RoboCop (2014)


RoboCop takes aim at skeptical critics.

RoboCop takes aim at skeptical critics.

(2014) Science Fiction (MGM/Columbia) Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Aimee Garcia, Douglas Urbanski, John Paul Ruttan, Patrick Garrow, K.C. Collins, Daniel Kash, Zach Grenier, Maura Grierson. Directed by Jose Padilha

Military drones have become over the past 12 months something of a cause célèbre, although drones have been in use for years. In the near future, those drones will be even more sophisticated – human control may well be entirely unnecessary. However most Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of life and death being doled out by machines.

Pat Novak (Jackson) begs to differ. The host of the right-wing news magazine show The Novak Element thinks that having robots in law enforcement would be a very good thing. However, existing laws in the United States prevent drones and robots being used in a military or law enforcement fashion on U.S. soil. Novak is campaigning to change all that.

Raymond Sellars (Keaton) would like to see him succeed. As the CEO of OmniCorp, the multinational corporation that supplies robotic devices to the military and to international law enforcement, he’s chomping at the bit to get at the virgin U.S. market but is frustrated that public opinion is against him. However, he knows that given the right stimulation, public opinion can change. What the machine needs is a human element.

Cue Alex Murphy (Kinnaman). An honest cop on the Detroit Police Department, he is chasing a  criminal gang leader named Vallon (Garrow) whose investigation by other cops on the force has stalled. An inadvertent miscue by a lowlife gun dealer gives him and his partner Jack Lewis (Williams) an opportunity to connect Vallon to actual crimes and put him away. Unfortunately, someone tips off Vallon and Lewis gets shot for their troubles.

Realizing that Murphy is not going to give up until he gets an arrest, Vallon arranges for Murphy’s car to be wired with an explosive device. It goes off, critically injuring the cop in full view of his wife Clara (Cornish) and son David (Ruttan).

This gives Sellars the perfect opportunity. Brilliant cyberneticist Dennett Norton (Oldman) can rebuild Alex; he has the technology. He can give Murphy all the advantages of being a robot while still retaining his human control. However, there are glitches. A machine doesn’t hesitate or consider human consequences; it just acts. Murphy is held back by having a conscience and emotions. Norton reluctantly must delete these items from the programming.

In his RoboCop role, Murphy scarcely even responds to his family who quickly realize that something is wrong. Norton isn’t happy about the situation either – the whole point was to retain both the human and machine and what he has created is essentially an automaton with some organic material. Nonetheless RoboCop is a huge success and Sellars is getting exactly what he wants – a repeal of the laws that keep his company from profiting in America. However, when Murphy’s human side begins to reassert itself, RoboCop becomes expendable in a hurry.

The 1987 Paul Verhoeven-directed feature was more of an over-the-top satire of consumerism as well as social commentary on urban decay and the ultimate soullessness of our society. It was most definitely a product of its time. Brazilian director Padilha (making his English language debut) is far more subtle but no less satirical, but with a little bit more thought beneath the satire – what constitutes humanity and at what point do we cease being human? He also asks a question that is very much one that should be getting asked more often – is trading freedom for security a wise idea?

I appreciate undertones of that nature, and give the movie points for it. However, movies of an action/sci-fi bent also need to be entertaining and for the most part, this one is. Kinnaman has a facial resemblance to Peter Weller (who originated the role) but in the Alex Murphy scenes shows a little more warmth than Weller radiated. He does surprisingly well as RoboCop and gets the right movement that you’d expect from a robot.

Michael Keaton is one of those actors that you don’t realize you miss until he shows up for an infrequent role. He is perfect for Sellars, making him almost likable despite his black heart. Only near the end of the movie do we see Sellars’ true colors but by then Keaton’s sucked us in. Oldman also manages to bring the conflicted nature of Norton to the fore and show both sides of the coin equally. Cornish is, I think, supposed to act as the conscience for the movie but doesn’t quite jell there. Jackie Earle Haley is awesome as OmniCorp’s prejudiced chief of security.

While the CGI is good (especially a squirm-inducing scene in which we see Murphy without the RoboCop armor) and the action decent, the story has a fractured element to it and seems to be travelling in all sorts of directions. Reportedly, the studio was extremely involved in the film and frustrated Padilha’s creative control to the extent that he made some unwise comments which he later recanted. However, the movie does show all the earmarks of studio interference which is never a good thing. Too many RoboCooks spoil the RoboBroth.

Despite the critical bashing it’s received, the movie is decent enough entertainment. If you go in expecting the same humor as the original, you’re not going to like this much. In fact, this version could have used a little more humor which it mostly gets from the Novak show segments that open the movie and are shown intermittently throughout. I would have been interested to see what Padilha’s vision for the film would have turned out to be although I understand that the movie’s budget became an issue in that regard. I suspect that he could have turned this into a better film than it turned out to be – although what he did produce is pretty good in and of itself.

REASONS TO GO: Pretty decent entertainment value. Kinnaman does a fine job as does Oldman and Keaton.

REASONS TO STAY: Muddled and unfocused, a sure sign of studio interference.  

FAMILY VALUES:  While not as violent as the 1987 original, there are plenty of bullets flying and some mayhem. There’s also a few choice bad words here and there as well as a disturbing image of the remains of Alex Murphy after the bomb blast.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman have both been involved in the Batman franchise; Keaton as the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s two films, Oldman as Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Norton’s trilogy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Total Recall

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Hysteria

Advertisements

Alex Cross


Alex Cross

Matthew Fox wishes he was still “Lost.”

(2012) Suspense (Summit) Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols, Jean Reno, Giancarlo Esposito, Carmen Ejogo, John C. McGinley, Cicely Tyson, Chad Lindberg, Yara Shahidi, Stephanie Jacobsen, Warner Daehn, Bonnie Bentley, Ingo Rademacher. Directed by Rob Cohen

 

America loves mystery franchises. There are dozens of them from talented writers like Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Robert Parker, Jonathan Kellerman – and James Patterson. Patterson is the creator of Alex Cross, an African-American forensic psychologist who has already made two appearances in film – Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. He was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in both films.

Now he’s back and this time instead of a federal agent he’s a Detroit cop (this takes place much earlier in his career). Cross (Perry) is the head of a crack team of detectives who are routinely given Detroit’s nastiest crimes to solve. His childhood best friend Tommy Kane (Burns) is his right hand man, along with Monica Ashe (Nichols) who has a relationship with Tommy on the QT – if it got out the two were romantically involved, they could lose their jobs.

But things are going pretty well for Tyler. His pretty wife Maria (Ejogo) is pregnant and his grandma – henceforth referred to as Nana Mama (Tyson) watches the kids and growls folksy disapproval at her son and his ideal children Janelle (Shahidi) and Damon (played by Shahidi’s brother Sayeed).

One night, Alex gets a call that there has been a particularly grisly “four roses” murder. The victim, Fan Yau (Jacobsen) who happens to be the CFO of a multi-billion dollar global corporation, was brutally tortured before being executed. Although a number of bodyguards were also killed, Alex divines that this was the work of one man and indeed it is – a man the cops will soon call Picasso (Fox) for the Cubist drawings he leaves at the scene.

After an attack on Erich Nunemacher (Daehn), the next highest person on the executive ladder of the same corporation that Fan Yau worked for is thwarted by Cross and his team, Cross realizes that the real target is Leon Mercier (Reno), the CEO of the company. But Picasso has other plans for now – Cross has made this personal and before things are all played out there are going to be casualties and perhaps in the form of losing someone that Cross may be unable to bear.

This is a far different tone and type of film than the first two Alex Cross movies were – those were a bit more cerebral and much less action oriented. To the good, Cohen – whose got the Fast and the Furious franchise under his belt among other things – knows his way around an action sequence and there are some pretty nice ones in Alex Cross. Also to the good, the bi-play between Alex and Tommy is pretty natural and yields some of the best moments of the film, much of it due to Burns’ comedic timing and the wisecracking nature of Tommy.

Perry, best known for his Madea series as well as having become something of a brand name for urban comedies and romances, tries on strictly acting for size (until this film, the only movie he has appeared in that he didn’t direct himself was a brief cameo appearance in Star Trek). He has a future as an action star, being ruggedly handsome and athletic, although chances are for the time being he will stick to his extremely profitable directing gig. Unfortunately, he didn’t convince me as Cross, partially due to the short shrift the script gives his character. He’s supposed to be brilliant, a sort of Sherlock Holms of Detroit with keen observational skills and a talent for getting in the heads of criminals.

Those things are there but those aspects are written lazily, showing Cross’ talents as more or less big dumb luck rather than the result of intellectual reasoning and because we’re not shown that side of Cross, he loses much of the vitality that his character has in the books. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this film’s primary flaw is the writing. The dialogue is, simply put, embarrassing. The characters say things actual people would never say and there’s no way even the talented actors in this movie can pull it off although Fox comes close.

Fox, who caught the national fancy as Jack in the “Lost” series not that long ago, is absolutely the highlight here. He is a charismatic villain, one of the best performances in a villainous role so far this year (take that Tom Hiddleston and Tom Hardy!) His shaven-headed gaunt Picasso looks twisted and sadistic and although Fox occasionally takes it over the top, Picasso is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the movie.

The endgame revelation is going to be painfully obvious to anyone who has even a lick of cinematic sense. Although I’m giving it a pretty generous rating, that’s mainly for the action sequences and not the script. Alex Cross is a pretty smart guy but Alex Cross isn’t a smart film and in a crowded release schedule it could have used some smarts.

REASONS TO GO: Nice chemistry between Perry and Burns. Fox is a demented villain.

REASONS TO STAY: Perry is unconvincing.  End twist is a yawner. Dialogue borderline incompetent.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and a whole lot of bad language. Some of the images are pretty gory and even gruesome. There are some drug references, a bit of sexuality and an even smaller bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Idris Elba was initially cast to replace Morgan Freeman as Cross but had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Perry who is starring for the first time in a film he didn’t direct. Ironically, Elba starred in Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% positive reviews. Metacritic: 30/100. The critics have pretty much given it a beating.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bone Collector

MMA LOVERS: There’s a scene in which the Matthew Fox character participates in an underground MMA match. Fox shows some pretty impressive moves.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Edge of Heaven