Monday, September 15, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—RoboCop (2014) ***½

PG-13, 117 min.
Director: José Padilha
Writers: Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier (also 1987 film), Michael Miner (also 1987 film)
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Samuel L. Jackson, Aimee Garcia, John Paul Ruttan, Patrick Garrow

“RoboCop” is the umpteenth remake of an 80’s classic in recent years. For the most part they haven’t been a half bad bunch of films. “RoboCop” might be the best of the bunch.

That may be because the original “RoboCop” wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of cinema, but it was based on some pretty profound social commentary. What held the original back was that it was more intent on becoming one of the hardest ‘R’ rated movies of the decade in terms of bloody violence.

So now comes “RoboCop” the reboot rated PG-13 for a public that has become totally desensitized to its violence. In truth, I believe this still should’ve been rated ‘R’ even though it isn’t nearly as graphic as the original. Its story is almost identical to the original, although its themes are quite different.

The original focuses on the division of social classes in our country by depicting the rising crime rates in the inner city of a dystopian Detroit calling for some sort of drastic change in the law enforcement approach. A tech company sees an opportunity to place a robot police force on the streets, but they need a more human face to put on their wares. This is delivered to them when a hero cop must be incorporated into their technology in order to save his life after a drug lord takes him down. He becomes RoboCop and takes a Dirty Harry approach to crime by bring a swifter form of justice to the streets through the technology that keeps him alive. Of course, it turns out the real criminals are the corporate executives who put RoboCop on the streets; and when RoboCop discovers their deceptions, he brings them to justice.

As I said, not much has changed about that story, but the themes focus less on class division and more on the chess game of the corporate sale of our political system. Instead of simply retooling what had been done before into a more impressive and flashy action flick, “RoboCop” really contemplates the complex themes it explores. Samuel L. Jackson is brought in as a political pundit to push that side of the story. He argues for the use of a corporate provided police force of robots. Michael Keaton plays the CEO of that corporation, who is out to make a buck, but also understands that this means providing a valuable product. Gary Oldman is the doctor who makes the technology work. He’s not some Dr. Frankenstein but is a legitimate doctor trying to improve life for all of human kind. The political maneuvering is what corrupts the process, not what is in these men’s hearts. It’s a very interesting study.

You don’t expect your action sci-fi to be this considerate of how corruption works. “RoboCop” is surprisingly smart, but then that tends to be the trend with these reworkings of those 80’s classics. 

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