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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Newest ‘RoboCop’ may not be worth update

2/20/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

Joel Kinnaman, at left, and Gary Oldman star in “RoboCop.”
Photo: Kerry Hayes; courtesy of Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
In the new “RoboCop” reboot, we are given a superhero ready for the toy shelves. He drives a fast, sleek vehicle; he has a cool outfit; and his weapons shock, rather than kill, the bad guys. And the movie is PG-13, unlike the original R-rated 1987 “RoboCop” starring Peter Weller.

What this new “RoboCop” doesn’t have are many “wow” moments. It’s got the action you’d expect and tells its origin story competently, but it could use a boost of adrenaline. And while there is an attempt at social relevance, drawing parallels to our current debate on drone warfare, it feels more interested in getting a new “RoboCop” franchise off the ground.

Directed by José Padilha, “RoboCop” is set in a near future when robots are keeping the peace around the world. Unobtrusive they are not. The machines, made by the fine people of evil-sounding (and evil-doing) OmniCorp, are walking tanks that scan locals for signs of bad intentions and take lethal action without pause.

Because the metal men lack the human element, they are not legal for use in the United States. This is something OmniCorp head honcho Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) would like to change. In Sellars’ corner is angry conservative commentator Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), who has no time for “robophobic” Americans.

Without robots and drones, Detroit must rely on humans to do its police work. (We are told that Detroit is America’s most crime-riddled city, but it actually looks quite nice in the movie. The city could use the film as a tourism ad.) One of the finest members of the force is Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), but he angers a crime kingpin and is subsequently blown to bits in an explosion.

But OmniCorp scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is able to keep Murphy alive using cyber implants. Below his neck, the officer is now mostly a robot, which fits perfectly into Sellars’ plan to give his peacekeeping machines a human face. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Murphy wakes up to his new reality, with the music of Frank Sinatra serving as a bridge between his old life and his disturbing new one.

Being a half-man-half-robot isn’t easy for Murphy, particularly when few people have his back, such as it is. Most everyone outside of Murphy’s heart-of-gold wife (Abbie Cornish) and son is either corrupt or bent on exploiting him. If Murphy is to right wrongs, dish out vengeance and set the table for sequels, he will have to do it mostly by himself. And so he does, as if he were completing levels of a videogame.

The movie goes into full action mode in its second half, with RoboCop zooming around Detroit on his cool cycle (available online for $7.90 plus shipping, for ages 4 and above). But it does find time for a little insightful commentary, as when we learn the politicians’ reaction to RoboCop living up to the hype. It seems there are some professions that have no interest in a truth-seeking machine unless they have access to its “off” switch.

The movie, currently in theaters, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material.

2 Stars (out of four)

 

Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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