Robocop (2014)

The original 1987 ‘Robocop’ has a special place in my twisted heart. It was another of those flicks like ‘Die Hard’ (1988) that my sweetly naive (at the time) parents put on for ‘Family Movie Night’, and effectively shocked the shit outta Young Impressionable Me. What always stands out in my memories is the ‘buzz’ about the gritty content of the movie before I actually saw it, mostly from other geeky little friends on the playground, who’d been lucky enough to sucker their parents into renting the deservedly ‘R’ rated New Release VHS cassette from the local VIDEO store (may they RIP). So strong was the Word-of-Mouth that it took me 3 viewings to finally witness the sudden shotgun amputation of ‘Officer Alex Murphy’s right hand, just before he’s lit up by four pump-action ’12 gauges’. I knew it was coming and couldn’t bring myself to fully watch the torture/murder of the personable cop (literally hid behind my hands), based on the excited descriptions of the scene from my fellow movie-freaked 10 year olds.
For those of you out there who may have missed this ‘classic’ 80’s gem, the story takes place in a dystopian, corporate-controlled Detroit of the near future (that looks a lot like the late 80s), where law enforcement is now owned and operated by the Omni Consumer Products company. The ‘Security Concepts’ division is exploring the idea of a robotic police force to oversee the proposed mass expansion of downtown Detroit into something called ‘Delta City’. After a disastrous and gory demonstration by a prototype robot called the Enforcement Droid Series 209, a young upstart executive (Miguel Ferrer) proposes the idea of using a human ‘volunteer’ from the police department as the subject for a new project. We then meet ‘Officer Murphy’ (Peter Weller) on his first day to a new precinct; a precinct that recently had 3 cops murdered by a sadistic local crime boss named ‘Clarence Boddicker’ (Kurtwood Smith). ‘Murphy’ is partnered with a spunky female officer named ‘Anne Lewis’ (Nancy Allen) and off they go to fight crime in urban Detroit. Later that day, the two cops run afoul of ‘Boddicker’ and his bank-heisting gang of shotgun-wielding lunatics, resulting in ‘Murphy’ being sadistically gunned down in the cold bowels of a deserted steel factory. And now OCP has their ‘volunteer’ for the ‘Robocop Program’. A handful of months later, Robocop is unleashed on Detroit. While the metal behemoth of a law enforcement officer takes on crime with a vengeance (you ALMOST feel sorry for the castrated rapist-to-be), memories (thought erased) begin to emerge from Robocop’s rudimentary psyche. Images of his own murder, along with fleeting glimpses of a lost family and home. This all leads to a human ‘awakening’ in Robocop that culminates in a series of bloody showdowns with those responsible. The Final Shot sums the whole point of the movie up brilliantly. When asked what his name is by the CEO of OCP (after saving the geezer’s life from a crooked Senior Executive), Robocop (now unmasked) smiles and says ‘Murphy’. Roll credits. The ‘soul’ of the flick lies in ‘Murphy’s rediscovery of his ‘humanity’, despite the horrible situation that he now exists in.
Something else that makes the 1987 original so good ( in my opinion ) is the biting sense of satire that peppers the movie’s ‘flavor’. There are some very caustic views of America in the Reagan Era and of the ‘Me Generation’, coupled with a startling dose of gory ultraviolence. The bloodletting of ‘Robocop’ is the stuff of cinematic legend, and is one of the things that keeps ‘Robocop’ watchable even today. Sure, at the young age I first saw it at, I had seen blood packs used before in other films…but never like this, or to THIS degree. Hell, the opening boardroom scene where the ED-209 prototype goes haywire and blasts poor ‘Mr. Kinney’ into pasta sauce sets the ridiculously over-the-top tone of the violence perfectly. Some of the deaths and injuries are dialed up SO high you can only chuckle at them in mild disbelief (in a good way). But then, as a balance, some of it is genuinely hard to watch. The torture and murder of ‘Murphy’ is a ‘stand-out’ in THAT regard. Watching ‘Boddicker’, who truly is one of cinema’s most repellent assholes, taunt the helpless cop before casually shooting his hand off is a cringe-worthy sequence.
Speaking of ‘Boddicker’, special mention MUST be given to the two primary ‘bad guys’ in this film. The first is the appropriately named ‘Dick Jones’ (Ronny Cox), the Second in Command of OCP and the overseer of the problematic ED-209 program. His thirst for power, fueled by a distinct lack of scruples, has made him a threat to anyone possibly standing between him and his nefarious goals, especially when he dips into his box of resources and comes up with ‘Clarence Boddicker’. Kurtwood Smith should’ve got an Oscar for his portrayal of this vicious son-of-a-bitch. From the first time we meet him, as he violently looses his shit on one of his goons for accidentally burning the money they were stealing, you just know that this unbalanced prick DESERVES to be sent straight to Hell…violently. The point is that both of these characters resonate, even after all the time that’s passed since the film’s 1987 release. They are distinct, memorable and both present significant obstacles for our hero ‘Murphy’/Robocop. Many of the other supporting characters stand out as well. Both ‘Officer Anne Lewis’ and OCP Executive (and Robocop’s ‘dad’) ‘Bob Morton’ (Miguel Ferrer) bring JUST enough dimension to their admittedly thin characters to effectively help ‘flesh’ out the ‘world’ of the flick. Bottom line is that Dutch director Paul Verhoeven did a ‘bang up’ job with bringing these characters to life in a way that keeps them entertaining even 27 years later. I wish I could say the same about the reboot (shakes head sadly)
When I first got wind of the proposed ‘Robocop’ remake, I ( like many other geeks out there ) inwardly threw my hands up and said “Why?!!! Why does a ‘classic’ of THIS magnitude NEED to be remade?!!!” After my sudden hysterics had died down, I thought about the current, artistically-bankrupt state of Hollywood and more or less ‘got’ it. Shit, they’ve remade damn near everything else, why NOT ‘Robocop’? And really, if you take a look at the ‘Robocop’ legacy since the original, it hasn’t exactly been a parade of Class and Competence. The 1990 sequel was OK, certainly entertaining but lacking a certain subtlety and intelligence in the attempted repeat of the satirical tone of the first. The less said about the abysmal piece of shit ‘Robocop 3’ (1993), the better. There was also a short-lived TV series that didn’t exactly set cable on fire. And that was that. Until now.
Like other skeptics out there, I paid close attention to any and all behind-the-scenes pics and footage that were making their way onto the InterWeb. What I saw did not inspire hope. There was nothing truly exciting or inspired about the elements that were being revealed. Robocop’s trademark armor, his weapons, his (new) motorbike etc. Everything seemed very generic but I also realized that my own love of the original MAY be tainting the fair chance that ‘Robocop 2014’ MAY deserve. Then…it was upon us.
My girlfriend had never seen the original, so we opted to do a back-to-back viewing, to get the full ‘remake’ experience. ‘Robocop 1987’ with breakfast, ‘Robocop 2014’ after lunch. I was curious about her opinion of the two flicks, the advantage being that her view wouldn’t be marred by pesky nostalgia while mine undoubtedly would be. She quite enjoyed the original, even going so far as to admit that it was more entertaining than she expected it to be (yep, she may be a ‘keeper’ ; ). We then sauntered over to the local multiplex and parked our asses in the darkened seats to witness ‘Robocop: The Unnecessary Remake’.
First off, I had every intention of giving this movie a fair shot. There’ve been times in my cinematic history where I heard that some beloved film from my past was getting redone, and I simply detested the idea. The 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead’ springs to mind. Being a Zombie Movie fan, I was fully prepared to ‘boo, hiss, boo, hiss’ the flick right off the damn screen. But, much to my surprise, it turned out to be (and still is) one of my favorite zombie films EVER. So the possibility of this new ‘Robocop’ being good was not lost on me, and I was willing to give it the ole college try. From the get-go, it was clear that they were trying something a little different, which is USUALLY good for the rebooting of familiar content. This time around, the story goes like this:
Detective ‘Alex Murphy’ (Joel Kinnamen) and his black, male partner (nice contrast to the original, huh?) ‘Jack Lewis’ (Michael K. Williams), are undercover cops, hot on the heels of some obscure gangster named ‘Vallone’. This lameass is being investigated for suspected dealings in illegal, military-grade weapons and various other anti-social deeds. At the same time, OmniCorp is in the process of trying to get legislation pushed through Senate that would allow the use of autonomous robotic law enforcement drones on US soil, for urban pacification. After a very public demonstration of the various droid type’s prowess and unhesitating application of lethal force, broadcast live from a violent skirmish with militants in Tehran…it’s determined that in order to give the American people a ‘product’ they can get behind,.They must give it a face, and some semblance of humanity. Back in The World of Alex Murphy, immediately after meeting his cute kid and cuter wife ‘Clara’ (Abbie Cornish), we see him become the crispy fried victim of a well-placed car bomb (that did NOT seem to have the power to do what it did). And into the OmniCorp Robocop Program he goes! As he’s being put back together, we meet the scientist overseeing the program, ‘Dr. Dennett Norton’ (Gary Oldman) and the Head of OmniCorp, ‘Raymond Sellars’ (Michael Keaton). ‘Norton’ cares about the science, while ‘Sellars’ cares about The Product. The writing’s kinda on the wall there. After a somewhat mind-numbing series of training and maintenance ‘episodes’, we finally see him let loose on the mean streets of Detroit (that look a LOT like the familiar streets of nearby Vancouver, BC). Where, as expected, he does pretty well and even goes on to become a celebrity of sorts. As the story progresses, outside forces make it necessary for ‘Murphy’s mind to be scaled back, reducing ‘him’ to a mere notch above ‘robot’. And then other things happen, and he must fight to regain his soul, and save his cute wife and cute kid, and to fight the nefarious forces that created him and blah blah blah.
‘Robocop 2014’ simply doesn’t need to exist. It is unremarkable and not all that exciting. I’m fully prepared to give some credit to the film-makers for trying. It’s just a shame they didn’t try very hard. Even though a comparison to the original is very much in order, many a person has posted many a blog/review/bitch session comparing the two films in nauseating detail. So taking the Robocop remake just on it’s own…it’s still not very good.
Joel Kinnamen is a shitty ‘Alex Murphy’. He reminded me of Charlie Hunnam’s lame-ass wooden lead performance in ‘Pacific Rim’ (2013), and we never get to really see ‘Murphy’ being a normal guy. We get just the most basic of scenes detailing his home life before he’s blown to smithereens and thrust into the sterile world of OmniCorp. All the other scenes leading up to that show him as ‘Angry Determined Cop-on-the-Edge Detective Guy’, and he’s not terribly likable, so there is no horror or shock from what happens to him. Much the same can be applied to almost all the other characters around ‘Murphy’. Even high-calibre actors like Oldman and Keaton can’t do much to elevate the paper-thin characters they’re trying to inhabit.
The majority of the action scenes are uninspired and much on-screen violence is yawn-worthy. The opening sequence in downtown Tehran had it’s moments and there is a surprisingly decent shootout in a restaurant involving ‘Murphy’ (pre Robo mode) and ‘Lewis’ against a slew of faceless goons with automatic weapons. It showed promise…a promise that the flick couldn’t deliver on. Now despite mentioning that I’d try to avoid an overly detailed comparison between ORIGINAL and REMAKE, the violence must be brought up. Again, the original is well known for the amount of crimson that gets blasted out of people’s bodies anytime triggers are pulled…and it’s great! This new one is almost completely bloodless. The vast majority of onscreen deaths are of the ‘*BANG!* *BANG!* (goon spins away, grabbing at unseen bullet hole) QUICK CUT AWAY’ variety. Just watch, when this weak-sauce flick gets shat out on DVD/Bluray, we’ll probably be blessed with an EXCLUSIVE Unrated Extended cut, that will undoubtedly show us another example of why CG blood sprays are SO fucking lame.
They also drastically missed the boat when it came to the villains. Whereas the two main baddies in the original are distinct and memorable because of how to-the-point the various demonstrations of their vileness were, Keaton’s ‘Sellars’ character (SPOILER) couldn’t seem to make up his mind about whether or not he’s a ‘bad guy’ or not. The ‘Clarence Boddicker’ of this film, ‘Vallone’, is completely ineffectual and boring. NOTHING stands out about the guy and he’s not particularly threatening or scary.
All in all, the ‘Robocop’ remake is another example of Hollywood running out of interesting and original ideas and being content to throw a chunk of change at SAFELY ( PG vs hard ‘R’ ) revamping a recognizable and established intellectual property…whether that property needed a revamping or not. It lacks all the ‘teeth’ and clever subversive wit of the original and on it’s own, is a film that may find itself dismissed from people’s memories in rather short order. Hell, I saw it yesterday and I’m having trouble remembering anything truly interesting or exciting about it. I can understand if people are curious about how this potential trainwreck turned out, but don’t bother wasting your time in a theatre with THIS one. This is another one destined for Netflix on a dreary afternoon at home, which is where you should wait to watch it. In the meantime, find the original Criterion Collection Directors Cut of ‘Robocop’ (1987), if you haven’t seen it in a while. Those of you who have not seen it at all, don’t be afraid of the 80’s element…it’s still a terrifically clever and entertaining flick. It’s also violent as hell. Fun for the whole family!


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