As a critic, I see wonderful movies that I could write pages about. I also see bad movies, but even those I can write pages about because I feel just as strongly about them, just of a different emotion on the spectrum. The trouble I run into when writing is when I’ve seen a movie that sits on that fence, not sure which way to lean. Mediocre films that are just “alright” can be the hardest to write about, because it didn’t really make me feel much. Almost like a robot, huh?
The plot is very much similar to the original, with more of an update to the current. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a father, husband and Detroit detective gets blown up in an attempted assassination. Luckily for him, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), the CEO of Omnicorp wants a wounded law enforcement officer to repair with robotics to fight crime in order to sell his product to America.
The cast performs admirably, or as admirably as they can amid the indifference on display. Joel Kinnaman has proven his chops in efforts like “The Killing” and “Easy Money”. The problem here is he doesn’t have much time to establish his own character. He has minimal screen time with the people closest to his character in the film before his transformation. 2 scenes with his partner, and 1 with his wife and kid. Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley and Jay Baruchel are fun to watch doing their best sleaze-balls. Gary Oldman, being the incredible force he is, is able to bring so much more authenticity to his role Dr. Dennett Norton – the scientist behind the creation of Robocop – than he was probably ever required to. Abbie Cornish and Michael K. Williams do what little they can with the thankless roles of Murphy’s wife and partner. Samuel L. Jackson is certainly engaging and humerous as Pat Novak, a political propaganda TV host, but the film doesn’t seem to understand the on-the-sleeve satire of his character like Jackson does.
There are many things that made Paul Verhoeven’s original work amazingly, but chief among them was the layering of the film. On the surface, you had an out-and-out action revenge gorefest. Directly underneath though was satire of corporate power and the American government. So essentially, you had a film that people could enjoy as a ridiculous hard-R action film, but also one that had more to give you if you searched for it. This 2014 version has both of those things, but so far in between each other that it can never successfully layer them. And even in those moments, it only works because of how much it shares tonally with the original. It makes statements about drone warfare and corporate politics, but always in such a broad manner that it never hits its spot. It’s like it punches a hole in your wall, but then apologizes for having left a mark. It also has effective moments where it pushes the PG-13 rating. There is a scene where Alex Murphy sees how little of his actual body is left, and it’s a solid moment of reflection and realization. When the original film score kicked in at sparse moments, the film suddenly have far more energy than it did without.
Director Jose Padilha is certainly a good director, and I believe did his best against the Hollywood system to deliver his best effort under the conditions. Having seen both of his “Elite Squad” films and his documentary “Bus 174”, his filmography can back up my defense of him. He shoots the action well, and manages to create an engaging enough 3rd act despite the cookie-cutting of the film’s plot. Perhaps I’m being too forgiving of him for this mediocre output, but honestly, if this film is the worst one he ever makes then we will be fine.