Rating: 3 stars
“You said you could save him, but what kind of a life will he have?”
I saw Elite Squad (2007) seven years ago and was impressed by Jose Padilha's gritty and violent actioner. He made a sequel in 2010. Many critics agreed it was a far greater accomplishment.
Move forward to 2014 and a true test of his credentials has come in the form of a big-budgeted studio project - a remake of RoboCop (1987), the Paul Verhoeven sci-fi thriller that is now considered a cult classic.
I still remember the title music theme (by the great Basil Poledouris) vividly. It is used twice in the 2014 version. But the attempt feels less a homage than a quick opportunity to appease old fans.
Padilha doesn't get full creative licence in directing the movie, but under the circumstances, I think he has done a half-decent job. Any other (lesser) filmmaker might have made a mess.
Starring the relatively unknown Joel Kinnaman who plays Alex Murphy, a cop whom after having too close an encounter with an explosion left him in a fatal condition, becomes the subject of a technological experiment to revolutionize law enforcement – putting a man in a machine. It is not a spoiler to say that Alex becomes RoboCop.
This man-machine idea is nowhere close to (or as controversial as) Minority Report's pre-crime strategy, but it is effective, perhaps even to a fault. Complications arise, and these make up the bulk of the movie.
Padilha's film deals with its man-machine sci-fi themes head-on. But it doesn't reach its true potential. You get the feeling the movie is continuously hitting a glass ceiling and can't break through. Its in-your-face US political rhetoric also doesn't help the film's pointedness.
RoboCop may be pointy and pokes you. But you don't giggle. You simply withstand the assault on your senses. There's blinding gunfire and shattering sound, all to the tune of a shaky handheld camera. It may feel uncomfortable to watch such scenes, but at least Padilha gets to flex a bit of his stylistic muscles with some parts echoing similarities to Elite Squad.
The performances are generally average, though the ever reliable Gary Oldman turns in a decent supporting performance as a scientist. In sum, this newer and slicker RoboCop provides two hours of entertainment, but it is lacking the visceral and gut-punching impact of Verhoeven’s more violent and exciting original.
Verdict: It assaults you with blinding gunfire and shattering sound, but it doesn't reach its true dramatic and thematic potential.