RoboCop reboot is not as great as the original but a great remake

by Mark Burger

Although not the instant classic the original 1987 film was, director Jose Padilha’s rendition of Robo- Cop is one of the better remakes in recent memory. The first film was a surprise because it was great. The new film is a surprise because it’s not bad. It establishes its own identity while not insulting – and actually paying some measure of tribute to — the memory of its predecessor.

The storyline doesn’t stray far, as Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) ismurdered, then resurrected and refitted as the hi-tech crime-fighter RoboCop by the mega-buck consortium OmniCorp, headed by politically ambitious Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton).

Initially, Murphy is none too thrilled by this unexpected turn of events, despite the compassionate concern of Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), the brilliant scientist who has made man into machine. To Sellars, whose true (and darker) colors become clearer as the story progresses, RoboCop is a means to an end – a product to profit from. He’s not a human being, he’s commerce – and he’s expendable.

In addition to Keaton and Oldman – both veterans of respective Batman franchises and both in good form here – the star-studded cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, taking a break from Marvel movies and sporting a delirious hairpiece, as blowhard TV political pundit Pat Novak, periodically popping up to lend right-wing support for RoboCop. Patrick Garrow plays Antoine Vallon, Detroit’s resident crime czar and the man responsible for Murphy’s murder – which hardly bodes well for his survival under these circumstances.

This time around, more time is devoted to Murphy’s existential dilemma and its repercussions on his wife (Abbie Cornish) and young son (John Paul Ruttan). Kinnaman brings some shading to his character; like his predecessor Peter Weller he’s more than just a guy in a metal suit.

Jennifer Ehle (icily bemused), Jay Baruchel (quite funny) and Jackie Earle Haley (doing a lot with a little) round out Sellars’ cadre of sycophants, who do what the boss tells them with no questions asked.

The Brazilian-born Padilha, making his American debut – much as Paul Verhoeven was making his with the original film – brings some fresh perspective to the proceedings and tries hard to replicate the first film’s often-satirical observations about corporate chicanery, political malfeasance and police corruption – while also providing the requisite action. Those scenes, which stretch the boundaries of the film’s (surprising) PG-13 rating, are akin to today’s video games and are often quite impressive.