Robocop, dir. José Padhila, scr. Joshua Zetumer, based on characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner, st. Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Hayley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle
Reviews of José Padhila's latest have not been kind. When OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Keaton) utters the line "We're going to put a man inside a machine!" like he expects it to bring the house down, you imagine that probably wasn't too far off what the production's studio exec. said at the greenlight meeting. "Great. Sold. Let's go to lunch." It's still astonishing that Hollywood deludes itself on being able to bottle lightning regardless of its age or calibre. It'd be easy to list the numerous things Robocop 2014 gets wrong (and the handful - the smallest handful of things it gets right), and many fans of Paul Verhoeven's violent and fiendishly smart 1987 original have already taken to the internet to express these views far more eloquently than I ever could, so I won't do it here. But increasingly, the industry doesn't seem to be care what the point of a remake is. On paper, the One Product/Two Revenues model seems to be like a no-brainer. But artistically, why? What is it that wasn't said in the original or may be updated and rendered prevalent to our time? Even the critical and commercial failure of Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho in 1998 has validated itself through its failures. When Roger Ebert said of the remake "genius apparently resides between or beneath the shots, or in chemistry that cannot be timed or counted" he's confirming that even a mechanical clone of a movie doesn't duplicate its success, and that's before we've even begun to talk about narrative content or performance.
Verhoeven's movie became a success because of the time in which it was made; here in 2014, we, like OCP's creation, are so very painfully aware. Satire, self-referencing and meta-content is everywhere. The internet is flooded with meme-upon-meme. We are aware (consciously or not) of every trick film-makers use to lead, prod, goad, persuade, and tempt us towards feeling a singular emotion. There's great confusion about what is acceptable or palatable. We can go further than ever before in depicting violent or sexual content, yet there's far greater emphasis on child protection than ever before. Films for specific demographics now exist with clearly demarcated unbreachable parameters. One may balk at the many internetters decrying a lack of a higher certificate for Robocop 2014. The perception is of a nerdbunch of geeks who get off on explicit content, but the violence in Verhoeven's 1987 film was one of the many things the film was so carefully satirising, and it dovetailed so neatly into the less visceral yet still implicit violence of corporate language, the aggression of commercialism, the militant march for power and control that defined the Reganite business model in Eighties' America.
Padhila's version is nowhere near as ingenious as it aspires to be. Gifted with a superb cast that all perform admirably, but who all have that slight glint of resignation in their eyes, as if while hitting their mark and delivering their lines, they are fully aware of the substandard nature of the project they are now a part of, one instinctively feels this was very much a squandered opportunity. But then again, it's hard to think of what that opportunity might have offered.