From Coke to Bruce Jenner’s face, there are decades of proof that newer doesn’t mean better.
Yet Hollywood keeps trying.
A new version of RoboCop hits multiplexes this week alongside updates of "About Last Night" and "Endless Love." And although its souped-up Alex Murphy ("The Killing’s" Joel Kinnaman) is sleeker, flashier and far more agile, the reboot seems more concerned with the machinations than the machine.
It’s not so much a movie about RoboCop as a movie about whether there should be a RoboCop.
Things open in 2028 with live coverage of Operation Freedom Tehran, in which OmniCorp’s robots have become indispensable peacekeepers. In fact, they’ve become essential in every country except America, where they’re still banned. All this leads excitable pundit Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) to ask on his TV soapbox, which is sort of like Wolf Blitzer’s "The Situation Room" on PEDs, "Why is America so robophobic?"
From there, we meet the OmniCorp executive team, led by CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), which is hunting for a way to circumvent federal law and public opinion to put their robot lawmen on street corners throughout America.
Sellars’ team, along with bionic engineer Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), is scouring the country for candidates who’ve been paralyzed or lost limbs in the line of duty long before Murphy gets blown up in his driveway.
Unlike the 1987 original, in which scientists just crammed whatever was left of Murphy into a metal suit and turned him loose on criminals, the new OmniCorp has Murphy’s wife (Abbie Cornish) sign off on the procedure.
Then the idea of putting a hero with a conscience inside a machine is test-marketed.
Then RoboMurphy undergoes training simulations in China.
Then there’s more talk and hand-wringing about the ethics of his situation.
Then RoboMurphy has a tearful reunion with his wife and terrified son (John Paul Ruttan).
Then we’re hit with some more fairly obvious parallels to the current debate over the military’s use of drones.
By the time RoboMurphy finally hits the streets of Detroit, it’s 70 minutes into a 110-minute movie. At that point in the original, he’d already thrown one perp through a glass dairy case, dragged another out of a nightclub by his hair, punched a hostage taker out of a second-story window, survived a gas-station explosion and shot a would-be rapist in the crotch.
This is a thinkier RoboCop, to be sure. But does anybody really want to think during RoboCop?
Aside from maintaining some key names and shoehorning in a shoutout to the original’s "I’d buy that for a dollar" catchphrase, director Jose Padilha and writer Joshua Zetumer have made sure there’s very little recognizable about this RoboCop.
Or this RoboCop.
Given a sleek black makeover with a red LED visor, RoboMurphy resembles a walking KITT from Knight Rider. He’s quite the sight tearing through Detroit — which is no longer a dystopian wasteland, by the way — on his custom motorcycle that lights up like an Eastern European discotheque.
For the most part, the effects are certainly better. The giant, lumbering ED-209s no longer look like they wandered over from one of those Rankin/Bass stop-motion holiday specials. But there’s also some noticeably bad green-screening.
As RoboMurphy, Kinnaman gets to emote more than Peter Weller ever did in the original. He’s not so much a robot as a man — or at least a man’s head, lungs and hand — with (quite possibly literally) a ton of prosthetics. At least that’s the case until OmniCorp drops his dopamine levels to make him more compliant.
Technically speaking, this RoboCop is better than its predecessor. It’s not nearly as cartoonishly gory. And the cast, from Oldman to the always-welcome Keaton to Jackie Earle Haley as RoboMurphy’s trainer, is vastly superior.
But it’s nowhere near as much fun.
It turns out, some heart isn’t what this particular tin man needed.
(Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal movie reviewer Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org)