A strangely lifeless Robocop
Directed by Jos Padilha
Hollywood blockbusters have become more akin to machine operations than the work of humans - so now is a perfect time to reboot that 1980s icon, Robocop.
Indeed, Paul Verhoeven's 1987 original is ripe for remake. Sure, it was tawdry, sadistic and morally dubious, but it was also a surprisingly prescient satire of changing attitudes to law enforcement and the media. In contrast, Jos Padilha's remake suffers from being too sleek and professional. He retains some elements of the original - Robocop is built and owned by the sinister Omnicorp, while the action takes place in a run-down, crime-ridden Detroit.
Yet he makes one crucial change. In the original, the corporation attempted to wipe policeman Alex Murphy's memory before they turned him into a ruthless law-enforcement machine, in this remake, Murphy (played by a solid and effective Joel Kinnaman) remains more or less conscious.
This means scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, good if underused) has to somehow control Murphy's emotions in the interests of the machine's efficiency. Meanwhile, Omnicorp boss Raymond Sellars (a shameless Michael Keaton) sees Robocop as a a political bargaining chip that could persuade American politicians of the usefulness of drones and robots as domestic law-enforcers (sound familiar?).
Satire is present, but only in the most thuddingly obvious form of Samuel L Jackson as a Fox News- esque pundit and Jay Baruchel as Omnicorp's brazen head of marketing. Most of the humour appears to be unintentional: the film takes itself so seriously, you can't help but laugh at its attempts at pathos.
To be fair, Padilha is an inventive action director - there's a bracing sequence where Robocop "overrides" his programming to investigate police corruption in Detroit. In fact, there's nothing horribly wrong with this version of Robocop, and its sardonic twist goes some way to redeeming the previously rote plotting. But it doesn't really trust the audience to make its own mind up. Even the city of Detroit lacks personality.
Padilha has made an efficient machine, but Verhoeven understood that sometimes you need to throw a spanner into the works. A strangely lifeless remake.
- The Timaru Herald