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Robocop’s tin man needs a heart

movie Robocop


If you ever wondered what would happen if millionaire Bruce Wayne became a billionaire, director Jose Padilha’s Robocop sardonically answers the question: he would become an arch villain ruling an evil corporation. Oh, what a dark night indeed.

Robocop poster
Columbia Pictures

Besides Batman’s Michael Keaton as the corporate big baddie, this Robocop reboot features Samuel L. Jackson as a strutting, insane Fox News mouthpiece and Gary Oldman as a kind-hearted doctor led astray. Joel Kinnaman portrays the indestructible Robocop, ne Alex Murphy.

Kinnaman’s Murphy is a maverick detective (is there any other kind?) who steps on the wrong criminal toes and winds up in dire need of a new body. Enter Dr. Oldman and the Keaton billions and Robocop is born. What the corporate bad guys hope will be a cash cow turns out, however, to be a metal bull of a different color when Robocop’s programming predictably goes as maverick as Murphy. Robocop turns on the evil corporate Frankenstein that birthed him, risking his daily infusions of WD40 and Tang for the sake of righteous revenge (is there any other kind?).

The curvaceous Abbie Cornish plays Murphy’s suffering wife, who curiously seems disinterested in him until he is covered in black metal skin and oversized battery-operated muscles. Then she holds press conferences sobbing for full access to him. When his henchmen fret about her rabble rousing, Keaton just cocks an eyebrow and deadpans, “I’ll handle her myself.” Disappointingly, a wall panel does not then slide open to reveal a black, cowled muscle suit hidden inside. Billionaires, unlike millionaires, evidently prefer to talk their way out of jams.

Aside from such unintended moments of humor, Robocop shows very little imagination, depth or humanity. It plays like a videogame with easily absorbed clichés peppered throughout to tie the shoot-outs together into a semblance of a story. This facile pass at storytelling may satisfy the videogame crowd but fails to hold the interest of anyone seeking a connection with any of the people in the film.

The original movie succeeded not because of its shootouts but because of the characters involved in them — both good and evil. They mattered to the audience so their actions mattered as well. The result was a string of sequels that continued the tale to today’s rendition, an empty oil drum of a Robocop.

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