Videophiled: New Model ‘RoboCop’

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Robocop (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) – We gripe about remakes all the time, but when you approach something with the status of the original 1987 RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven’s perversely violent, savagely smart, and wickedly funny science fiction action blast laced with political and social satire, it gets personal for a lot of folks. And for good reason. Twenty five years later, it seems more prescient than ever, which puts the onus on the new film to justify itself: just what does it have to say about a world where unmanned military drones are being drafted into stateside police work?

Brazilian director José Padilha, who delivered both gritty, high-tension action and a savvy social drama in Elite Squad, takes on this remake, and Swedish-born / Texas-tutored Joel Kinnaman is Detroit cop and family man Alex Murphy, rebuilt with military robotics as an urban assault weapon after he’s mortally wounded in an ambush.

This is certainly much slicker than the original, with military robots that look like the Cylons of the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot and mayhem galore, but it’s also much tamer in terms of both violence and satire. Where the original found an insidious handshake between corporate profits and planned obsolescence and design flaws designed to keep contracts full and a cut of the drug and flesh trade around construction projects, this is just about greed on small and large scales, with OmniCorp, the insidious contractor hoping to sell the dubious American public on a mechanical police force, as the big-time crooks. Michael Keaton is despicably good as the instinctively disingenuous CEO and Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, and Samuel L. Jackson co-star.

The battle between the human spirit and an operating system offering “the illusion of free will,” a metaphor rife with possibility but lacking conviction, for a film that turns on the struggle between man and machine, this film has less personality than Verhoeven’s. The film ultimately favors soggy sentiment over the cleverness of the original: emotion overrides the system here, rather than taking on the fatal logic of the system itself in the darkly witty twist of the original. The human factor is the wild card. I just wish it was actually more wild and less predictable.

One question that really bothers me in all these future films: how have they managed to create entirely self-contained robot soldiers yet never found a way to make silent servo motors? Every movement comes with the whir and buzz of working parts just to remind us that it’s not just a suit, it’s technology, baby!

The Blu-ray offers the three-part featurette ” Robocop: Engineered for the 21st Century,” an OmniCorp product announcement and deleted scenes, plus a bonus DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD copy. No supplements on the DVD.

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