Movie review: “RoboCop” reboot gets it right

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From the February 13, 2014 edition

Like most people who actually like movies, I dislike the trend of rebooting/remaking every successful movie franchise ever. “RoboCop,” for example, wasn’t really a movie that needed remade.

Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 futuristic cop story set in a dystopian and crime-ridden Detroit (what will sci-fi think of next?) was a blast. It was quotable and subversive and surprisingly smart, using over-the-top violence as a commentary against violence. And it could have been left alone.

The new “RoboCop” keeps the concept, but with a lot of changes — including somewhat sanitized violence, as evidenced by a PG-13 rating. And yet it’s unexpectedly a blast in its own right — and a more layered, smarter film than the original.

The 2014 “RoboCop” doesn’t reinvent the robot cop, of course. It’s still about Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman of TV’s “The Killing”), who is critically injured in the line of duty, setting up an opportunity for massive corporation OmniCorp to market a part-man, part-machine crime fighter.

This “RoboCop” spends more time developing the man behind the machine, making him more complex and less detached (at least, at first). The moral dilemmas of his creation are further fleshed out by a conflicted OmniCorp scientist played by Gary Oldman (who is no slouch at this acting thing).

Director José Padilha delivers ample doses of action. A cranked-up IMAX theater sound system made me wish for earplug protection from all the gunfire.

But this “RoboCop” is also very timely and very political. Samuel L. Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly-esque TV talk show host introduces the sort of outrage that makes people think killer robots (or, y’know, drones) are a viable fix-all solution. There’s also a spot-on take of big evil corporate marketing schemes (Michael Keaton and Jay Baruchel are both wonderfully slimy).

I found myself surprised at both how shrewdly the RoboCop premise was updated and how the spirit of the original was intact. The last act got to be a bit numbing, but I even found the setup of probable sequels to be a good thing.

Because it wouldn’t be hard to improve on the first “RoboCop” sequels, huh?

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures