New to cinemas – 7th February 2014
The basic problem with the 2014 reboot of RoboCop is that it’s sterile from the script upwards. It’s almost as if the product MGM and Columbia have distributed is Gary Oldman’s audition tape; he’s literally the only lifelike force in the entire movie. It’s a monotonous beast that’s completely lacking in dynamics; it spends fifteen minutes at the beginning fumbling about with atmosphere before eventually deciding it doesn’t want one, and proceeds onwards from there.
And that opening section is really the biggest shame about this movie, because it teases you with the fantasy that it may actually have the capacity to be better than you’d expect. Opening as the original did with a TV show – this time hosted by devoted American Pat (short for patriot?) Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) – it begins by parodising modern orientalist views and depicting a time somewhere in the future where robo-cops are stationed all over the globe, particularly in an effort to thwart terrorism in the Middle East.
But what starts off as a potentially great sci-fi satire in the vein of Starship Troopers ends up turning its attention to empty superhero bandwagonism. Worst thing is, there’s barely even a villain for the most part; the movie spends most of its time drifting through the trial-and-error realisation of RoboCop, from the moment Alex Murphy is nearly killed to his public unveiling at a press conference (at which point he’s been rendered completely incapable of registering emotions).
Very little of this even gives Murphy any form of character development, and what it does tell us of him isn’t that interesting. When Peter Weller’s Murphy was transformed into the same machine 27 years ago, he at least had some funny lines to deliver with that leaden, unwavering baritone; all Joel Kinnaman’s RoboCop has is immense stretches of silence broken up by shit jokes. In essence, he isn’t even a character at all, merely a dead space around which the rest of the characters communicate, and later an enabler for the movie’s tepid action sequences.
And Kinnaman is far from being the only actor who struggles here. Jay Baruchel’s puzzling appearance gratifies only when he references the “I’d buy that for a dollar” line from Verhoeven’s version, and Michael Keaton’s performance suffers from being riddled with all the usual Michael Keatonisms. The politics of the film end up being the only interesting thing about it, uneven as they are; the Novak TV interludes ridicule American exceptionalism, and the drug manufacturing villains from the original are replaced by arms dealing ones, making a less-than substantial contribution to the ongoing debate in America regarding rights to weapons ownership.
It’s as though they’ve sidestepped most of the obvious remake pitfalls only to try something else that ends up failing anyway. The movie is less an update of the original than an infusion of Iron Man‘s ideas and Man of Steel‘s lethargy; it makes sense as a commercial investment at this moment in time, but all in all, it serves only as a slab of mild entertainment that’s almost worth your money.