I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar. Well, imagine the original cult classic in all it’s glory, being de-shelled, removing all the tasty innards, the icy satire, the hysterical commercials with the infamous one liner, and replacing it with generic characters, predictable boring corrupt copper spiel, and oh yeah, pimping it out with a gloss black finish and you’ve got a slight indicator of what to expect. If you didn’t already get that from the trailers. Not a complete write-off. Ro-bore-cop has impeccable special effects, combined with decent set action pieces (when they happen), but it doesn’t excuse or help defend the argument that remakes should be done. If anything this one is an example against that said cause.
Mini-rant over. Now to the rest of it. Now, dead or half-asleep, I’m going to review this. Now, I’m not going to lie. I am a huge fan of the original 1987 Verhoeven sci-fi classic. When I first heard about this remake and saw the proposed robo-suit, I was livid. BUT . . . I was proved wrong with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake and the trailers for this rehash looked promising. So I went, ready to give it a chance. Hope went out the window when the 12A certificate came up across the screen. You know what to expect as soon as you open to Samuel L (the L stands for Motherfucker) Jackson doing Ron Burgundy-like vocal exercises before appearing on a news segment, criticising America for being “robophobic” (A guilty titter. It worked) and demanding to know why it is the only country not to have robots protecting the streets.
The opening sequence was very good and showed potential, brushing lightly on the satire of the Middle East with their new “protectors”, which soon leads to a gun frenzied attack on live air, which for security reasons, is cut short. The visuals are fantastic and the robots looks good. The action is pacy. Good start but that is soon droned down by more talking about why robots should be in America. I felt I was watching the news. Then the theme song kicks in, re-calibrated, tinny and awful. I thought it sounded a little dated before, but this film managed to make it stick out like a sore thumb.
Enter our hero, Alex Murphy played by Joel Kinnaman (you may remember him from the disappointing US remake of The Killing. However, I did like his performance . . . in that). Kinnaman is very wooden in this and he soon narrates a quick plot summary of a horrible weapons dealer whose working with corrupt coppers. Two of which are blatantly in the room with him.
We are soon lulled into a quick who’s who of stocky generic bad guys relieved by a reasonable gun blazing shoot em up. While that’s going on, corporate bigwig Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is working with his team (PR guru Jay Baruchel in a minor and passive role. Plays it well. But he is a good actor) to try and market a robot on the streets, but they realise they need a human touch to it. Cue the inevitable double crossing and trusting the wrong people for poor old Murphy, who is then “dealt with” in the form of a ferocious car bomb. Would have been more of a shocker, if we didn’t see it coming. There was no suspense building to his inevitable demise. We were just waiting for “when he’s going to be Robo?” as the bomb was set up ten minutes before.
Now, the effects are very good and the suit looks decent and it was great to see a more slim-lined, less bulky, version of the original with the blue titanium. We soon get all the issues, man v machine, is he a human in a machine or a machine who thinks he’s human? Now, I can respect Jose Padilha and the writers for trying to do something different to the classic and break away from it, looking at aspects that weren’t considered or couldn’t be. But looking at this, maybe they should have just done it shot for shot.
Gone are characters like Louis, to be replaced by Michael K. Williams (the legendary Omar from the Wire/Chalky White from Boardwalk Empire). Williams does his best but his character gets pushed aside that much that he can only pop out two good one-liners. He isn’t even really brought back until the (much needed) explosive finale. Gary Oldman plays Dr Dennett Norton to perfection, with the beautiful, if wasted, Aimee Garcia (Jamie Batista from Dexter) as his lab assistant.
But it soon drags into a dull, mind numbing hour of training montages, reboots and battles with his body, bearing in mind, (in a beautifully animated if graphic display) that he is a head, set of lungs, heart and a hand. The training montage relieves with some action and clashes with head honcho Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley – Rorschach from Watchmen). He subtly delivers the best line of the movie. Hint hint Robo fans. It is only after the first hour, when Murphy is let out on the streets that it picks up and gets more watchable. However, as a marketing ploy, they pimp him in black, which makes the suit look like bulky biker gear with enormous shoulder pads (or a black dildo). However, still looks good, badass and less stompy to his Weller predecessor.
Now, it only appears that as Kinnaman is supposed to be more robotic, that his acting gets better. Now Peter Weller was always a bit wooden with his monotone voice but Kinnaman appears to out-Weller Weller. BUT . . . he runs really funny. I mean I was in stitches. Maybe he should have kept the Weller stomp and the jump over the wall was OTT. The training sequence was also let down with OTT music that had ridiculous jazz flute music. I was waiting for Ron Burgundy to pop out.
There was needless time building up Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), who was an awful baddie. Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence J. Boddicker just looked evil. We didn’t need to establish anything. It was evident that he was a piece of work. The baddies in this were generic, stocky and didn’t stand out. Might as well have been named Cannon Fodder #1, 2, etc. Oldman and Keaton worked well together. Oldman as the tormented compassionate scientist to Keaton’s devilish corporate money maker. Not enough of the pair and not enough going to keep them on. In the original, we had the malicious Ronny “Dick” Cox and gullible yuppie/guppie Miguel “Bob” Ferrer competing with their programs and their . . . explosive rivalry (What?). Not so much in this.
Also, as a side note, what was with Keaton’s lip-licking? Did he need Vasoline? Seriously he kept looking at Oldman like he was a piece of KFC. Understandable if it was Abbie Cornish. What? Cornish (Limitless. The movie. Come on, we’re better than that) did her best as the distraught wife and the writers tried to bring the family angle into it more but it just didn’t work and came off half-baked and corny.
The busts were even uninteresting. Trying to keep in with its teen audience, Robo does an emotional analysis on a druggie, his screen states: TOTALLY STONED. However, his screen’s visuals although cool are stupid. SUSPECTS LOOKS VIOLENT or something along those lines. Mate, I could have told you that and saved you a million bucks. Some liked the Knight Rideresque bike with his neon blue lights, I didn’t. I was waiting for it to say, “You’re not Michael”. Also, how much longer can films ride off a volatile Jackson shouting at you and spewing Motherfuckers everywhere. In this case, as its 12A, once and bleeped. Well he was on live TV. His biased news channel had the odd chuckle but the joke went on too long. The final 20 minutes made up for a hit and miss (more miss) ride with all out explosions and carnage.
Now what have I forgot to speak about? Call myself a Robo fan. ED209! Or E-D-209. Yep, not even ED. Looks incredible, says the command once maybe twice. But they can use stairs. Not as shocking a revelation as the Darleks. Craaaap! One cool little sequence redeems that with Robo running underneath them and because they are so big and bulky, they can’t actually fire at him in a Doomesque first person shooter point of view. That made up for an earlier night vision sequence that was erratic, flashy and all over the place. Did my eyes in.
It was always going to be tough to beat a classic, especially from the visionary Paul Verhoeven of Total Recall and Starship Troopers fame. It has a great cast (that was wasted), great special effects, good action but all let down by needless plot, mind-numbing pace and cliched characters. Padilha cannot be marked down for ambition but it was almost too serious. All too . . . mechanical. Yes, I wrote it. Very much like it’s robotic lead, the film had little heart, little brains and parts all over the place. Not one for the scrap heap, watchable (just) but let’s hope there’s not another reboot. 2.5/5
Currently ranks #108 out of 139!