Robocop: Remake for Our Times?

There is no point of asking whether or not it was necessary to remake Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCophis 1987 visionary and entertaining  picture, which has become a cult work, because the rationale is largely commercial.

And indeed, despite several shortcomings (more thematic than stylistic), the new sci-fi should score at the box-office because there is nothing lik it in the marketplace right now.

Overall, Jose Padilha’s new version is sharply uneven, in moments a smart political update of the original feature, in others, too silly and humorless for its own good.

The target of the new/old satire is now shifted from corporate greed to the post-9/11 patriotic jingoism. While well-cast, this RoboCop is more somber and straight-laced, and less playful and entertaining than Verhoeven’s film.

The Brazilian director Padilha, better known for the “Elite Squad” thrillers, makes his English-language feature debut, which criticizes the new American right-wing politics

It’s interesting that both “RoboCop” movies are directed by foreign filmmakers, who bring more detached views and cynical perspectives to the proceedings.

Set in 2028, “RoboCop” begins with a broadcast, “The Novak Element,” a venue for heated political commentary of Pat Novak, perhaps modeled on Rush Limbaugh (well played by Samuel L. Jackson).  Novak is a supporter of OmniCorp, a robotics corporation whose peacekeeping machines are used in foreign countries but not in the U.S.

Working with the brilliant scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) proposes a robot fused with human body and brain parts, capable of making moral decisions.

Cut to Sin City Detroit, where a prototype appears in the mold of slain cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman of AMC’s populat series, “The Killing”).  With the blessing of grieving wife Clara (Abbie Cornish), Murphy is reformulated as RoboCop.  Unfortunately, the invention is not as effective as expected, and so Norton rewires his brain to follow software rather than human instincts.

The elimination of ethical morality makes RoboCop open to political manipulation, and he becomes popular.  Clara is the first to suspect of OmniCorp’s real motives.  Murphy’s emotions gradually overpower his original design, and in the tale’s weakest and least credible subplot, he decides to solve his own mysterious murder.

Though Joshua Zetumer’s script goes out of its way to include ideological ideas that fit our zeitgeist, as we get closer to the year in which the story takes place, the results are semi-successful.

Younger viewers (of the age of my undergrad students), who were born after Verhoeven’s picture was made, may enjoy the new “RoboCop” than older spectators, who have good memory and can make comparison between the two.