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MOVIE REVIEW: “Dead or Alive”, Robocop Reboot is Not the One to See

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Can you guess what I thought about the Robo-reboot?

 

If we could take a peek at Hollwood’s four Prime Directives, they would probably read a little something like this:

1)      Serve the public theater

2)      Protect the studio bank accounts

3)      Uphold the law of sequels

4)      Reboot every classic movie known to man and make it significantly worse than the original.
(With specific emphasis put on Paul Verhoeven films.)

Before I launch into my review of the latest in a series of reboots to hit the big screen, I will preface the above mentioned fourth directive with the admission that I personally don’t think all film franchise remakes are unnecessary.

 

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Now this would have been worth dropping $9 on.

 

Two movies that come to mind are Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and JJ Abram’s first Star Trek entry.  Nolan’s dark and gritty take of the Dark Knight was a much needed reversal of direction from Joel Schumacher’s bright and campy bat nipples.  In the case of Star Trek, Abrams managed to reset a franchise to its original characters while also connecting it to current cannon.  For most, these two are brilliant, albeit rare, examples of remakes done tastefully.

I’m being kind in using the word rare, and unfortunately the new Robocop remake from director  doesn’t fall anywhere near the result of prior two examples, it’s not even near the solar system let alone the same ballpark.

 

This-is-how-I-feel-about-the-new-Robocop

Pardon my Robo-french and whiteout.

 

Note that I’m also a bit biased.

You see, the original Robocop ranks within my top 10 – if not top 5 – favorite films of all-time.  Much in the same way as I daydreamed about being a paranormal exterminator or a whip-wielding archeologist, I often envisioned myself behind the iconic metallic suit from 1987.  So much so in fact, that I actually mimicked the robotic movements and sounds of the Verhoeven’s Robocop in public settings.  I have no doubt that random passer-byres often wondered if I was some sort of mime in need of mental assistance.

 

Robocop 2014 Main

The resemblance is uncanny, no?

 

Not to mention, the original flick played an indirect  role in one of my favorite childhood memories involving my dad and best friend, whose middle name happened to be Murphy.  One day, while we were all out having dinner, my dad inquired as to what my best friend’s middle name was, without missing a beat, I piped up quickly before my friend could answer with the response of, “it’s the same as Robocop’s”.  In the most sincere and genuine, my dad answered simply by asking; “His middle name is Robocop?”  The funniest part of the exchange was the fact my dad was drop dead serious, thus my friend Josh and I seriously lost the contents of food in our mouths from laughing uncontrollably.

From the moment I heard Sony was attempting to bring the venerable metal man back into duty, an icy chill filled the air, to which I responded by turning off my air conditioner.  When I saw the first photos from the set hit the net (I’m a poet, and I didn’t want to know it), it felt like my heart sank down to my groin.  After seeing the world premiere of the trailer at San Diego Comic-Con, it felt like someone kicked me right in my heart’s new residence.

 

 

I took in the new Robocop opening weekend with my deputy outlaw and trusty photographer that could use a few classes, Spunky Destructor.  Had I not sworn to laptop a responsibility to cover major sci-fi movie releases – good, bad, or excruciatingly ugly – I probably wouldn’t rushed to see the film so quickly.  Eventually, morbid curiosity would have gotten the best of me so I figured I might as well torture myself now and be done with it.

Generally speaking, when you get down to brass metal, the writers and producers of this version seemed so concerned with separating their latest Robo-incarnation from its predecessor, they forgot to include many of the elements that made the original such a memorable cult classic.

 

Weller Helmetless

If you ask me, they forgot this guy.

 

In the famous words of one senior citizen who questioned the lack of ground beef in her hamburger (please tell me some of you remember “Where’s the beef?”), I will question the lack of pretty much everything that made this robo-remake tough to stomach.

WARNING:  While I don’t give away any major plot points, some minor spoilers with regards to themes and content may ensue.

 

– Where’s the gore?

If there was one thing Verhoeven’s stable of films are known for, it’s their gratuitous sex and gore.  While the original Robocop was light on sex, it was heavy on gore.  Despite the known fact I will faint at the site of a paper cut, the over-the-top carnage of the original just felt right.  The scene of Murphy getting his body shot to a bloody stump added a sense of realism to the machine he became and provided a greater payoff of satisfaction when Robocop continually reaps his revenge on the twisted group of killers that took his life.  The scenes depicting the sparse amount of internal organs being used to keep Murphy’s living matter alive was intriguing, but not shocking in the least.

 

 

– Where’s the villain?

ED-209 NEW

“Drop your weapons, raise your hands in the air… and do the hokey pokey and shake them all about.”

 

Or maybe a better question is, who ISN’T a villain?  Instead of focusing on one (maybe two) truly vile characters as did the first film, we are stuck with not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six enemies who were about as diabolical as a coat hanger.  When every other person ends up being a traitor – one of them randomly coming out of left for no explainable reason – I start wishing they would have just let a group of six-year-olds write the script as at least I would have understood why things were happening.

 

 

– Where’s the crime?

Before the original Robocop is thrown on the scene in Old Detroit, things are bad, literally demilitarized bad (just think of the real current day Detroit to give you an idea).  Even more importantly, Verhoeven’s film showed us this constantly.  In the latest remake, almost every locale filmed made Detroit look like a beautiful futuristic metropolis.  In fact, many of the scenes take place in a beautiful suburban town where the Murphy’s reside.  We are literally told Detroit is a mess by the characters, but it’s rarely shown that way on film.  Then, out of nowhere (which seems to be a common storytelling technique used with this version) we are then informed crime has dropped 80% after 3 months and all is fine and dandy.  Hard to get into a movie about a robot that is supposed to save a city that doesn’t seem to be in much peril.

 

 

– Where’s the simplicity?

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Ahh the good ol’ days… when robotic cops used to be more, uh, robotic.

 

Part of what made the original Robocop so entertaining was the simplicity of it’s story.  Man is brutally killed by drug lords; remains of man become programmed into a robotic police officer; soul of man lives on and tries to fight the robot he is stuck inside in order to get revenge on those who made him what he is.  Fast forward to 2014, and any plot you can think of is in the new film.  Social and political argument of drones for protection, meshing humans with robotics, are humans to be trusted for law enforcement, do cops not like donuts in the future?  This remake tried to fit so much story into an hour and a half of screen time that it didn’t even give the audience enough time to ponder the themes being thrown at them.  The pace of the film was fast, but when you try to squeeze 300 minutes of social issues into a 100-minute bag, some of it is going to get lost.  Furthermore, the reboot gets so caught up in trying to explain the technicalities behind the science of the robot-human hybrid, that it sucks the fun right out of Robocop’s premise.

 

 

– Where’s the humor?

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Even this guy would have made a funnier Robocop.
(Not me, the guy with the shiny metal a$$ on my shirt.)

 

In spite of its dark, cold and gory makeup, Robocop still managed to bring the funny.  Whether it was the satirical news pieces or Robocop’s attempt at making small talk in his synthesized voice, humor wasn’t an issue in version 1.0.  This time around, humor is pretty much non-existent, and it’s not for a lack of trying.  Version 2.0 tried reusing a few of the more memorable quotes from its forerunner, but they were used in such a forced manner, they only managed to fall flat.  The news report and commercials were replaced with a political talking head spoof called “The Novak Report”.  While  tries his best as the show host Pat Novak, the writers resort to him dropping his infamous over use of the words “Mother F$&ker” to try and cajole a laugh from the audience.  It didn’t work.

 

 

Where’s the voice?

Another omission that was sorely missed in my book, was the robotic monotone voice of Murphy, as was heard when he adorned the silver suit in the original.  For the reboot, Murphy is made to be more “human”, which means he talks and interacts with others like a normal human being, for which he technically is in every cognitive way possible.  Not only did that hurt the humor as mentioned above, it seemed to hinder the whole man vs. machine motif in general.  With that said…

 

 

– Where’s the man versus machine?

Joel Kinnaman searches for the hero inside, as the new Robocop (2014)

“When I get my hands on my damn agent…”

 

At the heart of the first Robocop – or technical lack thereof – was the struggle of Murphy’s grey matter fighting against the programming it was being forced to adhere to by OCP.  When he finally breaks through, seeing Weller smile at the end of the movie is pure victory and a sincere payoff for the character and the audience.  On the other hand, new Murphy is pretty much the same character before and after the suit transplant, both emotionally and cognitively.  What’s more, the way the new Robocop runs and jumps around like an Olympic triathlete all film, makes it difficult to accept the fantasy that there really isn’t an actor running around under all that armor.  The only time Murphy even remotely acts like a droid is when his hormonal balance is tweaked, which in theory had nothing to do with his programming.

Ok, so this is a different take, and I can live with that.  Nonetheless, going this route then requires having someone with decent enough acting chops to portray the holy-crap-I’m-a-brain-in-a-metal-pan mentality of their situation.  Unfortunately, Joel Kinnaman just couldn’t pull it off and seemed to have a rough time depicting the new softer, fuzzier side of Robocop the reboot was  trying to sell.  If anything his best moments were the few fleeting instances he was doped up and acting like a cyborg (or at least trying to).  To make matters worse, Murphy was literally an ass prior to getting Robo-tized in that he knowingly put his partner in sever danger and had about as much charisma as a stale cantaloupe.  Seeing as I found his pre-robo character to have the likability factor of a certain woman’s self-cleaning device, I felt no connection to his character or his plight.

 

 

– Where’s the musical theme?

 

Since you all know my love of a great musical score, it should be of no surprise that the iconic Robocop theme, composed by Basil Poledouris, is among my favorite orchestral tracks.  The timing of its use during climactic scenes during the original helped play a large role in presenting the metallic officer as a heroic symbol to rally around.  I kid you not when I tell you that the theme was used for approximately 3 seconds during the opening title screen and an additional 3 seconds at the very, very , very end of the final credits.  A little more liberal use could have gotten me behind version 2.0, but again, the creative types decided to go a completely different route and make the whole musical experience a generic and forgettable experience.

 

 

– Where’s the weakness?

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“Oh that old hole through my chest? It’s just a flesh wound! Come back here and fight like a man!”

 

Even the least knowledgeable of us (and that would be me) knows that every hero needs a weakness.  While Murphy takes some serious hits in his robo-armor, not once did I ever feel like he was in peril or critical condition.  The original did a fantastic job of putting Robocop through the grinder and letting the audience know he was on his last 1% of life support.  In this reboot, Murphy seems virtually indestructible, even as he marches on through to the grand finale, which felt relatively anti-climactic in it’s own right.  I hate to use the word connect again, but it’s very hard to connect to a character that really doesn’t face any serious obstacles.

 

– Where’s Robocop?

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A redesign I could have lived with… maybe… kind of… but probably not.

 

I’m not sure if I’m the only one that picked up on this or if I just have a horrid memory (the reality probably being a mix of column A and B), however the use of the word “Robocop” was used sparingly.  Outside of the title credit, the brief millisecond visual of it being projected onto a city building, and a single passing mention made by Novak (Samuel Jackson), there really was no clear reference made to Murphy being Robocop.  This is mostly due to the new Murphy never really dying, and thus never becoming the entity known as Robocop.  Essentially it’s publicly known Murphy’s life is saved, and justly referred to Murphy the entire film.  For all intents and purposes they could have easily called this film Murphy-Cop.

To be fair, there were some sporadic bright spots that kept my lunch from completely coming back up in a way the patrons sitting in front of me wouldn’t have appreciated.  For starters, Murphy’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish) is certifiably gorgeous.  If Alex had anything to be enraged about, it’s that they didn’t equip him with some robo-genitals, or at minimum try to reattach the originals.

 

Abbie-Cornish

Now I’d buy THAT for a dollar… if I had one.

 

I also enjoyed the part of the climactic scene with Robocop doing battle with the ED-209s.  Still, I feel like that scene didn’t reach its full potential because it was done in such a jerky “switch-to-a-different-camera-every-two seconds” style. As for the visuals in general, they were all excellent as to be expected with today’s CGI technology, but Robocop is ultimately about what’s under hood, and that can’t be overlooked no matter how glossy of a paint job you give it on the outside.  I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the performance delivered by  as Dr. Dennett Norton, whom always delivers top-notch acting no-matter how badly a film is unraveling around him.

Another positive facet of the film – relatively speaking – is with respect to Robocop’s new metal threads.  I didn’t spend too much time on this because everyone and their Android knew this was going to change for a remake almost three decades since its ancestor, but I was pleasantly surprised  with tweaks made to bring Murphy into the 21st Century.  I am however referring to the silver version of the suit, and not the black version which I still can’t erase from my mental database.

 

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Part man. Part machine. All unnecessary reboot.

 

SPOLIER ALERT: Murphy is eventually re-outfitted with the enhanced Verhoeven-inspired silver duds before the end credits roll.  This is great news for all three of you that have any interest in a sequel.  I on the other hand would prefer having a 3-hour colonoscopy performed on me while I watch a mini-marathon of the Bachelor than to see the new, yet less improved, Robocop hit the streets again.  Of course your mileage may vary depending on your personal thoughts of the original, but for all intents and purposes, this one can go straight to the scrap heap.

The best news however, is the knowledge that Sony Columbia is running thin on popular Verhoeven films to remake, and in turn, mangle.  Regrettably, they still have a slew of other films in their stable that I know they are itching to reboot, and I fear that a certain foursome of ghost wrangling exterminators are close to suffering the same fate.  If only there was a real-life Murphy that could help overwrite Hollywood’s self-imposed prime directives.

 

1 Spur

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3 Comments

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  2. I saw this movie on Monday, and I enjoyed it. The original robocop is one of my top 10 favorite movies, too.

    I would like to address a lot of fans’ primary complaint that Robocop is an “unnecessary” reboot. In your review, you mentioned that the Nolan Batman films were necessary after Schumacher’s Bat-nipples. It seems that everyone is forgetting that the last theatrical release of Robocop was #3 — that garbage didn’t go directly to video like the 3 subsequent films (Yes there are SIX robocop movies). There is also a TV series and a saturday morning cartoon which were both crap, from what I can tell. Love it or hate it, this reboot is the first good thing to come out of the franchise in 25 years. Robocop 2 was 1989, a lot of people forget that, too.

    Is the reboot better than the Verhoeven original? Hell no, nothing can compare. But when you compare it to Robocop 3 or even 2 (yes, I liked this movie more and it made more sense than Robocop 2), then maybe the heat on this movie can come down a little.

    Also, for your enjoyment, is a point-by-point answer to the questions you asked in your review:

    Where’s the gore?

    This is a complaint I seriously don’t understand. Why does the movie have to be gory in order to be a “Robocop” film? You said that Verhoeven movies were known for their over-the-top gore and sex…but this isn’t a Verhoeven film. Robocop shoots the guys and they go down. The lack of gore doesn’t bother me, particularly since I play so many bloodless video games.

    Where’s the villain?

    For the most part, I agree that this film had simultaneously too many villains and not enough. The problem is that all the villains were not on screen long enough to leave an impression, and the one villain that could have been really developed more came out of nowhere, as you said. The lack of a primary antagonist didn’t hurt my enjoyability of the film, but I will agree it hurts the film as a whole.

    Where’s the crime?

    This is another good point. It seems that the movie decided to focus on more “sterile” crime like corruption and white collar stuff, rather than the drug dealing and rape in the original. The thing is: the original robocop needed an enforcer with a conscience because ED-209 was buggy. The reboot robocop WANTED an enforcer with a conscience to circumvent a law. Reboot Robo is really not necessary in his own universe, and is an exhorbitantly expensive publicity stunt.

    Where’s the simplicity?

    I didn’t mind that the plot was complex, as long as it made sense. That said, because it was so elaborate, they had to slow down the pacing of the film to keep up with their own plot, but in the end that didn’t really bother me either.

    Where’s the humor?

    Frankly, I think the original Robocop was satirical by accident. I think a lot of the original was a happy accident, but unintentional all the same. It’s so caustic and dripping with sarcasm, it almost felt like Verhoeven said “there is no way this film is gonna fly, I’m just going to put what I want here.” It just happened to work…marvelously.

    Where’s the voice?

    I got nothing on this, that kinda bothered me. They picked the wrong guy to play Murphy, plain and simple.

    Where’s the man vs. machine?

    It was two-fold in this movie. Murphy still had to recover his humanity by coming to terms that he’s mostly prosethesis. The movie made the bold choice to take the empathy angle: “If YOU woke up and were Robocop how would you feel?” In the original movie, they just said “blank is memory” with a cursory line. In this movie, Murphy’s memories and feelings are competing with the programming.

    On the other side of this is Dr. Norton who is being pressured to take away Murphy’s humanity, and we have to see just how far he’ll go to make this work. For better or worse, it is as much Dr. Norton’s story as it is Murphy’s. I feel this dynamic and duality works to the film’s benefit.

    Where’s the theme?

    Yeah, this bothered me too. How do you open with it and then not use it at all?

    Where’s the weakness?

    Robocop in this film has weakness in the same vain as Superman. He’s never truly in danger, but we do see the “red asset” being used like Directive 4. I thought that was pretty clever without actually incorporating Directive 4.

    Where’s Robocop?

    Again, I can’t argue with you here. I think they needed someone young to play Robocop, but with the range to actually play a robot. It’s harder than it looks, lol.

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