I have not seen Paul Verhoeven‘s original “RoboCop” from 1987, so I cannot judge Jose Padilha’s version as a remake. But I can judge it on its own merits as a film, and 2014’s “RoboCop” finds itself much like its protagonist – without a heart. Action sequences are fine, if a bit one sided, and the questions of morality are there, though never fully expanded on. It’s all window dressing, however, without the emotional connection to Joel Kinnaman’s lead.
Kinnaman stars as Detective Alex Murphy, a good cop, and from the brief scene we get with him and his family a loving husband and father. When a gangster attempts to murder him, the only option to save him is to let the robotics company Omnicorp turn him into the first artificial cop. But Omnicorp has its own agenda.
The main problem with “RoboCop” is we don’t know who Alex Murphy is. We get more of a glimpse of him as a cop than we do as a man. He has one scene with his family before he is turned into RoboCop, and it is a pretty boring scene with him walking in a fog because his partner was shot. Even after he is turned into RoboCop, the film spends at least half an hour to go through his training rather than expanding the relationship with his family. How is the audience supposed to care about his relationship with his wife and son if we’ve only ever seen them together for about three full minutes?
Part of the reason that they spend so much time on turning Alex into RoboCop is to explain how they are manipulating him to be more like a robot and less like a human. That’s all fine and good, but when you spend that time establishing that he is not really in control of his actions but then he is able to easily override his programming at his own whim, it results in being a waste. If the film is going to spend time to create these rules so that Alex can overcome them, they need to make him work a little harder to do so.
It’s not like the physical challenges they put in his way are much of an obstacle either. Alex barrels through criminals like he is a tank. Padilha orchestrates his path of destruction well enough, but we never fear that he is any real danger. The climactic scene is no different, he moves through his enemies quickly and ever forward. He takes some damage and gets a gun pointed at his head once or twice, but he is able to overcome it with little difficulty.
Gary Oldman’s scientist and Samuel L. Jackson’s TV host show the only real life of the movie. Oldman becomes conflicted with his duty to his bosses and the way he is turning a man into a robot. Jackson, meanwhile, provides the film’s only humor, and the closest thing to satire present in the film. Their sparks of life aren’t enough to save this aimless effort.
Padilha isn’t to blame; he did a serviceable job creating the world and providing the action. Kinnaman can’t be faulted for bringing little charisma to a character that wasn’t truly given any. Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton and Michel K. Williams can’t be blamed for being criminally underutilized. Every problem that “RoboCop” has can be brought back solely on the screenplay. Most action scripts today do the bare minimum as far as character development, and Joshua Zetumer’s script for “RoboCop” is no different. For a movie that clearly was trying to say something, it proves disappointingly inconsequential.
(This review first appeared on lenoirauteur.com)