The original Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” in 1987 was ahead of its times with its concept and presentation, while this one by Jose Padilha, literally and figuratively drags time.
A character-centric film of a half-man, half-machine enforcer of law, “RoboCop” delves in the transformation of a human being into an emotionless Robotic Killing Machine. The film portrays Robocop Alex Murphy’s (Joel Kinnaman) attempt in cleaning up the city and then tuning his computerized memory on those who tried to kill him.
Set in Detroit, the film starts off with a critique of urban paranoia, “No policeman or armed personnel will die on his line of duty”, being telecast on a television program called “The Novak Element”, hosted by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson).
He informs his audience that that the law-enforcement robots developed by Omnicorp, a premium tech company developing groundbreaking cybernetic implants for amputees as well as exo-skeletal suits are now being used in several countries except the US. To prove his point, he shows a live transmission of footage in what appears to be US-occupied Tehran.
Since the robots are illegal in the US and with the legislation divided over the issue of “putting the unfeeling machines in charge of life and death situations”, the debate gets fuelled with a political satire and social commentary that takes place in Washington DC with Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), CEO and founder of Omnicorp, and Senator Hubert Dreyfus.
Meanwhile, policeman Alex Murphy along with his colleague Lewis (Michael K. Williams) is trying to bust a shadowy gun-smuggling ring. While in pursuit of the smugglers, Alex gets blown in a car bomb blast.
Sellars takes this opportunity to plead his case and with the aid and assistance of his Liz Kline (Jennifer Ehle) and marketing exec Tom Pope (Jay Baruchel), Sellars manages to coax one of OmniCorp’s top scientists, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to turn Murphy into a RoboCop.
What follows is the assembling of Alex. A lot of time is spent in elucidating the intricate detailing of him as RoboCop in a laboratory in China. An equal amount of time is spent in creating a fitting moment for him to escape from the lab. Furthermore, how his brain chemistry is tweaked by nightly doses of nutrients, anti-depressants and dopamine that drastically reduces his capacity for emotion and thus increases his effectiveness as a machine, are also detailed.
“Robocop” is totally Kinnaman’s canvas. He as Alex Murphy is engaging and convincing. He manages to exude an absorbing blend both as a robot and a man. He captures different aspects of the character’s journey with equal ease. His spontaneity is seen as a human cop, his restrained reactions are captured during the tortured and scarred experiment he is put through. Then the stoic expression as a soulless machine is conclusive.
Padilha and the screenwriting team have taken all the time to display “Robocop” with artistic flourish. With high-end production value, the visuals are sleek and richly hued. Cinematographer Lula Carvalho’s images seamlessly merge with the computer generated images.
The set action sequences are far and few and the Robocop’s bike chase seems more of a spool from the videogame version.
With a few jump cuts, the editing too is an issue especially the transmission of the Robocop from China to the US could lead to a confusing deduction.
Overall, despite brilliant performances, panache and style, this “RoboCop” lacks the momentum of a racy action that today’s audience are expecting.