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Movie Review: RoboCop

Updated February 19, 2014

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A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo

In the land of big corporations and rampant street crime, the police beta-test a critically injured, mutilated man in a billion-dollar suit

Who would you rather vote for: the enterprising, corporate, forward-thinking America – the one where unsympathetic, feeling-less robotic drones identify and kill innocent civilians the same as terrorists – or the America where humans, capable of “emotional” decisions, battle street-level crime? That may not be much of a question to ask in the first place, however, it is a strong, and a very in-your-face spat in The Novak Element, a show that’s more militant and close-sighted than the O’Reilly Factor at Fox (if such a thing is possible).

A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo

In the Novak Element, the effectively typecast Samuel L. Jackson, talks (or is it prejudicially roars) at America’s softness for adopting military-grade weaponry at public-safety level. As an example to the tech’s efficacy in the field, Novak has a video journalist on the streets of a newly “pacified” Tehran (the year is 2028, so you now know that this may be a peek to the future), where local citizens – children, women with head-scarfs – are scanned by their fingerprints and retina’s and are then classified as non-threats. An enraged youngster with a kitchen knife, not factoring the circumstances, is gunned down by a robotic drone on live television, and Novak’s blowhard do-or-die patriotism still asks the question: why aren’t capitalistic corporations employing such decision-making on American streets?

The argument, which pressures rather than addresses issues, pops-up intermittently in Joshua Zetumer’s screenplay that adapts 1987’s RoboCop directed by Paul Verhoeven; it’s also the predominant debate in what is essentially a fine pop-corn munching fest featuring a cop with a demolished body and a wounded heart.

A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo

Alex Murphy, admirably re-cast with Joel Kinnaman in Peter Weller’s shoes (or was it, a tin-plated suit?), is critically wounded in the line of duty (only his face, brain, one hand and lungs survive), but is brought back by science-fiction robotics, the genius of a kind-hearted doctor (Dennet Norton, played by Gary Oldman) and a billion-dollar investment by OmniCorp – the company that makes remote-controlled drones for the military. Though, the doctor is more in awe of the humanity’s perseverance as well as the gleeful notion of pushing scientific limitations, his overseers (played by Michael Keaton in another of his jumpy, manic-mood bests), and his corporate sidekicks (Jennifer Ehle and Jay Baruchel), see the big-picture: cashing in the American tax-dollar.

The “kaching” of the cash register is the only missing sound-effect, when RoboCop takes down his first culprit on the day of his public unveiling. This scene takes place sometime in the middle of the movie, because Brazillian director José Padilha calmly paces up to it after fleshing out the human-core of Alex’s physical and emotional confinement; Mr Padilha, as luck would have it, does not relish on the big-budget action set-pieces, which are of course RoboCop’s primary domain.

There is also less joy in seeing Alex in an all-black, slightly sleeker armor – perhaps because we have grown too accustomed of man-machines from videogames – or maybe because the movie shoos away the original RoboCop’s campiness as easily as Mr Jackson’s Novak does on the movie’s moral issues.

A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo

At one instance in RoboCop’s field-testing, the story introduces the concept of nulling down Alex’s human reactions in favor of the software’s more logical, and better timed, approach to handling tense situations; the upshot of which lasts all the way to the yawn-ish climax. But then again, the movie isn’t really interested in that much action in the firsts place (again, thankfully).

Mr Kinnaman’s Alex is deliberately more expressive than Mr Weller, and his family angle, with wife and son played by Abbie Cornish and John Paul Ruttan, fits better with the re-visioning than having a female partner-cum-romantic interest.

A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "RoboCop". - Courtesy Photo

The idea suits the movie as much as it’s “PG-13” rating, which of course also means that RoboCop is more conscious of its own capitalistic value than its predecessor (MGM, the studio backing the reboot, is on the way to its own revival for a while, so being financially conscious isn’t really a bad thing for them right now). Still, those were the good, bad times – when an “R” rating meant serious, at times idiotic, business. Today, toning it down, maybe the way to go – especially if you want to take your kids to the movies.

Released by MGM, Columbia Pictures and Footprint Entertainment, “RoboCop” is rated “U” in Pakistan and features video-game action and a good helping of identifiable human confinement.

Directed by José Padilha; Produced by Marc Abraham and Eric Newman; Written by Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; Cinematography by Lula Carvalho; Edited by Daniel Rezende and Peter McNulty; Music by Pedro Bromfman.

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, John Paul Ruttan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Samuel L. Jackson.