Movie review

'RoboCop' retools but in doing so regresses

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More Samuel L. Jackson, please.

Even in a movie starring Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and, as "RoboCop," Joel Kinnaman, it's Mr. Jackson who electrifies in a small role as a TV gadfly who asks, "Why is America so robo-phobic?"

A remake and update of 1987's "RoboCop," which starred Peter Weller as a cop rebuilt as part man, part machine, is set in 2028 when Detroit is (as in the original) crime ridden. The defense company OmniCorp has grown rich selling robots, drones and other metallic fighters that take the place of humans in war zones and other deadly places around the globe.


Starring: Michael Keaton, Joel Kinnaman and Samuel L. Jackson.

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material.

But OmniCorp, led by CEO Raymond Sellars (Mr. Keaton), has yet to crack the U.S. market, which could bring an additional $600 billion in revenue. "Americans don't want a machine" with the power to kill a human being. "They want a product with a conscience," he says. "We're gonna put a man inside a machine."

OmniCorp weighs various test subjects -- including an injured Pittsburgher -- but when seasoned, honest police officer, husband and father Alex Murphy (Mr. Kinnaman) is gravely injured in a fiery explosion, the perfect candidate emerges.

Alex's wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), is told this is his only chance at survival and she agrees, unaware of what's to come. Under the direction of Dr. Dennett Norton (Mr. Oldman), Alex is reconstituted and reborn although his body is more machine than man.

When Alex, after months of surgery and experimentation, is awakened, he asks, "What kind of suit is this?" only to be informed, "It's not a suit. It's you."

And he still has his emotions and memories, along with a flood of newly downloaded crime-fighting data, but the "you" part begins to interfere with OmniCorp's plans. The stage is set for a battle of wills, within the honest Detroit cop, father and dad, and without.

"RoboCop," directed by Brazilian-born Jose Padilha and opening in theaters today, benefits and suffers from advances that have taken place in the past 27 years. To watch an amputee with bionic arms try to play the guitar doesn't feel so futuristic and fantastical today, given medical advances.

Still as gut-wrenching as anything in the first movie, when we saw Mr. Weller's face on the front of a head full of circuitry, is the sight of Alex Murphy when stripped of his suit. You realize just how little of his flesh-and-blood form survives.

But "RoboCop" sacrifices much of the family part of the story in the interest of more action, with Jackie Earle Haley as an ex-military operative who derisively calls Alex "Tin Man," and a weakly developed plot about corruption in various corners of the city.

Mr. Keaton and Mr. Oldman are as solid (without resorting to mustache-twirling villainy) as ever, while Stockholm native Kinnaman from AMC's "The Killing" shines in his few scenes where his eyes well with tears but he spends a lot of time tooling around on a variation of Catwoman's motorcycle from "The Dark Knight Rises."

As RoboCop's wife, Ms. Cornish isn't given enough to do and neither is marketing man Jay Baruchel, who gets to deliver one of the movie's few funny lines. It's no wonder, then, that Mr. Jackson's TV pundit -- who turns on the crazy eyes as he spits out a bleeped expletive -- proves a scene-stealer.

It might just be misty memories, but I liked the original better.

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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