Directed by Jose Padilha
Starring Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Michael K. Williams, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley
There’s a scene in this latest update of a fondly remembered ‘80s franchise where all the mechanical bits appended to the titular character, aka honest cop in a bad city Alex Murphy (the charmless Joel Kinnaman) are removed to show exactly how much man is in the machine. He’s pretty much just a brain and a face with lungs (and, absurdly, one hand) lacking arms, legs and, tellingly, genitals. Which is fitting, because the film itself is completely lacking in balls, too.
Eschewing the visceral violence and black, over the top social satire of Paul Verhoeven’s original 1987 sly schlocker, the 2014 model is a dour and joyless affair, shackled by a teen-friendly rating to insure bums on seats, but also lumbered with a plodding storyline and lacklustre themes , more concerned with having Michael Keaton’s affably evil CEO and Gary Oldman’s conflicted scientist (their names are unmemorable and, ultimately, unimportant – there’s no Clarence Bodikker/Dick Jones double act here) argue the ethics of combat prosthesis than shooting rapists in the dick.
Murphy – blown all to hell by a fairly unremarkably third-tier bad guy and thus the perfect faceman for a plot to make Americans accept a robot police force – mopes about his family who, in turn, mope about him (Abbie Cornish, who plays Murphy’s wife, squeezes out her bodyweight in tears over the course of the film). There’s the occasional spot of generic action, but these beats feel perfunctory and uninspired. Disappointment is only compounded when you consider Brazilian director Jose Padilha’s work on his Elite Force series, action films which are violent, sharp and politically aware in ways that Robocop can’t even dream of aspiring to.
Admittedly, there are some superficially cool elements that the undemanding might get a kick out of. This new Robocop – character, not film – is a faster, sleeker model than the lumbering ‘87 macine; the costume – apart from that freaky looking fleshy hand – is a nice bit of business and they give him a motorcycle, which looks neat. Add to that some cursory meditations on the surveillance state and the odd shot of a flying combat drone and you have something that might fool the unwary into thinking it’s not that bad.
But it is. In fact, it’s worse than that. It’s product, pure and simple, with none of the bites-the-hand anarchism that made the original such an indelible classic. It feels haphazard and cobbled together, a film by committee rather than the product of a singular vision. In the original film, the cyborg Murphy was forced to sustain his fleshy bits with baby food and that’s, ironically enough, exactly what this is – pabulum for the masses, suitable only for the immature and easily amused. Skip it.