Robot reboot is unsurprisingly a misstep

RoboCop isn’t an overly complicated creation: he’s a smart cop turned cyborg who shoots scores of criminals. That’s about it. What made his first outing so unique was director Paul Verhoeven’s take on the material: satirically poisonous loaded with humour drama nudity and loads of gore. Like his later Starship Troopers he turned a basic blood-and-bullets sci-fi tale into something political and intelligent.

When the remake was announced fans preemptively declared their utter hatred over the possibility of sullying the original. They won’t be pleasantly surprised. Much like the remake of another Verhoeven sci-fi favourite Total Recall this RoboCop is stripped of anything that made the original distinctive. Gone is the violence the language the nudity the satirical bent all to satisfy a PG rating and audiences increasingly uninterested in big-budget action that asks anything from them. (Or so the studios would have you believe.) RoboCop is that rare big budget misfire that actually feels like a missed opportunity: despite being neutered there are a few brief moments when the film hints at something more philosophical and tragic. It suggests that there are more aspects of Verhoeven’s creation left to exploit but lacks the confidence to explore them.

The story is largely the same. Officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is a whip-smart badass cop tasked with cleaning up the streets of a violent and chaotic dystopian Detroit. (Isn’t Detroit already a violent and chaotic dystopia? Truth is stranger than fiction folks!) Unlike Peter Weller’s steely and already-robotic take on the character this cyborg is slicker and wittier. Murphy and his partner Jack (Michael K. Williams better known as Omar from The Wire ) raise the ire of a local illegal arms dealer after exposing the bad guy’s operation. In revenge the arms dealer plants a car bomb that blows Murphy to bits.

Enter the evil faceless corporation OmniCorp. Well not quite faceless: head honcho Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to replace police officers with robots. They don’t get tired or make bad judgments. They’ll also make him a fortune. He’s stopped by a government bill preventing the use of drones (armed robots) on American soil. The film spends a lot of time on the political machinations behind the bill though there isn’t anything pointed about the details just long-winded plotting.

Sellars makes Murphy’s suffering wife an offer: volunteer him for an experiment that’ll most likely save his life or let him live as a blind deaf limbless half-husband. She agrees and kindly Dr. Dennett Norton (a sleepy Gary Oldman) turns him into RoboCop: a mega-powerful cyborg with a thirst for justice. Unlike the original this RoboCop’s mind is fully intact leading to a moving scene where he confronts what’s left of his body (head hand and lungs) and begins to weep. It’s a powerful unexpected moment and the film abandons it quickly.

The rest more or less follows the original: RoboCop exposes corruption and hunts down the men who murdered him. It’s the typical rote CGI extravaganza that looks more like a video game commercial than a film. There are intercutting scenes with Samuel Jackson playing a Bill O’Reilly-esque political provocateur which push the plot along but offer little else. Kinnaman emotes as best he can under the costume and Keaton is welcome as always but underutilized — when he takes a later turn towards evil it comes off undeserved and undercooked. Most welcome: Jay Baruchel as a smarmy company man tasked with marketing RoboCop. (Again underutilized.)

Director José Padilha has made the best RoboCop that a PG-rating will allow and it’ll satisfy the cheap Tuesday action itch. Unlike other remakes however this one strives for maximum frustration — there’s a germ of a good movie here but every opportunity to create something as relevant and entertaining as the original is squandered. Verhoeven’s film looks like a miracle in comparison.

ROBOCOP directed by José Padilha starring Joel Kinnaman Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton now playing.