“RoboCop” is a movie with a lot on its mind.
Using Paul Verhoeven’s ultraviolent 1987 sci-fi thriller as a foundation, this remake stays true to the original’s concept — fatally maimed Detroit policeman Alex Murphy restored to life as a cyborg enforcer — while branching out in all sorts of interesting directions.
The original depicts the future as a shark tank presided over by vicious executives of the uber-evil Omni corporation and the satanically sadistic gangster Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith at his most malignant). The remake, directed by Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha, emphasizes more kindly aspects of the story. This “RoboCop” explores in depth the relationship between Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) and his wife (Abbie Cornish) and young son (John Paul Ruttan). Murphy is a devoted family man, and the traumatizing effects his destruction and reconstruction have on all three characters give the picture a relatable humanized perspective the Verhoeven original lacks.
This new version has “Frankenstein” very much on its mind, with Gary Oldman playing the Dr. Frankenstein figure. Oldman’s character, Dr. Norton, is the OmniCorp scientist responsible for rebuilding the destroyed Murphy from his salvageable bits. Norton is the quiet, conflicted center of the story, increasingly worried about the morality of what he’s wrought.
The 1987 “RoboCop” was prescient in its depiction of the trend toward privatizing and militarizing urban police forces. This new version takes that story element even further, showing Omni robots patrolling the streets of a U.S.-occupied Tehran and focusing on a debate in the United States over whether to allow such ’bots to police the streets of America. Omni wants to overturn a law forbidding the use of drones/’bots in this country.
Behind that effort is the top exec of OmniCorp, played with canny smoothness by Michael Keaton, a character with more than a little of Steve Jobs in him. His line, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” about how the public could be persuaded to embrace Robopolicing, is a direct lift from Jobs. Samuel Jackson, as a hectoring talk-show host, drives the same point home much more stridently.
There are plenty of high-tech gun battles in this “RoboCop,” which make it a real pulse-pounder. But it’s the intelligence behind the gunplay that makes it distinctive.
H H H 1/2 I
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish
Director: Jose Padilha
Running time: 1:50
Rated: PG-13; intense sequences of action, including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material.