Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99


Entertainment Movies

REVIEW: 'RoboCop' ★★★

Intriguingly ambiguous in its rooting interests, the "RoboCop" remake doesn't really believe its own poster. The tagline "Crime has a new enemy" suggests little more than point and shoot — the same old cyborg song and dance. While nobody'd be dumb enough to reboot the original 1987 kill-'em-up franchise by holding back on the scenes of slaughter in favor of sly political satire about arm-twisting Fox News jingoism or American business ethics, Brazilian-born director Jose Padilha manages to do all that and still deliver the product.

That first, excitingly sadistic "RoboCop," directed by Paul Verhoeven, paved the way for one of the ugliest-spirited sequels ever, and a third, forgettable outing. Now, working from a script by Joshua Zetumer based on the Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner ur-text, we have a movie taking place in the ever-popular near future, 14 years hence. We're back in Detroit. America's the lone, squishy-liberal holdout among first-world nations in the crime-fighting revolution deploying deadly peacekeeping robots and robotics. The airwaves are ruled by a Bill O'Reilly-type show, "The Novak Element," in which a paranoid visionary (Samuel L. Jackson in fantastic, "distinguished" anchorman hair) shills for the OmniCorp company, the money behind the armed robots.

The company president (Michael Keaton) realizes the American public won't support robot police officers, unless they can package them as human-ish. Joel Kinnaman of the television series "The Killing" plays Alex Murphy, the Detroit police detective critically injured by a car bomb and reconfigured, by Gary Oldman's kindly OmniCorp researcher, into the franchise title at hand.

There's a lot to enjoy here, though the brutality is very rough for a PG-13 rating. (The screening included an awful lot of clueless parents accompanied by an awful lot of preteens.) RoboCop becomes a pawn in the corporate game, as he was in the original film, but here the machinations and talk of focus groups and marketing strategies is more pronounced and pretty sharp. Most audiences will be content with the gamer-friendly set pieces, in which a fatality count snuggles itself into the upper-right corner of the screen.

Jackie Earle Haley plays the robot trainer/programmer, and he's one of several ace supporting players lifting "RoboCop" above the routine. The female roles aren't much, but they're not insulting, and they're handled with steely panache by Abbie Cornish (grieving, confused wife, since her husband's not technically dead), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (no-nonsense police chief) and the great Jennifer Ehle (icy business associate). The script includes some interesting ideas about the researchers struggling to get RoboCop's medication doses at the right level, so he retains enough of his human side to be relatable to the public. This is at heart a pretty sad movie. Verhoeven wouldn't be caught dead making you care about anything in his "RoboCop"; Padilha is after something different.

He shoots in a familiar shaky-cam style that might be called "early 'NYPD Blue.'" That I can do without. But unlike the recent, empty-headed "Total Recall" remake, for example, this movie comes at you with an idea or two, as well as every available gun blazing.

"RoboCop" - 3 stars

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material)

Running time: 1:56

Opens: Wednesday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • REVIEW: 'Tim's Vermeer' ★★★

    REVIEW: 'Tim's Vermeer' ★★★

    Penn & Teller find magic in one man's mission to understand Dutch artist

  • 'RoboCop'


    Scene from "RoboCop."

  • 'RoboCop'


    Joel Kinnaman (left) stars in "RoboCop,"

  • 'Magic Mike XXL' review: The complete package

    'Magic Mike XXL' review: The complete package

    "Magic Mike XXL" comes up a little short compared with the original, director Steven Soderbergh's blithe and bonny Channing Tatum showcase inspired by Tatum's salad days as a male stripper. This time the jokes are heavier, more on-the-nose, though a surprising percentage of them work anyway.

  • 'Terminator Genisys' review: Rooting for the apocalypse

    'Terminator Genisys' review: Rooting for the apocalypse

    Humanity gets a do-over in "Terminator Genisys," the fifth in the franchise begun in 1984 with "The Terminator." But this screwy revision of the previous "Terminator" movies is so muddled and yakky, you may find yourself rooting for the apocalypse. At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger is thrown through...

  • 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' a mash note to movies

    'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' a mash note to movies

    The big noise from this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is a weaselly liar of a movie. (It's also good.) It comes on full of self-deprecating bluster, professing no interest in jerking tears a la "The Fault in Our Stars," as it lays out its tale of a Pittsburgh high...