Far better than it had any right to be, “RoboCop” 2014, from Jose Padiha, effectively cribs just enough from Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, while also creating a distinctly original world of its own. Oh, it still can’t approach its Reagan Era predecessor regarding levels of violence, satire or originality…but, despite its neutered PG-13 mayhem, it scores major points for attempting some separation from its inspiration. Plus, the special effects are better, and its got a solid cast roster that sports Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish and Jackie Earle Haley. Mr. Haley, in particular, gets to deliver one of the cleverest lines of homage via Joshua Zetumer’s mostly sharp script. And his peppering of the title character with “Wizard of Oz”-laced barbs is pretty funny too. If only Joel Kinnaman as our hero Alex Murphy(who becomes RoboCop)was a bit stronger, we’d be in even better shape. Mr. Kinnaman is adequate, but he’s no Peter Weller.
It’s 2028, and a corporation called OmniCorp is pushing hard for mainstream acceptance of its advanced “robot soldier” technology. When Detroit good-guy cop, Alex Murphy(Mr. Kinnaman)is mutilated by a car bomb outside his suburban home, Dr. Dennett Norton(Mr. Oldman, in benevolent mode)gets the opportunity to create a man/machine hybrid. And OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars(Mr. Keaton, in full slime mode)decides it’s just what he needs to sell the advanced “machinery” to a reluctant populace, that continues to vote down funding. RoboCop is born, as a horrified Murphy is brought out of his medically induced coma. Is he man or machine? If both, which half is superior? How can he relate to his wife(a nicely used Ms. Cornish), and young son, David(John Paul Ruttan)? And can Murphy manage to serve the public, uncover the corrupt cabal that nearly killed him, and still manage to repair his shattered personal life? It’ll take you about two hours to find out.
And 118 minutes is a little bit too much. The 1987 version was sleeker, sharper…and 16 minutes shorter. And after some terrific buildup, this 2014 incarnation fizzles in the finale. Also, despite some strong support work, there’s nothing that approaches the over-the-top zealousness of baddie Kurtwood Smith from the Verhoeven classic. Still, there are pleasures to be had. Mr. Haley continues his inspiring career resurgence as tactical expert, Rick Mattox. And Mr. Jackson has a blast as a populist talk show host who is instrumental in swaying the television-gripped masses. I don’t think it’s unfair to keep comparing this to the original film, especially considering that this is a positive review. The 1987 version is so iconic and influential, that it would be silly to ignore it. But “RoboCop” 2014 is pretty darn good, with some kinetic(yet bloodless)action, and a super cool new RoboCop design. The current generation will enjoy it, and it shouldn’t cause too much pain for old school folks either. Grade: B-