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Review: ‘RoboCop’ reboot still boasts great tech, but now with added plot

RoboCop (2014)

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"RoboCop" is the latest in a long line of reboots of popular pictures from the still recent past, and though probably no one was clamoring for a re-imagining of the 1987 sci-fi favorite, at least this new take on "RoboCop" manages what many other reboots have not: It manages to bring something new to the table, as audiences can see for themselves when the film goes live on Feb. 12.

Joel Kinnaman stars in Columbia Pictures' "Robocop."
Kerry Hayes / © 2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved

Set in 2028, José Padilha’s “RoboCop” still follows Detroit cop Alex Murphy, a detective who is critically injured in the line of duty and suddenly finds himself the great experiment of mega robo-retailers OmniCorp, when they swoop in to simultaneously save his life and render him a part-man, part-robot. Naturally, unbeknownst to Alex, his wife or the larger public, OmniCorp is interested in saving him, not for the sake of giving him a second chance at life, but rather as a clever marketing ploy they hope will sway American opinion and open a window for them to bring their products to the streets of the States.

Now, it’s true, the main reason anyone watches “RoboCop” in any iteration is going to be for the tech on display. And while the 1987 version delivered in its own time, and the Kinnamen led reboot does so very well today (particularly when seen with the scale, crispness and sound of IMAX), this time out we are treated to more than just spectacle, not much more, but still more.

Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer retained the name Alex Murphy and the premise at it’s most basic, but created a host of new characters and attempted to create a plot outside of RoboCop becomes self-aware and gets his vendetta on.

Questions of police corruption, big bads and corporate morality come into play alongside the larger question of, is he man? Or is he machine? Or, indeed, is he a machine who thinks he’s a man?

Credit must also be given for recruiting a stellar cast to bring new spice to the not-so-new tale. Samuel L. Jackson is a scene stealer as an outspoken broadcast journalist who throws out such gems as: “Why is America so robophobic?” Gary Oldman hits the right notes as the brilliant but conscientious doctor, while Jackie Earle Haley and Jay Baruchel serve up perfect counterpoints as a calculating OmniCorp munitions expert and smarmy marketing expert for the same.

Traces of his character, Holder, from “The Killing” are undeniably present in Kinnamen’s performance, but as the only consistently good part of a patchy show, that’s not going to raise too many complaints. Kinnamen’s Murphy is impuslive, but bright, and he’s subtle enough to create different shades that show us when man or machine is more in control, and that, more than anything else, makes his turn a success.

The “RoboCop” reboot may not be a beacon of originality, but it’s entertaining action that’s strong enough to stand on its own, and the fact that it is quite as self-aware as RoboCop becomes makes for a decent bit of fun.