The paranoid talking heads at Fox News may be onto something when they criticize Hollywood for having an anti-corporate mentality. In The Muppets, the villain’s name is Tex Richman. In The Lego Movie, the main antagonist is Lord Business. In RoboCop, the source of all evil is OmniCorp, a conglomerate that sells robots to preserve the social order.
A remake of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic, hopes for the new RoboCop were fairly low, thanks in part to that awful Total Recall update from last year. The new RoboCop lacks the black humor and gonzo action sequences of the original, but makes up for it with a more complex worldview and some interesting parallels with America’s foreign policy today.
The basics of the story remain. In the crime-riddled city of Detroit, detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is murdered by a gang of arm dealers in front of his wife and kid. His remains land at Omnicorp, as the corporation is on the look for a policeman with moral principles to anchor a robot-human hybrid. Initial success goes south quickly as human emotions override any control the conglomerate may have over him.
Unlike the Peter Weller version, this RoboCop pays plenty of attention to the politics surrounding the scientific breakthrough. OmniCorp’s CEO (Michael Keaton) must get Congress on his side to get his creation onto the streets. A marketing team has to convince the masses and the media to embrace this new kind of officer of the law. The Dr. Frankenstein of the operation (Gary Oldman) is forced to pump chemicals into Murphy to keep him going. Total collapse is just around the corner, since precious little organic material is involved in the upgrade.
Paul Verhoeven’s nihilism is replaced by fear-mongering, as embodied by Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak (a thinly disguised take on blowhard Glenn Beck). As presented in the film, there is little difference between a robot targeting alleged criminals and one of those drones President Obama is so fond of. Collateral damage and ethical conundrums are unavoidable.
Even though director José Padilha got the gig thanks to the gritty, intense Elite Squad saga, RoboCop weakest segments are perfunctory and impossibly dull action scenes (comparatively speaking, the 1987 version had a guy melted by toxic waste.) It doesn’t help the movie is rated PG: No blood, no stakes.
Three RoboDogs. RoboCop is now playing.