Monday, March 3, 2014

Movie Review - RoboCop

I realize this isn’t the most timely review. This and a couple of other movie reviews have just taken me a long time to get around to.
You guys know me – I am not one to poo-poo remakes out of hand. I was excited about the RoboCop remake. I was even more excited after I saw the initial trailer:

The idea that they were trying to do something different with the new one appealed to me. I liked the idea that Murphy still knew who he was and the different spin on corporate America. I thought there was a great opportunity for updating the ideas that the original had tried to get across. Plus, modern filmmaking techniques would allow for an even more epic scope than the original.

I love the original RoboCop. I’ve told this story before, but I recorded it off of HBO when I was a kid and watched it every single day after school for what might have been months. For some reason I never loved the sequels or the RoboCop cartoon like I did that first movie. It’s one of the few titles that I’ve bought and re-bought whenever new versions have come out. I want the best RoboCop I can get.

Naturally we got a new Blu-Ray version of the original to accompany the remake. I bought it (it was only $10) and me and the missus watched it before going to see the remake.
This might have been a mistake.

We both thoroughly enjoyed watching this classic again and agreed that it was a perfect movie. I am not saying that with any degree of hyperbole – we actually discussed it for a while after it was over and agreed that RoboCop is quite literally a perfect movie from pacing to acting to effects to tone. Not one second is wasted. The new Blu-Ray release is great. It’s the best transfer I’ve seen and all of the bonus features from prior releases are included. We even did something we don’t often do – we watched a number of those bonus features. We had a really good time with this thing and were both very excited about seeing the remake.

I did not like the remake.

To me it felt like somebody had watched RoboCop one time recently and thought, “That was interesting, but I could remake it to be just like every other Hollywood action movie and probably make a bunch of money.”

The story this time around is that OmniCorp is a big corporation that makes robot drones for military use around the world. America doesn’t like the idea of drones, so OmniCorp blows up Good Cop Alex Murphy so they can turn him into RoboCop and sell their drone idea. They pressure his wife into signing him over; which is an interesting aspect and is why he retains his memories of who he is.

This is the part of the movie that was somewhat effective. The scenes of Alex and his family coping with his situation are pretty rough. There is one in particular – where we see just how much of Alex’s physical form is left – that still haunts me. It was a brilliant scene and one of the few that overshadowed anything from the original movie. It was very visually impactful. But other than direct interactions with Alex I really didn’t care much about his wife and son. They barely had their own characters at all – they were just extensions of Murphy. It’s not like the family in the original was all that fleshed out, but for some reason it worked better. The whole T.J. Lazer thing was all it took.

The fact that this movie struck me as so bland while boasting such a phenomenal cast is tragic. Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Hayley, and Michael Keaton should just about guarantee a hit for me. But I didn’t feel like any of those guys got to do enough with their roles. I was so excited about seeing Michael Keaton as an evil, conniving corporate douchebag. But he never really got to play. I felt like he was either holding back or being held back. And it felt that way with everybody – like there was a crazy, over-the-top performance just beneath the surface. That in an alternate universe there’s probably a version of this movie that is fucking incredible because everybody got to cut loose and make a fun movie.

By all rights this remake should have blown the original away. Some of my longtime favorite actors are favorites because of RoboCop. It’s the whole reason I’ve followed the careers of Miguel Ferrer, Peter Weller, and Kurtwood Smith. But at the time I had no idea who those guys were. They sold me their characters. With the remake I was predisposed to liking the actors and they actually managed to turn me off.

I think another major problem was the way Murphy got blown up. I know it’s not fair to expect the same kind of heaviness that accompanied Peter Weller’s horrifying death scene – it’s one of the most gruesome things I’ve ever seen happen to a nice guy in a movie. In the remake he just gets blown up. It didn’t really affect me.

That might be an indication of something being wrong with me, because I was bothered throughout the movie by how tame it was. It’s not that I expected the level of gore that was in the original, but I expected something. It was like the filmmakers were intentionally avoiding a certain level of violence. And that might have been a good idea if there had been something else of substance to offer. But I didn’t feel like there was.
The plot was very straightforward with no real twists or turns. While I don’t need twists or turns and actually tend to dislike them when they are all a movie has to offer, you do need some kind of hook. And RoboCop felt hook-less. When the credits rolled I simply could not understand the point of it all. I didn’t get why somebody would remake a movie only to neuter it of its best qualities – satire and over-the-top gore - without adding anything worthwhile. It was like Nickelback doing a Slayer cover.

Here’s the big twist of this review – Mrs. Troublemaker did like it.

While I rarely begrudge anybody their right to like and dislike what they want, I was baffled by this one. Especially when she likened it to me liking the Evil Dead remake while she didn’t. All of the things I said about RoboCop are basically what she said about Evil Dead. This was intensely frustrating for me, which was probably good because now I understand how she felt about me liking Evil Dead so much. She just didn’t get it.

Nothing makes me want to watch this movie again other than wanting to give it another chance. Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched the original so recently. Maybe I should have had another beer. I dunno. I’ll watch it again at some point just to give it another chance, but I don’t particularly want to. There just wasn’t anything special about it.

There wasn’t anything terrible about it, either. It was shot competently and the plot was totally fine. In no way did the movie fail at anything other than being awesome. It was straightforward action fare, suitable for any Friday night. But I want a whole lot more from something called RoboCop.

3 out of 5

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