When a director decides to remake a beloved film like Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent satire, RoboCop, that remake is born immediately on the offensive because the inevitable question is ‘why?’ Other than to make money, of course. Why try and redo a film that many people believe to be one of the action genre’s finest?
Like superhero movies and their reboots, the origin story is always intriguing and Padilha’s RoboCop starts off promisingly in that regard. The RoboCop story is well known and it plays out in similar fashion here: a Detroit police officer, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), is mutilated in an attempted murder and is used as the first human-robot hybrid police enforcer. Murphy then battles with his sense of identity – what makes us human, etc. – while attempting to bring down the company that made him.
This remake focuses more intensely on Murphy and his family life. The initial sequences in which Murphy is transformed are well done, such as a scene involving the implantation of a memory from a house party, which is spliced with the present day in the laboratory as the camera glides in circular fashion flipping between the two moments. In addition, the scene where Murphy sees how much of his old body remains is genuinely upsetting.
Past those few exceptions, Murphy’s relationship with his wife and son is barely explored and the pacing of the film suffers as a result. Kinnaman and Abbie Cornish are stilted and wooden as Alex and Clara Murphy who both seem to have undergone a personality bypass. Only Samuel L. Jackson’s manically patriotic talk show host, Pat Novak, injects any sense of personality or energy into the film.
RoboCop crumbles once Padilha finally succumbs to the chains of fidelity by following the broad strokes of the original. The last third of RoboCop is, quite frankly, a bore. The action set-pieces CGI’d to within an inch of their life are drab, lifeless affairs. Murphy is lost in a hail of bullets and shrapnel as he kills swathes of nondescript robots with even less personality than himself.
At one point unscrupulous OmniCorp CEO, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), declares that ‘Americans don’t want a machine. They want a product with a conscience.’ Paul Verhoeven made it in 1987. (4)