Friday, February 14, 2014

A Reel Review: ROBOCOP

A science-fiction film can take on many forms, but in the end, it must always come back to the human side of things. No matter how far-out the technology, or how fantastical the environment may be, a good sci-fi flick must never forget about the human face and heart in the story. Such is the task of Jose Padilha’s ROBOCOP.

After getting blown to bits by a drug dealer, street cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is given a robot-body by a military-drone corporation led by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and is cared for by genius prosthetic-limb doctor, Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman).

ROBOCOP at its core is essentially another shot at FRANKENSTEIN; a human being cobbled together to become something not-so human. It’s always good territory to explore, but director Jose Padilha takes that element and surrounds it with a whole-lotta movie; subplots involving corporate greed, family matters, medicinal ethics, global politics, crooked cops, and a murder mystery…and that’s just for starters. With so much going on it often feels like several different movies are going on at once. When a film tries to be about too many things, it can often wind up being about nothing. There’s a lack of focus in ROBOCOP and this is where the human element of the story gets lost.

The many plots that Padilha is working with are serviceable in broad strokes only. The film never gets boring and holds interest, but the many good ideas are never explored past face-value. We’re told and shown one thing and then move on, and it often feels like the filmmakers shot the first draft-summary of the script. The pacing is brisk and the humor is well-timed, but the film keeps screeching to a halt when Padilha inserts these annoying TV-show segments which serve a purpose of re-capping the events that are going on. It’s fine at first, but eventually becomes redundant and takes you out of the movie.

Padilha shows great talent in directing action sequences. There is no over-use of the goddamn shaky-cam technique and you can always clearly see what is going on. There is always a great sense of place and geography and they never lose any sense of fun. Some great creativity is inserted into some battle scenes…a shootout in a pitch-black hallway using only muzzle-flares for lighting is nothing short of outstanding. Visual effects are awesome; the robot-drones are eye-popping, and a few sequences which show Robocop’s innards are horrifying and stunning to see.

Acting is very good. Joel Kinnaman has to spend most of the film in a metal suit which requires him to do most of the work with his face and eyes…and he hits every beat of horror and torment perfectly. Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman are their usual brilliant selves, and the scenes between them generate cinematic fireworks every time. Samuel L. Jackson is also great, but as the TV personality of those intrusive re-cap segments, he could have easily stayed home. The rest of the cast which includes Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel, and Jackie Earle Haley are all fine.

After dancing around so many plotlines and themes, the film throws its hands up in the air for the finale and turns into a standard action-flick with resolutions which can be seen coming from a mile away, and oddly enough, with everything the film has going on, by the time the credits roll it doesn’t feel like very much happened. ROBOCOP is a serviceable and entertaining sci-fi flick; it’s just too bad more time wasn’t spent polishing the confused and un-focused script.


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