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Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Aimee Garcia, Michael Kenneth Williams, Douglas Urbanski, John Paul Ruttan, Patrick Garrow, K C Collins, Daniel Kash, Zach Grenier, Maura Grierson, Stewart Arnott, Matt Cook, Steve Cumyn
Director: Jose Padilha
It’s been 27 years since Paul Verhoeven’s science fiction original RoboCop was first released.
Cinema sequels and made-for-television versions followed.
Now, inevitably, RoboCop is reborn for a new generation of cinemagoers who never saw the originals in the cinema.
I reckon it’s quite possible that, lacking a director of Verhoeven’s established auteur status, this latest version – which is rather more of a reboot than a remake thanks to the considerable advance in special effects since 1987 – will be greeted without very much critical enthusiasm.
Or perhaps (a lot less likely) the involvement of Mexican director José Padilha (Elite Squad: the Enemy Within) might help to raise its reception among those who watch the film instead of just simply bemoaning the lack of a recognised auteur behind the cameras.
The essential story remains the same – in 2028 dedicated corruption-fighting Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured by a car bomb intended to kill him. He survives with only his head, his lungs, his heart (vividly shown via special effects that make his situation scarily credible) and one hand left, thanks to the genius of scientist Gary Oldman (underplaying to excellent effect) who works for the company that supplies law-making robots and sees part-man-part-robot Kinnaman as the profitable face of future law-keeping.
However RoboCop Kinnaman who is still married and father of a young son has no intention of simply becoming a conscienceless robotic assassin for the Force… and instead sets out wreak violent vengeance on the criminals responsible for his enforced mutation and his crooked colleagues who helped them…
Padilha sensibly settles for driving the story fast and furiously with lashings of visceral action and violence, confirmed by the comment that “RoboCop has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material”.
Obviously, Americans are more delicate moviegoers: the British certificate is 12A.
On the simple level of a brisk visually exciting action movie, RoboCop certainly achieves its innate promise.
But by framing the story with Samuel L Jackson as a ranting television news commentator with all the subtlety of a drunken stand-up comedian, potent cynicism (The song ‘If I only Had a Heart’ from The Wizard of Oz is inserted into the action as an ingenious comment on the story) and satire are injected into the action-driven show. Similarly, when Jackson asks his audience, “What is more important than the safety of the American people?” he comes over as more of a preacher than a commentator.
The film also takes a reasonably hard swipe at corruption in Big Business. Michael Keaton (We’re gonna give Americans a product they can love, fear they can rally behind!”) scores as a venal and corrupt robot-making mogul more concerned (in the great American tradition) with profit than with ethics, while Abbie Cornish suffers suitably as RoboCop’s distraught wife.
Nobody is going to claim the film as a work of art. But fast pacing, smart editing and impressive special effects (the opening sequence of old-style robots keeping the law on the streets brutally and bloodily is notably thrilling. All in all, the multiplex-friendly reboot has been smartly achieved.
USA 2014. UK Distributor: StudioCanal . Colour.
117 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.
Review date: 05 Feb 2014