To many SF movie fans of a certain incept date Paul Verhoeven’s violent SF Christ fable Robocop retains a fond place in their cybernetic hearts. The film has aged well, its corporate satire of Reagan and Thatcher era ideology proof of its speculative accuracy, with the near ubiquitous downsizing, privatisation and dismantling of the social structure as chillingly inhumane as Murphy’s humanity being subsumed by the cold logic of 21st century capitalism. It was no surprise to hear that the inevitable remake was commissioned some years ago given Hollywood’s appetite for repackaging existing media concepts, especially those biologically linked to SF dystopias, action pyrotechnics and a violent protagonist which Executives assume are the meat and potatoes of their core 14 – 24 Male White marketing demographic. Early rumours began to coalesce of a troubled production which began with the exit of director Darren Aronofsky during pre-production, the nervous producers hurriedly casting their replacement net wide and retaining the services of rising South American star helmsman Jose Padhila, (Bus 174 and the impressive Brazilian action smash Elite Squad). The problems continued despite the change in personnel, with on-set wrangling between the hot-headed director and interfering studio cretins diluting some of his more flamboyant (e.g. expensive) ideas, and a general sense of web dismay at the project appearance once the initial design and costume photos were leaked last year. So far, so internet but recent emanations from the film have been more positive, with supporters insisting that entering the project with the right frame of mind – to largely disregard the original and approach this on its own terms as a separate entity – then its an able enough movie, entertaining, action packed and with a smattering of social critique. Clearly we have entered into some bizarre mirror world as that is simply not the movie which I saw, as Robocop in its current incarnation s quite simply the worst film I have seen at the cinema so far in 2014.
In 2028 the United States has occupied Tehran and in the name of bringing casualty free democracy to the Middle East has deployed combat drones and Tactical Pacification Units (the beloved ED-209 units of the original) to the sand swirled urban centres, supposedly winning hearts and minds back home as no more American boys are coming home in body bags. The right-wing cultural barkers, represented by Samuel L. Jackson as some odd Glenn Beck / Billy O’Reily simulacra demands to know why a Senators opposition to deploying these units on home soil is so contentious, overriding his concerns of the lack of human empathy leading to potentially lethal miscarriages of justice with the simple mantra of ideologies – reduced costs, reduced government, reduced crime. Enter the terrifyingly named Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton and casting catastrophe number one), the cybernetic pioneer behind the explosion in apprehending automatons whom with his moustache twirling villainy has a secret plan to override the Senators bill and drastically enhance his market capitalisation, if only he can find a human spin on his metallic golems. Meanwhile guess what? Yeah, dedicated street cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman as casting catastrophe number two) is in a spot of bother as his recent investigation into arms buying points suspicions of his colleagues ‘misplacing’ material from the evidence locker which seems to find its way out to the streets, with his marriage to beautiful blonde (Abbie Cornish as casting…well, you get the idea) and a twinkle eyed son in tow disaster strikes when a car-bomb blasts him to smithereens shortly after his partner Jack (Michael K Williams) is gunned down in a rain drenched back alley. You can guess the rest, as reluctant bio-tech genius Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) resurrects Murphy shattered physical form within a powerful bullet-proof exoskeleton, and crime has a new cure in the face of the impervious Robocop……
Since seeing this film on Saturday I have been somersaulting through mental gymnastics in order apprehend a single, positive facet to balance this review and I’m sorry to say this effort has been unsuccessful – this film is terrible in almost every way, even when you completely divorce yourself from any affection for the original. The plot is perfunctory complete with clichéd injured partners and poorly performed family characterisation, and this is clearly a Hollywood where middle-tier cops happen to own expensive homes and return from a gruelling day dealing with these stiffs at City Hall to see their beautifully composed wives, caked in make-up, simply for cooking supper and putting the kids to bed. Crucially Kinnaman is a total charisma vacuum in the ilk of Sam Worthington or that bloke from Tron, and the decision to base all the emotional arc of his gruelling fate on the simpering doe-eyes of his unlikable kid or the distant performance of Cornish gives the story no traction, as you simply could not care less. None of this would be particularly problematic and could be overlooked if the other material was adequate, if the combat, the satire or action set-pieces provided the requisite big-screen thrills, but I don’t think I’ve seen a tamed and more pedestrian directed film since the Twilight tedium, the action scenes are utterly unexciting and redundant, the future world designs barely registering for a nano-second. I don’t wish to labour the point but the original had a trio of superbly snarling villains in the likes of the be bespectacled Clarence Boddicker, the deliciously malicious Ronny Cox and the yuppie-path Miguel Ferrer, there is not one captivating bad-guy in this movie as Michael Keaton is completely forgettable and doesn’t even register on the plot, and his hired goons are mere stuntman casting from the pulsing henchmen spawning bio-growth pools. Gary Oldman just about comes through this unscathed but let’s face it even a cursory scan of his CV reveals a wealth of genre dreck, marking this effort as new low alongside his (presumably) alimony satisfying efforts in Lost In Space or Red Riding Hood, or even the diminutive classic Tiptoes….
Now I don’t expect every film to harbour some secretive agenda, to be a repository for cultural or social commentary or shredding satire, sometimes making things go ‘boom’ is fun enough and state of the art effects can be their own reward. But to set-up some fertile ground with the films Tehran set prologue which is awash with echoes of the current dark drone stain on Obama’s presidency seemed to hint at a fertile infrastructure for future satire, an opportunity which is thoroughly squandered. The film is like a direct to video 1990’s effort with slightly more budgetary baggage, the Cold War contortions of the original mournfully absent, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Fox News future anchorman incarnation providing all the satirical bite of a toothless gnat. I promise you I went into this with an open mind, I like the original a lot but it’s not a film I rewatch religiously, heck I even gave 2010’s Total Recall something of a pass even though that was unquestionably a mildly diverting three star film, but at least that a couple of sequences where some mild pulse of excitement was generated, in this movie I kid you not I actually feel asleep during one combat scene which says it all really. Finally, shoehorning in lines and quotes from the original really does nothing to curry any cybernetic favour, they hang on the screen like a crashed 16 bit progress bar, a clumsy fumble for fan-service and reminding us that these two hours could be better spent watching just about any SF film from 1987 (Slipstream anyone?) which would be far more entertaining than this shattered remake detritus washing up on the shores of mediocrity, so pounding out the original Robocop theme over the opening credits was the first crime of the year. Make no mistake this is the worst film of the year so far, and everyone involved should be arrested and their filmmaking credentials terminated with extreme prejudice…..