'RoboCop," Paul Verhoeven's 1987 film about a bullet-riddled Detroit cop, Murphy (Peter Weller), who is reborn as a corporate-controlled peacekeeping cyborg, remains a brilliant piece of lowbrow filmmaking. Outrageously violent, wickedly satirical and eerily prescient, "RoboCop" presented a series of grim jokes that have basically come to pass: Ubiquitous surveillance and unmanned military machines? Hilarious! What's more, it was a great example of visual storytelling -- little talk, lots of action.
A remake attempts to elaborate and expound upon (and occasionally update) the original, turning what were once short scenes into subplots and full-blown back stories. In this telling, we delve into the wounded core of Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, a lanky, soulful Swedish-American actor), whose humanity is disappearing into his computer-powered robo-suit. "Consciousness is nothing more than the processing of information," says his Frankensteinian creator, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman). Meanwhile, Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and John Paul Ruttan) feel abandoned, while the guys who ordered Murphy's murder are still free.
It's all rather surprisingly well acted (Kinnaman and Oldman are better than they even need to be), but "RoboCop" is missing a crucial ingredient: fun. Michael Keaton adds some spark as OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars, whose black jeans suggest an evil Steve Jobs, while Samuel L. Jackson provides amusing, if off-target, cultural critique as Foxish television bloviator Pat Novak. But director José Padilha (the gripping Brazilian documentary "Bus 174") spends so much time exploring philosophical dilemmas that he forgets to include the gleeful brutality and wild shootouts that made the 1987 film such a thrill. The vote-by-vote fate of a Senate bill outlawing robots isn't exactly a heart-pumping moment.
Another thing the new "RoboCop" can't do is seem relevant. An opening scene set in the Middle East, plus a closing speech about the future of drone warfare, address current events without making any clear point. Mostly, "RoboCop" overthinks the original film and ends up blowing its circuits.
PLOT In the near future, a critically injured cop is brought back to life as a cyborg.
CAST Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish
BOTTOM LINE An overelaborate and unsatisfying remake of the 1987 pulp masterpiece, with more heady dialogue than bloody shootouts.