We have now reached the point in Remake Culture where I can write this sentence without meaning it to be an insult: When the credits rolled, I was happy to notice that I wasn't pissed at the new RoboCop remake. This doesn't mean that the RoboCop remake is a good movie (the first half is pretty okay) or that it's worth your time (the second half is very boring) but I'm happy to note that it didn't actively make me angry. It's not a work of absolute ineptitude, and it's not completely stupid. But it doesn't make a convincing case for its own existence, either.
RoboCop opens by clearly explaining what the new version of the film is all about: drone warfare. A Glenn Beck-like American news show host in the near future (a delightful Samuel L. Jackson) shows us a scene in Tehran, where armies of American robots are keeping the peace by turning anyone with a weapon into a fine red mist and scanning everyone else into submission. Jackson's character is agitating on behalf of robot-making company OmniCorp to bring peace-keeping robots to the United States, but a pesky national anti-drone law keeps the robots in every country but our own. How does OmniCorp convince the American people that they need to be policed by robots? What if you...combined...a human police officer with a robot, somehow?
You know the drill. This time around, Alex Murphy is played by Joel Kinnaman, and his performance doesn't have the wryness of Peter Weller's RoboCop, but he does okay. A few of the more comic-booky scenes early in the movie are really quite inventive, especially the unveiling of how much of RoboCop really is human, and the cast is very strong. Michael Keaton, as the CEO of OmniCorp, reminds us that there's not nearly enough Michael Keaton in modern-day cinema. Even as he repeatedly refers to RoboCop as a product rollout, like a new kind of iPhone, Keaton's twitchiness comes less from a place of smarm and more from a place of intense self-observation. He's the kind of bad guy you want to keep around as long as possible, just to watch him squirm when everything goes south. And Gary Oldman is solid in a very strange role: His Dr. Dennett Norton is at once the Doctor Frankenstein who creates RoboCop and the Doctor Feelgood who keeps him pacified. In some scenes, he's expected to be the heart and soul of the movie, but at other times, he's basically committing lobotomies to keep the money for his precious research flowing in. As far as moral centers go, Norton is as hollow as they come.
Most of the problems with RoboCop come in the second hour. Director José Padilha does an admirable job of finding new and interesting ways to display an iconic figure of 1980s cinema, but his action scenes are total fucking messes. And the second half of the movie is supposed to be all action, with RoboCop out for revenge against the people who tried to kill him. All the character motivations up to this point get thrown out the window, and the movie becomes as generic as any other remake you've seen in the past decade. And there is no scene in this RoboCop that is anywhere near as fun as the 1987 original. If you're making a movie about techno fascists and American imperialism in the form of a robot cop adventure, you at the very least owe us a few great thrilling scenes. This new RoboCop, unfortunately, fails to give us even one memorable thrill.