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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

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The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews


Posted: 29 Jan 2014 11:18 PM PST

Surprise, surprise – the RoboCop reboot is a lot better than reboots have a right to be.

YOU can open your eyes now; it's safe. The RoboCop reboot is not the train wreck we feared – a natural feeling considering how bad and pointless reboots can get (stand up when we're talking about you, Total Recall 2012) – and is, in fact,  quite an enjoyable outing.

Just so we're clear, it doesn't trump Paul Verhoeven's beloved original. It lacks the over-the-top violence, the wicked satire (it does make an effort though), the cool RoboCop lines and the overall sense of satisfaction that the original sent us out of the theatre with.

At the same time, it does manage to capture the pathos of poor Detroit PD detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman of TV's The Killing) and puts in enough new stuff to bring some freshness to a familiar story.

Director Jose Padilha, a Brazilian who has made two well-received crime dramas in his home country (the Elite Force films), manages to deliver some hard-edged action within the confines of the studio's desired PG-13 rating. So while this RoboCop is a little family-friendlier than the original, it is not completely sanitised to the point of being irrelevant.

'Hey, Weller, I got two words for ya – night ops. Not sure about the pale hand though.'

The setting for this reboot is not just a crime-plagued city of the near future (2028), but a country dead set against deploying robotic peace officers on the streets – robots that have been used quite successfully everywhere else in the world. ("Why is America so robo-phobic?" asks Samuel L. Jackson's clearly biased TV commentator Pat Novak, who provides most of the laughs and hit-or-miss attempts at social and political satire.)

As always, there's a sinister money-grubbing corporation working behind the scenes. OmniCorp craves the profits from having its robots policing the US$600bil-a-year US market, but Congress won't allow emotionless, unfeeling machines carrying weapons in American cities.

Enter Murphy, who is caught in a car-bomb blast set by the crime lord he is investigating. Murphy presents the ideal candidate for OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars' (Michael Keaton) requirements – a dedicated officer whose mind is still functioning and can, in theory, strike that balance of emotion and effectiveness as a robotic law enforcement officer.

Of course, the caveat about sticking a human mind in a machine is that you can never predict exactly how the darn thing's (by that, I mean the mind) going to react, and this throws a huge monkey wrench in OmniCorp's plans. Also proving to be a thorn in the side is Murphy's wife Clara (Abbie Cornish), not one to sit idly by while the company does questionable things to (what's left of) her husband.

'I was just looking at you hooked up to this rig like a collectible action figure, and the merchandising revenue potential sort of blew my mind.'

One of the good things this reboot does is to expand the role of the scientists involved in the project – namely Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) and his assistant Kim (Aimee Garcia) – and make them sympathetic, genuinely concerned characters. Not so sympathetic is OmniCorp's paramilitary goon Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley), who's probably closer to being this movie's Clarence Boddicker (a name fans of the original should be extremely familiar with) than the actual crime kingpin who blew up Murphy.

As the man in the metal, Kinnaman has some big shoes to fill. He gets the physical moves right and does some convincing emoting, especially in the disconcerting scene where Norton shows him just how much is left of the original Alex Murphy. A minor disappointment is the absence of the cool/high-impact lines that made Weller's original so memorable; though this is not a failing of the actor's so much as it is of the script, which gets a bit too verbose when it comes to RoboCop's dialogue. While I had my misgivings about it at first, the new black armour actually looks cool. And that bike ... whoa.

So the new RoboCop looks good, moves slickly through its 100-plus minutes, and is a suitably decent action flick to kick-start a whole new revival of the character. And as far as characer is concerned, Kinnaman and Padilha have got off the starting blocks strongly, making this Alex Murphy/RoboCop a sympathetic tragic hero that's just right for the times.


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