Was there really a need for a remake of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 satire? And should they really have pressed ahead even after last year's disastrous attempt to reimagine Verhoeven's other classic, Total Recall?
For those who missed the original, Robocop is what it says on the tin - the transformation of an average policeman into a half-man, half-machine supercop.
Brazilian director Jose Padilha's take on man-meets-machine doesn't tackle the deep moral questions so much as hint at wasted teen years at the video game arcade: plot and characterisation both suffer at the expense of long, long computer-animated sequences of our tinpot tyrant (Joel Kinnaman) wasting roomfuls of robotic opponents and the odd pond-scum human.
That's a shame, as Padilha creates a neat framing device, the fulminations of rabid talkshow host Pat Novak (Samuel L Jackson), enabling him to rush through the boring background and almost immediately into the "let's put a human in a tinsuit" bit. And Jackson in full flight gives and takes a lot of fun, including a not-too-subtle nod to Pulp Fiction. But the way the Novak segment is allowed to tail off into irrelevancy demonstrates how little attention Padilha gives to all the interesting questions about science and law enforcement.
The ethical stuff is handled by Gary Oldman's hopelessly conflicted scientist, torn between giving crippled cop Alex Murphy some quality of life inside his metal prison and meeting the demands of his evil corporate paymasters.
Kinnaman, meanwhile, is suitably emotionless; unfortunately that extends even to the parts where he's meant to appear human, leading to leaden relationships with his harried wife, Abbie Cornish, and beat partner Michael Kenneth Williams.
And the big baddie, played by a surprisingly shiny and tubby Michael Keaton, is rendered completely cartoonish by the absence of redeeming features.
It all plays out rather predictably, with Keaton's evil plan to fill the streets with robotic cops and make his fortune swiftly undone, but by now things have been going on a bit long. That leads to a rather hurried and unsatisfying denouement.
Modify your expectations: hope for a straightforward shoot-em-up, and you may find some reward in the few fancy frills.
- Sunday Star Times