It’s not a bad movie, but it’s missing something. Not just the hyper violence but something else….and I think I figured out what it is.
The original was bursting at the seams with character actors. Peter Weller, Dan O’Herlihy as the old man, Ronny Cox as the senior exec, Miguel Ferrer as the junior exec, Robert DoQui as the sarge, even Ray Wise in his henchman role and especially Kurtwood Smith as the villain. All of these guys are very much character actors and bring that to the role, however big or small. Kurtwood Sminth in particular created a most memorable villain. To look at him he’s not much. A short bald guy in glasses. That’s not frightening. That’s not intimidating. That’s George Costanza with a gun. But he immediately sets the tone by throwing a henchman out the back of a van and his tone and look tells you he’s sometone to be reckoned with. His approach is memorable and terrifying., even before the bad guys literally disassemble the human Alex Murphy. The villains in the reboot are far less memorable. What about the sarge? Brash and loud and yelling…but you like him none the less. The sergeant in this movie….I could care less. She’s so polite and softspoken I’m not even interested enough to look up her name.
You only have two real character actors in this movie, Sam Jackson and Jackie Earl Hailey – Jackson’s reduced to just little more than cameos . Jackie Earl Hailey fares a bit better and is one of my favorite characters, but might have been better used in a different role. (Michael Keaton used to qualify, but honestly, I don’t see it anymore). The cable news show segments don’t work nearly as well as the news program in the original did by the way, Jackson is great, but where’s the satire in political commentary? It’s satire in of itself. Satirizing straight reporting works much better.
My other issue is it’s SO clean. Everything is just SO clean. I’ve been in Detroit. It’s not that sparkling. Even the graffiti is brightly colored and artistic. The police station is nice, brightly lit…the police stations on TV like in Law and Order look dingier than this. That was one of the things about the original – the police house looked dirty. The alleyways were messy. The hideouts were dark and dank. Even Robocop himself-he was…uncomfortable looking –particularly if you took that helmet off. It all made it feel more real world. A very NEAR future, and a far better illustration of the dichotomy between the white and blue collar worlds.
The power of the original was that it created something new. Something original that we hadn’t seen before. Robocop gave us violence in a level we weren’t used to seeing. It gave us robots and high technology that were comparable – perhaps in some ways even superior to what we had seen in Star Wars. Moreover it placed it in a VERY near future… one we could recognize, much as Alien did. The remake doesn’t create anything new…at best it polishes something old, and that’s hardly groundbreaking. It doesn’t endear us the way something original does.
I’m not going to talk about the lack of violence or the superiority of Practical over CG – those are knee jerk arguments. In fact, I thin the Ed209s look better than they ever did. I could attack it for taking itself too seriously –perhaps more seriously than the subject matter deserves. But honestly, I think I could deal with that –particularly if it had been a sequel (in the “next Generation” vein or Star Trek ’09 mode) rather than a reboot. I can’t help but wonder, would I have gone to see this if it didn’t have the Robocop name? The Tin Man metaphor that is brought up repeatedly through the movie is a good one, because this honestly, what this film is missing is simply it’s heart.