RoboCop: Movie Man Jackson

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“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!

Comparison is a way of life. Surely, some of us do it more than others but the fact remains. This practice carries over to film as well; especially remakes of beloved films from yesteryear. The 2014 iteration of RoboCop attempts to capture the vibe of its 1987 predecessor. In the new edition, the year is 2028 and OmniCorp, a subsidiary of OmniConsumerProducts (OCP), is the forerunner, innovator, and sole distributor of robot soldier technology. Limited to military usage, CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to implement these in the police force, particularly Detroit, but public sentiment as well as public policy is less than willing to hand over safety protection duties to machines.

But what if man and machine were melded? Sellars believes public sentiment would be more accepting of this, so enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). After a failed sting operation, his car is planted with a bomb by the targeted syndicate while visiting his wounded partner. While at home with his wife and son (Abbie Cornish, John Paul Ruttan), the alarm on his car sounds and while attempting to stop it, the bomb triggers and he is utterly blasted. Unfortunate, but now Sellars has his prospect, and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is tasked with rebuilding Murphy in OmniCorp’s image. After all is said and done, Murphy will be the future of law enforcement.

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What isn’t the future is a sequel, as this is simply an average film. There are some positives though. I admire the fact that the writers attempted to make some changes and tweaks to the original. While the original was superb storytelling, personally I am OK with a remake trying to do different things. It was better than sitting through a shot-for-shot remake, a la The Omen (2006) and Psycho (1998), which is incredibly lazy. However, these changes and tweaks seem to miss more often than hit. The remake tries to incorporate a family element, but it often fails, resulting in moments that are clearly designed to invoke feeling from the audience but come off as forced. It is also more political than the 1987 movie; seen with the in-movie news show of “The Novak Element,” which showcases Samuel L Jackson as Pat Novak, an obviously biased host who is crafted in the mold of Fox News/CNN anchors. I assume this was the movie’s satire/parody attempt at modern culture, but it too is uninspiring, though the end is classic Samuel L. Going to be YouTubing that scene for a while.

If you are looking for satirical elements or even a bit of humor, look elsewhere. Aside from the sort of political attempts, none exist. As for directing, crime-ridden Detroit looks pretty tame visual wise, and it never truly feels like it is a hell-hole. This makes RoboCop seem like a luxury, not a necessity. I kind of hated the suit, the first one shown should have been kept. News flash: Black does not make everything look cool. The suit appeared to me made out of plastic, and neither looked nor sounded appropriate. And the running scene? Ugh.

The action scenes were rather uninspiring. Occasionally a few parts looked nice, but it really suffers from terrible editing and cutting. There are a lot of bullets, but half of the time you can hardly tell if they hit the target, and it is probably to blame on the PG-13 rating. I feel that the PG-13/R rating debate is overblown at times, but this film could benefit from a R. It might not have made a huge difference as far as writing goes because it probably still would have been weak in places, but I am fairly confident that the action would have been praised more, which would have caused people to look past the other flaws. Apparently, director Jose Padilha and lead Joel Kinnaman fought hard for an R but lost the battle as the movie’s inflating budget forced it to PG-13 in an effort by studio executives to get something back.

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The film was not devoid of excitement. There was a 15-20 minute span where I was really engaged in it, but it was fleeting. Keaton and Oldman are the bright spots of the film. They really did everything they could to bring intrigue, and I liked their roles.

I have been been pretty critical of the film by this point, but the biggest criticism of all, in my view, is RoboCop himself, or rather, the actor playing the part. Joel Kinnaman is so wooden and unconvincing. Within the first 5 minutes when he is talking with the police chief at the station, I was unimpressed. He felt robotic before he even became a robot! He looked unsure of himself in the titular role, and by result I was unable to get behind him. Jackie Earle Haley was useless. Completely unneeded role, and I was so glad when he left the screen. Abbie Cornish, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, and everyone else is OK, but they suffer from a lack of screen-time (Williams), or underwritten and unnecessary roles (Cornish, Baruchel).

Lastly, the film suffers from a defined villain, or villains. The original RoboCop did feature two baddies, but they were extremely fleshed out and despicable. Here, we are asked to keep up with three: Antoine Vallon, Sellars, and Norton. Vallon never makes his presence felt and is absent for most of the film, and I never felt that Keaton and Oldman were truly bad guys, aside from the end in the former’s case.

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Despite all of this, I am not ready to say this was a bad film. Again, I had fun in some parts and it looked cool occasionally. But by and large this was unnecessary. Perhaps if it didn’t have RoboCop as its name, it would be better received, and maybe if we stop comparing the two, it would get better. But c’mon! It has RoboCop as its title. I would watch again if family or friends wanted to check it out, but not one I’ll revisit personally, nor buy it for a dollar.

Grade: C-

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Robocop (1987): Movie Man Jackson

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“Good night, sweet prince.”

In a futuristic Detroit, crime is rampant and steadily on the rise. Criminals run the city, and police officers are dying daily. Morale is low in the force, dilapidation is damn near everywhere, and hope seems like a foreign concept. In those two sentences, I may have just described today’s Detroit…

All joking aside, in RoboCop, new precinct officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) arrives at the wrong time. In Detroit, thugs really do hold all of the cards, and, as the news telecasts show (pretty reflective I might add), these lowlifes aren’t afraid to express their displeasure with the boys in blue. The situation has got the Detroit force so riled up that they are planning to strike, in large part because they are being put into these dire straights by Omni Consumer Products (OCP), a mega-corporation that has recently signed a contract to manage Detroit’s finest. OCP knows that crime must be eradicated before plans to build Delta City, a new Utopian metropolis that will sit where “Old Detroit” is, can begin.

Unbeknownst to the force, the megacorp has meticulously been working on a way to clean crime. Funded by OCP President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) is the Enforcement Droid Series 209, knows simply as ED-209. During a presentation to the board and its “Old Man” CEO, this game-changer looks to be everything it has been hyped as, until something horrible happens during the demonstration. Sensing an opportunity, rising executive and rival to Dick Jones Bob Morton informs the CEO that his team has been working on an alternative plan in case ED-209 failed. It is known as RoboCop, and it is ready to launch. All they need is “some poor schmuck” to volunteer, which shouldn’t be hard because Morton has had prime candidates in the force assigned to high risk areas.

Meanwhile, on his first day on the job, Murphy and his partner Anne respond to a crime in progress and come face to face with cop killer/kingpin Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his mercenaries. A car chase ensues and ultimately ends at an abandoned warehouse. With no backup on the way but a chance to apprehend the city’s most wanted, the duo go for it. Things look solid until the duo is separated, and Murphy is brought to his end (spoiler!, but then again, the movie is A: Over 25 years old, and B: Describes the character dying in 95% of movie summaries) rather gruesomely by the gang. However, maybe Murphy’s end is just what the doctor ordered for Morton’s master plan…

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With the remake on the way in 6 days and already in theaters in some cases, the original is starting to get a boost in popularity, and it should. While it is cheesy and dated effects-wise at times (which should be expected with a movie titled RoboCop), it is also one of the finer science fiction and satire films around. This is my second time viewing this film, and while I liked it the first time, it is really starting to grow on me and most likely will upon repeated viewings.

This film deals with many ills of society, and all of them are examined in solid depth. The main themes do revolve around identity and technology, but corruption, capitalism, urban gentrification, and dystopia are featured prominently, among others. Is RoboCop pure cyborg, a cyborg with human traits interspersed, or maybe even still human but supported by technology? Is technology really a cure-all for all of our problems, or does it create more problems and more separation? How much power is too much power for corporations, and can we even stop them from acquiring it? Despite these themes and potential questions, the film never feels too heavy, and is at times light and funny. But the themes are what takes this film to high points, and honestly, I think these themes may be even more prevalent today than in 1987, which makes it a sci-fi that only feels dated in its visuals.

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Yes the visuals are dated, but if you remind yourself that this film came out in 1987, you’ll quickly realize that they are fairly amazing and well ahead of the release time. I would even argue that a lot of the effects and CGI are better than not only director Paul Verhoeven subsequent film after RoboCop in Total Recall, but most 90’s fare. The makeup and costume crew deserve high praise alone for the RoboCop costume. It looks futuristic yet also carries an older, “knight-ish” air to it as well. Sound mixing was stellar as well. Every hinge, creak, track, and movement was melded perfectly.

The acting is really nothing to write home about as a whole, but there are some standout performances. I believe not enough credit is given to Peter Weller. His death is one of the more tougher ones to watch in movie history, and he really makes us feel the pain he undergoes as his demise is painfully prolonged. As RoboCop, his facade is never revealed until later, so he is forced to emote only through his lower face for a large portion of the movie, which is not easy. Underrated performance for sure.

Ronny Cox is effective as conniving and jealous Dick Jones, bu maybe he had a reason to be? Kurtwood Smith, undoubtedly known from his role as the dad in That 70’s Show, is good as the kingpin Clarence, in a role that isn’t particularly deep but doesn’t need to be. However, my favorite character in the film, hands down, has to be Miguel Ferrer as Bob Morton. Morton is kind of a douche and can be quite arrogant and just as conniving as Jones, but in his screen time, I couldn’t help but like him amid his shortcomings, and I firmly believe that he did have good intentions in mind but went about them in the wrong way.

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Look past the occasional cheese, ultra-violence, and dated factors and you’ll find a well crafted film that feels very relevant today in a multitude of ways. It will appeal most to science fiction fans but that shouldn’t turn off others who are not traditionally but still desire social commentary in their films. I will definitely check out the new RoboCop in a few weeks, but I am going in with low expectations as I do not expect the 2014 version to top its predecessor.

Grade: A-

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