It’s a scientific fact that 99.9% of the media from your formative years, the stuff that you hold so near and dear to your heart—Beatles songs, Brat Pack movies, Beverly Hills 90210—will be remade, rebooted and rebranded for a younger generation to gorge upon. This next-gen demographic may dig these do-overs for the wrong reasons (“Whoa, have you heard that new tune by Imagine Dragons, ‘Revolution’?”) or the right ones. But eventually, we all have to give up ownership of our favorite things and be content to simply wallow in nostalgia for the original recipe. This is how it works, people. No one over the age of 35 is immune.
The question is not whether we needed a remake of Robocop, but how badly someone would screw the proverbial pooch in the process.
So what, Robocop fans, you thought you were off the hook somehow? In one of those weird moments of media synergy that sends think-piece writers into paroxysms of glee, the 2.0-versions of no less then three ’80s movies hit theaters this weekend. Of this unholy trinity, the only one that still might have any name-recognition currency is the new take on Paul Verhoeven’s cracked, class-of-’87 sci-fi classic about a cyborg cop. (Not even Rob Lowe’s career resurgence could get today’s younger audiences to care about a new …About Last Night, all African-American cast or not; I barely remember Endless Love, and I was actually around when the campy Brooke Shields teen romance came out.)
And as with most remakes of beloved movies, the question is not whether we necessarily needed a remake of Robocop—answer: nope—but how badly someone would potentially screw the proverbial pooch in the process. You can take cold comfort in the fact that the good folks behind this remake have not forever tainted the good name of OmniCorp or its killing machine. No one will be using “Robocop-out” as a headline. Actually, scratch that: Some wiseass will still use it regardless. But the new Robocop’s creators have ruined nothing here. They’ve also added nothing substantial to the mix either.
We can rebuild him, sorta: Kinnaman, in uncircumcised-penis helmet, with Gary Oldman
It’s still the near future, viewers are still plopped down in a wrecked New Detroit—which looks a good deal less dystopian than contemporary Detroit—and while the first film’s “MediaBreak” segments are AWOL, there’s still Samuel L. Jackson’s celebrity newsfotainement blowhard around to offer snarky sociopolitical commentary. This last element is where the first of three major differences between the two films become seriously evident, as Verhoeven’s movie distinguished itself from the usual blockbuster fare by amping up the vulgar modernism. The original’s digs at the vapidity of the media and how the military-industrial complex and hydra-like corporations parasitically feed off each other’s teats were caustic, ironic, acidic. Here, we get a few nudge-winks about drone warfare and the NSA’s hard-on for data, and that’s about it. Those patches of fertile satirical ground are largely left untilled. Everything else is pure boilerplate action pic.
Make that “PG-13 action pic,” as the 1987 version’s over-the-top violence and gore have been replaced by Brazilian director José Padilha’s fairly rote shoot-’em-up sequences and chase scenes, the kind that make you wonder if you’ve bypassed the movie and just gone straight to playing the videogame tie-in. That’s big difference no. 2; no. 3 is the new Robocop himself. Peter Weller’s removed reptilian vibe has been replaced by the volatility of Joel Kinnaman (TV’s The Killing), all the better to help sell the emphasis on the notion that there’s still a man underneath all that metal. Not much man, as a scene in which we see exactly what is left of the former police offcer Alex Murphy’s body demonstrates (face, brain and lungs), but a man nonetheless. Even when he dons the trademark visor that makes him look like an uncircumcised metal penis, Kinnaman reminds you that a coworker, a husband and a father, as well as a guy dedicated to the concept of justice, lurks underneath that circuitry.
Only Kinnaman isn’t given much help in the endeavor of making this a more character-based reimagination: not from Padilha, who brings the same journeyman chops and generic machismo he brought to his Elite Squad supercop movies; not from screenwriter Joshua Zetumer; and not from a supporting cast that includes no less than Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jay Baruchel and Abbie Cornish, fine actors all who’ve been given one-dimensional characters in contrast to Kinnaman’s two-dimensional hero. Nothing rises or sinks below the autopilot functional level here. After the titular cybernetic crimestopper has his emotional responses dialed down, Murphy struggles to regain his buried sense of self. That’s as good a metaphor as any for this movie: A human element trying to fight its way out of a sleek, shiny casing designed for maximum profit by a corporation. We’d buy that for a dollar, but not much more.
Petty larceny: Clooney, Damon et. al. plunder, squander history
By now, you’ve probably heard that The Monuments Men is a throwback to different generation’s fond memories of matinees past: the men-on-a-mission war epic that was a successful genre in the early ’60s. You may also have heard that it’s not very good, but given that you’re such a huge fan of movies like The Great Escape, The Guns of Navarone and The Dirty Dozen, you’ll ignore the warnings and see it anyway. Let me take off my critic’s cap for a sec and address you as a fellow fanatic over the aforementioned movies. Do not do it.
Yes, director/cowriter/actor George Clooney is a genuinely awesome movie star nine out of ten times; this is the tenth time. Yes, he’s borrowed beaucoup elements of those amazing movies I mentioned before, as well as utilizing a score from Alexandre Desplat that pays homage to the theme music of The Great Escape and The Bridge Over the River Kwai, among others. (This really is your father’s WWII movie.) Yes, his based-on-a-true-story of soldiers and scholars trying to keep the great artworks out of the Nazi’s hands, underground tunnels and furnaces does employ an international cast of A-listers, including Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray. Don’t give in. Trust us. This is a self-righteous mess that trivializes both its subject and the immense talent involved. Even Clooney is allowed a misstep. This is that misstep. Just rent the originals.