Made on a budget of only $13 million, 1987’s RoboCop was a sleeper sci-fi hit. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s dystopic film — he’d go on to greater fame with movies such as Total Recall and Basic Instinct — really struck a nerve, even if Verhoeven delivered its over-the-top violence with a rather cavalier, almost flippant attitude. While the new remake of the movie features some killer special effects (the big, bad explosions really resonate if you see the film in IMAX), the movie isn’t nearly as compelling or innovative as the original. Not that the cast doesn’t try to bring the franchise back to life.
The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman plays Alex Murphy, the tough Detroit cop who gets blasted by a car bomb one night and should have died if it weren’t for the efforts of Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), the head scientist at the Omni Foundation, a company that specializes in creating drones and robots for the military. With the consent of Alex’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish), Norton turns Kinnaman into RoboCop. Once the dude is unleashed upon the mean streets of Detroit, he becomes a popular public figure. He takes a no-nonsense approach to solving crime; he’s able to scan through the names of all the criminals at large and systemically tracks them down. With his black metallic, bullet-proof suit and face shield, he’s equal parts Iron Man and Terminator. He zips around town on a crotch rocket of a motorcycle and shows no fear when it comes to kicking ass.
There’s only one problem: At the request of his boss Raymond Sellars (the twitchy Michael Keaton), Norton has programmed all the emotion out of Alex so that he’s become a lean, mean killing machine. The guy is so detached, he barely acknowledges his wife and kids and treats his partner (Michael K. Williams) as just another cop. Sellars won’t let him see his wife, and she goes to the local news channels to complain about how her husband has been taken from her. Of course, it’s a matter of time before Alex has to meet his maker and, in the tradition of Frankenstein, make his creator take responsibility for his actions.
After a good start, the film really grinds its gears mid-stream; subplots concerning conservative talk show host Patrick Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) and military tactician Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) go nowhere. The steely Kinnaman makes one hulluva RoboCop and Oldman is terrific as the conflicted Dr. Norton. But the social critique falls flat, and film ultimately comes off as if it’s just a flashy video game.