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Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Movie Review: ROBOCOP

Director: José Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earl Haley

Valentine's Day weekend brought us three remakes of '80s films. Three? Really? Yes, I kid you not.  Apparently we are void of any original love stories to be told for that special day. I vaguely recall seeing the original 1987 Paul Verhoeven flick edited for television many years ago when I was a kid flipping channels. Needless to say, I went in fresh without an ingrained memories of Peter Weller suited up taking on the criminals. Jump forward to 2028 and robots are being used by the US military to settle the violence in Tehran. OmniCorp, the parent company of these killing machines, is looking to bring the technology to the United States due to the success it has brought Tehran. The company's president Raymond Sellers (Keaton) plus a couple of employees from the marketing department  (Ehle, Baruchel) are having a hard time getting it approved by the US Senate. Apparently these robots are smart enough to kill the bad guys, but innocent civilians are getting killed on accident without any sort of emotional response from the robots.

Sellers comes up with the brilliant plan of adding a human to the robots in order to gain popularity for the project. His angle is that they will be able to show emotion and a thought process before killing any targets. He teams up with Dr. Dennett Horton (Oldman) to test potential candidates. Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) and his partner Jack Lewis (Williams) are members of the Detroit police force working on bringing down crime boss Antoine Vallon. Murphy is severely burned and paralyzed after his car explodes due to Vallon's hit on him. His wife Clara (Cornish) gives Sellers and Dr. Horton permission to use Murphy as their first test subject under the new RoboCop program. No matter how much they tinker around with Alex's emotional and cognitive recall, OmniCorp is not prepared for the aftermath of what happens next.

The idea behind RoboCop may have seemed fresh in the '80s after The Terminator was a huge success. This reboot feels a bit unnecessary as it doesn't feel innovative or ground breaking.  It feels like it is trying to capitalize on all the Marvel success where we take this damaged hero type figure and force science and technology into him only to end up with dangerous results. That's not to say that it was doomed from the beginning, but it seems to take itself so seriously that there is no fun or joy to be had. What makes movies like Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger work well is that they have a sense of humor about it. They acknowledge that this idea is a bit ridiculous, but they run with it and save the world at the same time.

I give screenwriter Joshua Zetumer some credit for making the family aspects to it stand out. You definitely get a sense that the family story with his wife and son and the effects Alex/RoboCop has on them is vital to the story.  Where he falls flat is that he tries to cover so much other ground on top of the family story. There is so much time and characters devoted to different aspects of the story that, while they have some merit, ultimately could be cut and trimmed down for the sake of the pacing. Take for instance the Samuel L. Jackson character. He plays this TV news reporter that reports on the OmniCorp technology that opens the movie. He then disappears for a good chunk of the movie and then comes back. There is also the whole political angle with more time and characters devoted to the Dreyfuss Act. Actor Zach Grenier (TV's "The Good Wife") is great as Senator Dreyfuss, but do we really need all of the courtroom scenes? I understand the point of his portion of the story, but too much time is spent there. This is on top of the actual story involving Alex Murphy, his family, his crew over at the Detroit police department, and all of the people involved with OmniCorp.

The film has a run time of just under two hours, yet I really felt like I was watching a three hour action saga. So many angles and elements of the story that get explored and discussed could potentially have been saved for future entries if this would become a franchise. The whole exposition and lead-up to when the RoboCop is ready for public display feels like one whole story. I actually thought they were going to end the movie at that point, but I realized he hadn't solved any crimes yet or killed any of the Detroit's most wanted. That wasn't the only time I thought the movie was ending. Whether it was the writing, slow pacing, or both, there were numerous false endings where it would have ended perfectly but it cut to another scene.

On paper this film may have flowed better. There are so many great actors working here, and I'm sure they all thought this could be a good film for easy money that could potentially build into a franchise. Gary Oldman is always a treat to watch no matter how good or bad the film turns out. It is nice to see Michael Keaton back on the big screen again. There is one scene that is classic Keaton style acting that was one of the better parts of the movie. Joel Kinnaman has a nice wholesome family man aspect to him that fits this Alex Murphy well. I have no idea how he compares to Peter Weller so I have no bias toward the original here. Kinnaman keeps the character grounded and maintains the human aspect about him without falling into any sort of robotic, two dimensional stereotype once he is assembled into the RoboCop. This is the first American film for Brazilian director José Padilha. He has some good elements working for him here as he has some high caliber actors that signed on for this. You also won't find a lot of cheesy dialogue or over-acting like you would find in a Michael Bay movie. Focus and tight storytelling are his biggest problems. There is far too much going on, especially for a remake.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? No. This remake takes itself far too seriously.

RATING: **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)

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