Robo-stop right there

By Stephan Hall

The original 1987 “RoboCop” was poorly written, excessively violent and downright hokey. However, its novel concept, impressive special effects and dark sense of humor made it a memorable classic.

The 2014 “RoboCop,” released Feb. 12 by Brazilian director José Padilha, falls short for the same reasons but with none of the charm or technical bravado that redeemed the original. The film joins the growing number of forgettable reboots released to cash in on past franchises.

The film opens in 2028 in a Middle Eastern city during a news report by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), a pundit with a show similar to Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.” Novak praises the peacekeeping operations being carried out by U.S. military robots produced by the corporation OmniCorp and preaches that if the robots are good enough for overseas, they are good enough for America.

In a dilapidated future Detroit, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), owner of OmniCorp, agrees with Novak’s assessment. As the result of resistance from American citizens, Sellars decides he needs a figure people can rally around. He needs to put a man in a machine. That man turns out to be Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). Murphy becomes critically injured while on a case, and the only way to save him is to place him in the RoboCop suit.

The film revolves around Murphy’s struggles with becoming RoboCop and not being able to be the involved husband and father he was before his accident. There was little difference between Kinnaman’s numbed performance and his supposed emotional one. It seemed as if he had no idea when he was supposed to act like a robot or when he was supposed to act like a human.

“RoboCop” is an underwhelming and sometimes terrible experience because of its poor special effects and narrative choices. Admittedly, the reveal of a new version of the classic cyborg is amazing. The suit is slick and efficient in ways the original bulky character wasn’t, but it quickly loses its appeal because every robot in the film looks the same.

The movie also has long stretches with little action to speak of. Instead, there are mundane expositions about the technology at work and debates among politicians about OmniCorp. Instead of big-budget action sequences, viewers are treated to Jackson periodically yelling at them.

These gaps would be tolerable if the acting was not so blasé. Nearly every actor’s performance is uninspired or downright annoying. Kinnaman is especially hampered by the poor writing and is unfamiliar with taking on a lead role. He delivers his lines monotonously and provides so little character development that the audience winced every time he was talking instead of shooting.

The only exceptions are Gary Oldman, who plays a scientist who helped build the RoboCop technology, and Abbie Cornish as Murphy’s wife. Oldman plays the part well: a scientist concerned with

morality, but even more so with money. Cornish delivers a particularly moving scene when deciding what to do about her injured husband, as she tearfully debates whether or not to let him die.

Although the 1980s “RoboCop” poked fun at itself and had cheesy one-liners, the reboot goes out of its way to be brooding and serious. The theme of a technologically tyrannical and oppressive America is more topical now than ever, but it is approached with idiocy and ideology.

Instead of scenes that show the impact of these Orwellian policies on Americans, viewers are given excessive political and economic stereotypes, rhetoric and caricatures of the police and military. In the first 10 minutes, American soldiers are shown as oppressors while suicide bombers are shown as the heroes, a theme the film never strays from. The film attempts to make a grandiose statement, but is preachy and out of touch.

The 2014 “RoboCop” is a mediocre action film in a time when CGI has made action movies commonplace. The franchise did not need a reboot, and the film is part of the growing trend of stagnation in Hollywood, where cashing in on old ideas seems to be the norm. The film industry seems more concerned with profit than performance, and “RoboCop” is only the latest example.

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