamine.” As Inigo Montoya would say, “you keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“RoboCop” wants to skewer the loud, proud media landscape of talking heads, and it almost does. The sharpest piece of satire is the CNN style show The Novak Element hosted by Pat Novak, played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson. Novak is a jingoistic commentator who cares more about his opinions than he does about American safety. The news show itself looks exactly like the direction that cable news is going in, with holograms and floating, computer-generated pie charts making up for actual substance. You just know that Samuel L. Jackson got paid millions for what was probably three hours worth of work. Well, at least he only half phones it in here. This is what we get when we don’t give Samuel L. Jackson awards when he actually tries. But I digress. The point is that The Novak Element belongs in a much different movie. It belongs in the kind of movie that can keep its political allegories straight. It belongs in the kind of movie that brings up drones and doesn’t forget about it two minutes later.

The remainder of “RoboCop” has absolutely no idea what kind of future it wants to convey. It suffers from “Oblivion” Effect: it uses minimalism both as a way to define the future and avoid having to come up with real ideas. It seems unfair to compare “RoboCop” to “Her,” as they both have completely different goals. However, one thing that every dystopian blockbuster could learn from “Her” is that the most convincing future is the one that actually has a sense of how the people who inhabit it feel. The world has changed a lot since 1987, yet “RoboCop” feels like it has barely reacted to that 27 year age gap. Remember, we live in a world where machines are as much our enemies as they are our best friends.

Perhaps the biggest crime “RoboCop” commits is that it isn’t any fun at all. The action scenes feel like they belong in an arcade game like Time Crisis, and the guy barely gets to use the suit at all. The idea behind “RoboCop” is a fairly cheesy one that would have benefited from somebody who was willing to have more fun with it. Oh wait, they already had a movie like that recently. It was called “Iron Man.” While “RoboCop” isn’t the worst remake that has ever been made, it never once feels like it has any reason to actually exist.

Brain Farts From The Edge

  • The beginning of “RoboCop” was actually really promising, and replacing the MGM Lion’s roar with Samuel L. Jackson clearly his throat is the most bold artistic choice this movie makes. Basically, if the best part of your movie happens before the movie even starts, then yeah, your movie sucks.
  • “RoboCop” felt like a setup for a sequel that nobody asked for.
  • I really wish they had more of Alex trying to recover his memories while in the RoboCop suit. That is a really cool idea. Not as cool as “The Wizard of Oz,” but maybe a little cooler than the Detroit Lions.
  • As my friend Ryan Little (a.k.a. Tremendous Jackson) said, “Michael Keaton is the guy who did the best Kevin Spacey impression in the casting session.”
  • Another reason that “RoboCop” didn’t have to get remade is because Hollywood has been doing some variation of this idea for at least the past two decades. The idea of machine turning against man is so trite at this point that it barely means anything when it could mean everything in today’s technology-dependent society.
  • On that note, this is the exact reason I liked “Her” so much. In terms of robot movies, “Her” is like “E.T.”: “E.T.” felt fresh because for the first time, someone made a movie where aliens didn’t want to eradicate mankind. Likewise, “Her” is the first movie where machines just want to be our friends and have sex with us and stuff like that.
  • This RoboCop might as well be Turbo Man from “Jingle All the Way.”
  • “RoboCop” almost reaches so-bad-its-good territory. Almost. There are some cheesy moments, but they are more annoying than fun. Two examples: RoboCop at one point does that Batman voice; the noises that RoboCop makes as he moves are the equivalent of somebody repeatedly saying “meep morp I’m a robot.”
  • This movie tried way too hard to be a “Batman” movie, straight down to the way Detroit was shot. It was like they were trying to re-create a really shitty Gotham.
  • This movie has some of the worst set design I’ve ever seen. The yarn balls placed above the TV in the Murphy home made me think of the infamous spoon portrait in “The Room.”
  • I actually really like Jay Baruchel, but he is so miscast here. He should be playing Steven Karp, not high power marketing executives.  
  • I am only half-joking when I say this: I really wish they cast Nicolas Cage as RoboCop. At least he would have brought some personality to the role.
  • Jose Padilha owes a public apology to Peter Weller, Gary Oldman, and Joe Strummer.
  • Okay, okay, I’ll go watch the original now.