'RoboCop' review: Time to get political, creep

RedEye's Matt Pais and Ernest Wilkins discuss the remake of the 1987 hit, which is surprisingly thoughtful and well-acted.

*** (out of four)

After my “RoboCop” screening, one moviegoer commented that he preferred the remake to the 1987 original. That makes two of us.

Where its lighter yet more violent predecessor let straightforward revenge dominate the story, the new, PG-13 “RoboCop” thinks and feels. It has a lot more setup—the movie is practically all middle—but added payoffs too. While exciting at times, this is an action movie in search of more than a body count. Leave your bloodlust at home. And when you get there, throw it in the garbage disposal.

Solidly taking over for Peter Weller, Joel Kinnaman (“The Killing”) plays Alex, a 2028 Detroit police officer who suspects his colleagues of supplying guns to a local baddie. Before Alex can finish his investigation, his car explodes and he suffers devastating injuries that can only be counteracted by a new procedure connecting his head, hand, heart, lungs and neck (the only parts remaining) to a metal body built to fight crime.

First-time screenwriter Joshua Zetumer does a topical job of modernizing the material. A media blowhard (Samuel L. Jackson) wonders “Why is America so robo-phobic?” and a scientist (Gary Oldman) does all he can to maintain his program’s integrity. Oldman’s boss (Michael Keaton) only wants to create a part-human, part-robot cop because Congress won’t approve local versions of the drones cleaning up the most dangerous countries overseas. (This leads to a phony-looking action sequence in Tehran.) What becomes clear, though, is that the only way a machine operated by a man can perform like his all-metal competition is to minimize what makes him human. For a sci-fi remake dealing with mundane corruption (as the original did too), that’s reasonably heady stuff. Alex’s resonant moments with his wife (Abbie Cornish) and young son provide the heart.

If you’re disappointed, I’d suggest taking the movie for what it is, not the “fun” shoot-‘em-up flick you maybe wanted. After all, the well-acted “RoboCop” has both a reasonable sense of humor (thanks, Jay Baruchel) and sense of perspective. Yeah, it’s awesome that Alex 2.0 knows when a suspect is a non-threat—one comes up in Alex’s visor as “Totally stoned.” But experiments are always subject to unanticipated developments, and it’s appreciated that “RoboCop” has some too.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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