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RoboCop' reborn

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RoboCop' RoboCop'

Remake can't match original's appeal

In this age of remakes and reboots, it is inevitable that Hollywood is going to attempt a new version of a film whose original incarnation holds a special place in your heart. It's the nature of the beast; nothing is sacred and cash is king.

I didn't expect my own visceral reaction to the remake of 'RoboCop.' I hadn't seen Paul Verhoven's 1987 original in years. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that 'RoboCop' was very much a product of its era. It was dark satire couched in action-movie clich (though I'll freely admit that it took me many viewings to realize the former through the awesome exploding noise of the latter) a clever, compelling and surprisingly prescient look at a potential future.

Suffice it to say, the 2014 version doesn't quite fire on all cylinders. That's not to say it's bad it's actually okay. It just doesn't have a whole lot to say.

The year is 2028. The United States has taken its role as the world's policeman to the next level, introducing squadrons of robots to foreign countries in order to 'keep the peace.' These robots are manufactured by the ubiquitous Omnicorp, led by charismatic and ambitious CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton, 'Clear History'). 

Sellars, with the help of noted conservative pundit Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson, 'Oldboy'), hopes to overcome government opposition and put his robots on the ground on U.S. soil as well as overseas. With the help of Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, 'Paranoia'), Sellars aims to exploit a loophole by introducing organic material into the equation putting a man inside the machine.

The plan comes together when Detroit policeman Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, TV's 'The Killing') is blown up by a car bomb while investigating one of the city's most dangerous criminals. Murphy is integrated with a robotic body under the supervision of Dr. Norton and brought back onto the force.

But all is not as it seems in the upper echelons of Omnicorp. Murphy's continued humanity is viewed as a possible threat to the program and to the bottom line leading factions from all sides to try and take him out of the picture. But RoboCop will not stop until he solves the most important crime of all his own attempted murder.

It isn't necessarily fair to this movie to compare it to the previous incarnation, but the simple truth is that while 1987's 'RoboCop' was a funny, ridiculous, over-the-top condemnation of commercialization and the rapidly increasing power of corporations, 2014's 'RoboCop' is an action movie about a cop who becomes a robot. 

It's not that I necessarily need my action movies to have some big message; I enjoy explosions for the sake of explosions as much as the next guy. But those context-free explosions are always going to suffer in comparison to those that as ridiculous as it may sound have something to say. 

And it's too bad, because there are hints of possibility hidden amidst all of the RoboCopping. The questionable morality of drone warfare, the ramifications of exponential advances in technology, the ever-increasing degree of personal surveillance, the corruption of big government by big moneythere are whiffs of all of these themes. They just get subverted again and again by gunplay, explosions and overly simplified plots and subplots.

What could have been great just comes off as workmanlike. Kinnaman is fine as Murphy. Keaton and Oldman are pros, doing what pros do. Jackson manages to minimize his moments of self-parody nicely. Michael K. Williams ('12 Years a Slave'), Jackie Earle Haley ('Parkland') and Jay Baruchel ('The Art of the Steal') all do nice work in supporting roles.

'RoboCop' is actually a half-decent time; the big action set pieces are solid and no one on the performing side drops the ball. It all looks and sounds good. But while the original film only presented the illusion of empty calories, there really is little of actual substance in the new offering.

[2.5 out of 5]

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