Sometimes when you are reviewing movies you get caught at a loss when it comes to something new to say, which coincidentally is the exact problem the Robocop reboot has in spades.
It’s strange considering that the peerless Paul Verhoeven original had PLENTY to say with it’s sledgehammer satire and it’s frenzied bloodletting that bordered on fetish, it jabbed barbs this way and that, skewering such American institutions as capitalism, religion, right wing media and even the action genre itself. Presumably not wanting to cover the same ground or tone (or certification, judging by the weak rating the film received from the ratings board), RebootCop decides to mostly sideline the political subplot (sparingly utilising Samuel L. Jackson’s shouty TV pundit) and jaw dropping super violence (Murphy’s spectacular dismemberment by shotgun is reworked in favour of a boring old car bomb) in favour of taking more time with Alex Murphy dealing with his newly minted status as a law enforcing appliance and his quest to solve his own murder at the hands of corrupt cops.
Needless to say, I hope Robocop 2.0 comes with an extended warranty because it just doesn’t work.
To compare and contrast exactly what changes where made from the orginal and exactly how they don’t work in minute detail would be a waste of your time but rest assured there are a lot and almost all of them are harmful. The changing of the character Lewis to a man removes any strong female presence in the movie (Abbie Cornish as Alex’s wife seems barely present) and Murphy going from a beat cop to full fledged detective eliminates the blue collar aspect.
You see what I’m getting at? Watering down the satire and upping the cops and robbers nature of the plot wouldn’t be such a crime, if it didn’t all feel weirdly small scale and unaffecting and similarly scenes of Murphy struggling with his humanity despite his brain being pumped with order feel like half-baked leftovers picked up from the sequel.
Robocop simply doesn’t work as a “straight” concept and Verhoeven’s original tone proves to be a deceptively difficult tightrope to walk that not a single follow up, not the cartoonish Robocop 2 or 3 nor the numerous TV shows have managed to come close to since.
Surprisingly big names are dropped in to try and add some respectability to proceedings and Gary Oldman’s whiny scientist and Michael Keaton’s shifty CEO are fun but are also both phoned in without so little remorse you wonder if they have shares in EE.
Thank God then for Joel Kinnaman who is the latest poor bastard who signed up to be encased in the living hell that is the Robocop suit. With his ridiculously strong jawline and a voice so loaded with base it’s vibration alone could cause a spontaneous orgasm, Kinnaman is a surprisingly inspired choice, invoking memories of similarly vocally blessed Peter Weller without lapsing into parody or feeling like a second rate impression even if the script doesn’t really let him stretch his legs. The designs of the new suit, while heavily derided before release, are also slick and make sense in the context of the movie with the initial, classic based look temporarily giving way to a more extreme, darker style that oddly owes as much to Knight Rider as it does Rob Bottin’s amazing, original design.
While admittedly not the worse piece of product out there with Robocop’s name on it (the cyborg ninjas of part 3 remain a glass basement that thankfully remains to be broken), this re-imagining is sadly one more attempt in a steadily growing list to hotwire a franchise from an old property by bizarrely sucking all the personality out of it.
Part man. Part machine. Not much cop.