MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Robocop’ lacks soul in the machine

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First Posted: 2/17/2014

I’m not the kind of person who gets misty-eyed and nostalgic over the ‘80s because I lived through that decade and I remember just how awful it was. Bangs were at their crispiest, “Dig Dug” was far too hard, and hands were across and all over America gettin’ all up inside its guts. It was dangerously sexy.

However, there was one mitigating factor that made living in the ‘80s almost worthwhile, and that was “Robocop.” Ostensibly a super violent action movie, “Robocop” was in a reality a pitch-black satire that hated the excesses, unapologetic consumerism, and stupidity of the decade just as much as you did. In essence, “Robocop” succeeded where John Hinckley failed, because the film metaphorically took aim at Reagan’s wobbly, plasticine head and didn’t wing his shoulder like some kind of bungling gun-dummy. Much like Jodie Foster, America was deeply impressed.

“Robocop” was very much a product of its time, but that didn’t mean the film couldn’t be re-imagined, rebooted, and completely re-jiggered to reflect our modern era. In fact, considering how bad the past 14 years have been, we needed a Robocop to playfully murder oily symbols of corporate greed and corruption more than ever. I embraced the “Robocop” remake because I assumed it would have something new to say, and even if it didn’t, you’re still left with the sight of a silver cyborg trundling around a pre-apocalyptic hellscape shooting people in the throat.

Unfortunately, the new “Robocop” is neither. Like its predecessor, “Robocop” tries to be a pointed social commentary and a crazy action thriller, but it doesn’t really have anything insightful to say and it’s too afraid to indulge in anything that might be considered violent. So, in effect, you’re left with a movie that resembles a giant neutered dog; it’s bloated, sad to look at, and clearly missing its balls.

Strangely, “Robocop” has been receiving a lot of praise simply because the storyline isn’t a carbon copy of the 1987 original. And that’s nice, I guess, but it also shows just how prohibitively low the bar has been set for modern cinema, especially when a film is applauded just because it isn’t exactly like another film. Shouldn’t it also be good? Because the storyline in “Robocop” isn’t. In the film, Michael Keaton plays a sinister Steve Jobs stand-in who has trouble convincing the Senate as well as the American people to embrace his idea of replacing the police with drone-like androids. In order to win public approval, Keaton comes up with the idea to put a human face on his program by basically strong-arming a nearly fatally injured policeman (Joel Kinnaman) into a cybernetic suit of armor.

Why exactly is the American public so against this drone program? Well, because the drones are too effective, which is an idea that is almost as laughable as the one implying the Senate would block a quasi-Halliburton-type corporation from doing whatever it wants. And that’s the problem with “Robocop” – it’s tone deaf. People don’t hate drones because they do their job too well; people hate drones because drones kill more innocent civilians than actual targets. Drones are the terrifying real-life equivalent to the original ED-209. “Robocop” doesn’t fully understand the issues it’s trying to tackle. Instead of going for the jugular, “Robocop” stumbles and chips its tooth on the shoulder.

But please understand, the new “Robocop” isn’t a bad movie because it compares unfavorably to its inspiration. “Robocop” is bad movie because it compares unfavorably to most movies. You could have set it on a battleship, retitled it “Admiral Android,” and it still would have been generic, dull, and joyless.

Rating: W