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Caffenated Clint on the new RoboCop

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Today, I bring an abundance of baggage and familiarity to it (and a packet of citrus-flavoured gum), but in 1987, it was just thongs and a baritone.

Speaking, of course, about “RoboCop”.

Remember the scene at the start of “TRON” where Flynn, Lori and Bradley have to break into ENCOM to get their mitts on those techno-goods? That was 12-year-old me at the cinema on the day “RoboCop” started playing. Knowing too well the film’s rating would prevent me from getting in, and convinced my footwear and squeaky voice would give that away if I don’t try something, I donned a deep voice (thinking back, my deep voice and Darth Vader impersonation may have been one and the same), and hid the flip flops on my feet, so I could gain admittance. And it worked. The usherette’s laser put me on the grid minutes later. So was it worth it ‘Storm Boy’? I hear you ask.. Ask my VHS tape of the film, secured a year or so later, which now has more cuts and chews in it than Vlad the Impaler’s missus.

Though I’d no doubt turned up to see a reportedly excessively-violent and somewhat grotesquely disturbing science-fiction-action-horror movie, Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” was much more than that – even if I didn’t realize it until years later. In between the decapitations and bloodshed was a contemporary rat-a-tat-tat with a message. Dutch import Verhoeven (who went on to do another science-fiction classic “Total Recall”) had used the ‘Frankenstein’ template to give the birdie to America – pointing out how commercialization had rimjobbed the nation, and how the senate’s ridiculous bills and the fat cat’s that controlled the corporate world were essentially to blame for the discouraging turn in history.

While it was the story of an officer, left for dead, and resurrected as a robotic copper that primarily held our attention, screenwriters’ Ed Neumeier and Michael miner padded the not-so-loud bits with wonderfully perceptive and darkly funny swipes at commercialism gone wrong, corporate politics, and how much technology has tainted our astuteness, not to mention progress as humans. It’s that effective combination of spiffy and satire that made “RoboCop” an instant classic.
Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Skynet sponsored asshole-from-the-future, those Ghost Busters, or even Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo, Alex Murphy/RoboCop became somewhat of a pop-culture sensation – his image and words (“Dead or Alive You’re Coming With Me”, “Your Move.. Creep”, “Come Quietly Or There Will Be Trouble”) immediately recognized. And as the years progressed, and even with those sequels slightly hurting the brand, the esteem and recognisability of the metal mother remained. He was forever an icon – an icon with a voice so graciously cavernous, it’d turn the Vin Diesel fan club into a puddle.
You’d think “RoboCop” had been in storage since the ’90s, what with all the bitching and moaning that’s going on regarding the remake. Truth is, Detroit’s second most famous police officer (Axel Foley, you owe me one!) has never really gone away.

Those whining about Sony and MGM’s revamp clearly aren’t the same peeps that have made IMDB one of the most popular websites on the net; if they were, they’d know – from a quick search – that “RoboCop” has actually been rebuilt and remodeled a few times now. While the 2014 movie might be the first time the “tin man” (as he’s teasingly nicknamed – by a smarmy prick – in the new film) has graced the big screen since his original model (“RoboCop 3″ was released in 1993), his story has actually been re-told a few times over now. There was a Canadian TV series spin-off, two animated series’, and most recently, a mini-series – one which, though largely loyal to the source material, encompassed some new-fangled legacy add-ons (Son of RoboCop was now a corporate player; if I recall correctly, there was also an evil RoboCop clone!).

Fact of the matter is, Verhoeven’s classic film is the subject of some-sort of ‘remake’ every few years – heck, more bodies have worn that silver armour than Kirk’s Starfleet Uniform.

So, why the fist-waving and ear-smoke? Let’s take a stab : I say it’s because 2014’s “RoboCop” is evidently a very different beast than the original that we all know, love and quote on trivia nights at Pubs.

That grey suit? Mostly gone.
The mystery of RoboCop not knowing he’s Alex Murphy – let alone his family – until later on? Buzzed out like a dumb Price-is-Right contestant.
The bloodshed, decapitations and acid-doused zombie freaks of the original? ask the MPAA.
Female officer Anne Lewis? She’s now a dude.
The satire? Replaced with.. ‘Oh, look kids! It’s the ’80s Batman!’

But you know, the changes they’ve made to “RoboCop” aren’t the reason the film doesn’t work as well as the original did – in fact, the reworked origin tale, new ‘first mission’ tale, updated suit, and gender-switcheroo, might be this game’s biggest numbers. They work.

Detroit. 2028. To assist in the prevention and clean-up of crime – not just in Detroit, but around the world – robotic soldiers have been built and placed in danger spots. As far as OmniCorp – who are trying to convince the senate to now flood America with their creations – are concerned, the fact that these robots don’t have emotions, and therefore don’t much care who they kill, means they’re more likely to get the job done better and quicker. Needless to say, company CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is constantly butting heads with the old-school politician, convinced nothing good can lead to leaving the globe’s policing in the hands of a heartless machine.

What about a compromise, then? What about a half-man, half-machine cop? Someone that still feels emotion, and has his heart, but can also work as effectively and fast as one of the robotic coppers when on the job?

Enter Officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), blown up by a car bomb in the driveway of his own house. With his devoted wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) in agreement, Sellars and his team – including a kindly doc, played by Gary Oldman – get to work on ‘saving’ Murphy. It’s a win-win – the Murphy family get their patriarch back (even if he’s now wearing a bulky suit of armour), OmniCorp get someone that will hopefully pass muster with the senate.

Things don’t go so smoothly though, and instead of falling into line like one of his robotic colleagues, Murphy/RoboCop starts to malfunction – breaking free from his ‘creators’, determined to solve his own murder.

Brazilian director José Padilha (“Elite Squad”) is a breath of fresh air to the franchise; clearly passionate about the character, and seemingly a big fan of the “RoboCop” films that have come before his, he’s worked hard on giving audiences a cool, fun new film that’s respectful to the characters and world Verhoeven and his screenwriters dreamt up back in the Reagan-era.

And coupled with some amazing special effects (we’ve come a long way since 1987!), an array of amazing actors (Joel Kinnaman makes for a good Murphy, but having Oldman, Keaton, Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley and Samuel L.Jackson in the film, and what they bring to it, elevates the film to a higher standard) and some great stunt sequences, there’s a lot to like.

As any filmmaker working with a studio on a big-budget movie will tell you, there can be too many opposing views, too much red-tape, and too much emphasis on [making] money over [snaring] merit. As such, the movie doesn’t come out as good as it could’ve. Seems that’s the case with Padilha and “RoboCop”.
If anyone is to blame for not tightening the remake’s knot enough, it’s the studio – who are seemingly so keen to attract a teenage audience (the same teenage audience that had to sneak in with their toe-flashing footwear, and squeaky voices, back in ’87), that they’ve held back on the violence (hardly a drop of blood to be seen here!), franchise-staple satire (OK, there’s a fun dig at FOX News, but that’s about the extent of the mocking) and smartness (the original made you ‘think’ – this does not) that made the original film such a hit. The movie seems afraid to alienate family audiences, and to piss off anyone but Nancy Allen.

The emotion of the original also exceeds anything in the remake. The original RoboCop/Murphy was somewhat of a slow gimp after his accident, and we really felt for the guy as he trained himself to remember small aspects of his past life and how to “feel” again. This RoboCop is essentially the same guy as he was before the accident – just with robot parts; he knows it, his family (who weren’t aware that Murphy was even alive in the original! That worked much better!) knows it, and the criminals know it. The mystery and tension have been expunged for the sake of.. doing it differently… and ‘Oh, hey kids! There’s the ’80s Batman again!”.

As a remake, “RoboCop” is better than you’ll expect (it’s not that “Total Recall” remake, which left Hoyts with a major clean-up operation with the amount of crap it haemorrhaged) but like Murphy himself, it’s still plagued with problems.
If you’re not familiar with the series, and this is your first introduction to the character, then you’ll really enjoy it – and I’m guessing for today’s teenagers, who won’t watch a film made before 1990 (‘ewww! they didn’t even have the internet then!’), most probably will be wearing the easy-to-please Virgin tee when they walk in.

RoboCop looks good with a Brazilian, but let him bleed for the sequel.

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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