RoboCop Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton. Directed by José Padilha. Rated PG-13. Now playing.
In 1987, director Paul Verhoeven took a trashy action-movie script and turned it into a clever (if still sort of trashy) satire on media, violence and corporate control. Verhoeven’s RoboCop has become something of an unlikely classic, to the point where in 2014, it has ended up with a slick, big-budget remake, complete with all the resources that Verhoeven never had. Verhoeven’s lack of resources is part of what drove his creativity, however, and the new version of RoboCop exhibits much less personality, even if it does have a stronger cast and more impressive special effects.
Brazilian director José Padilha (whose Elite Squad action movies have drawn international acclaim) makes his English-language debut, guiding the familiar story of Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman of AMC’s The Killing), who is rebuilt as a law-enforcement cyborg after being nearly killed in the line of duty. In keeping with Hollywood’s current obsession with origin stories, the new version of RoboCop spends way too much time detailing every aspect of Murphy’s transformation from man into machine, and it takes a good hour before he’s actually out on the streets of Detroit, stopping bad guys.
A lot of the backstory in the movie’s first hour (especially involving a pair of corrupt Detroit cops) turns out to be not all that important in the long run, and in general the twists and turns of the plot are pretty underwhelming. Padilha delivers the action efficiently but unremarkably, aided by some top-notch special-effects work. Kinnaman makes for an adequately anguished hero, but it’s the supporting cast that really shines, including Gary Oldman as the conflicted scientist who creates RoboCop, Michael Keaton as the greedy corporate executive who funds the project and comedy doofus Jay Baruchel (stealing the whole movie) as a gleefully amoral marketing executive.
Samuel L. Jackson is also a highlight in periodic interludes as a smarmy right-wing cable-TV host, the movie’s only nod to the overtly satirical tone of the original. He brings a welcome spark to what is otherwise a workmanlike take on a subversive cult icon.