Movie Review: 'RoboCop,' 2.5 stars

Joel Kinnaman, right, stars in the "RoboCop" remake.

Joel Kinnaman, right, stars in the "RoboCop" remake. (Columbia Pictures - Sony, Kerry Hayes) (Credit: Joel Kinnaman, right, stars in the "RoboCop" remake. (Columbia Pictures - Sony, Kerry Hayes))

Samuel L. Jackson's recent interview with a Los Angeles TV station got a lot of attention when the anchor apparently mistook him for Laurence Fishburne. But look past that awkward encounter with KTLA's Sam Rubin and you'll find a revealing moment when it comes to the "RoboCop" remake.

"When I heard they were making a remake, I wondered why," Jackson says on the program. "I read it, still didn't know why. But when they told me José Padilha was going to direct it, I was really interested in doing it …"

That nicely sums up everything that's right and wrong with this new take on everyone's favorite automaton-human hybrid police officer. Brazilian filmmaker Padilha is a significant talent, best known for his "Elite Squad" movies, about a police unit in his native country, and the riveting documentary "Bus 174."

His depiction of Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit detective circa 2028 who is remade as the titular figure after being severely injured by a car bomb, is filled with lustrous surfaces and futuristic corporate edifices. There's texture and clarity to the action, as the camera tracks and pans alongside RoboCop while he fulfills his task of taking down bad guys before shifting focus to his attempted murder.

Still, there's only so much Padilha can do with a perfunctory script that offers little time for character development and even less time to thoughtfully consider the story's philosophical ramifications.

That task falls on Jackson’s bombastic news personality Pat Novak, who strides across a set that resembles a science center, surrounded by enormous projections of American flags and more, where he spouts pro-corporate bromides about protecting the United States with machines. The screenplay touches on a dispute between a conscientious senator and Michael Keaton’s Raymond Sellars, the CEO of the conglomerate that produces the RoboCop technology.

But the movie is so wrapped up in its plot that the larger questions fall to the wayside. It’s more interested in the mechanics of RoboCop’s revenge than a broader consideration of the ways this material seems extra resonant in 2014, when debates about drone technology prevail across the media spectrum.

And RoboCop's quest for vengeance hardly resonates, in no small part because Kinnaman's performance is a major letdown, a one-dimensional effort in which his robotic side triumphs over the human one. It's an apt metaphor for the movie as a whole.

Directed by José Padilha
Starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated PG-13


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