Joel Kinnaman in MGM/Columbia Pictures' ROBOCOP.

DIRECTOR: José Padilha
CAST: Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Samuel L Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel, Jackie Earle Hailey
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes


THIS REBOOT of a smart 80s sci-fi movie is a surprisingly solid take. Annoyingly unnecessary to lovers of the original, but satisfying for those not in the know.

The film contains several references to and riffs off the original, but no knowledge of previous director Paul Verhoeven’s work is needed to enjoy the action movie. The gratuitous violence of the original has given way to slickly choreographed set pieces awash in fast edits and handheld camera work.

So, too, the satire of the original has been excised completely for a more “real” feel in this near future which is not so hard to extrapolate from contemporary technology and thinking.

Now Brazilian director José Padilha (Elite Squad and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within) emphasises action over politics or social context, though there is enough happening in the background to paint a fairly dystopian picture.

Set in Chicago in 2028, the cop story plays out amid the people of the US grappling with the concept of machines patrolling the streets to keep the peace.

When police officer Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is badly wounded in an explosion, he becomes an experiment for Omnicorp, a robotics company that has created the automated drones policing Middle Eastern countries. We see Kinnaman for a quarter of the film, and thereafter, it’s his pretty face and one hand only.

Ideas around culpability and responsibility are bandied around, as corporate executives argue about how to persuade the American public to accept a machine making decisions, by giving them a machine man.

Robocop is no longer just a cyborg, now he is a human being with vast technological resources at his fingertips. However, the execs fail to factor in what happens when that human being decides to investigate his own attempted murder and emotion overrides logic.

So, it is still a bad cop movie with a heavy emphasise on cool tech.

Murphy’s previous partner and family take a backseat to the marketing machine, just as the character gives way to explosions and SWAT teams ramming their cars into huge robots.

Michael Keaton steps away from the voice-over work to play charismatic but ruthless Omnicorp exec Raymond Sellars, while Jackie Earle Haley is his right hand man with a big gun and sadistic attitude: weapons expert Rick Mattox.

Gary Oldman provides the conscience and pseudo-science as scientist Dr Dennett Norton, but Samuel L Jackson is the one hav- ing the most fun. He plays smooth talking TV presenter Pat Novak, the guy who steers public opinion, playing against his usual stereotype of swearing a lot and being prone to violence. Until the end, of course.

This Robocop is much more sleek than the clunky original with a nod to the influence of Transformers and kevlar body armour, though they have kept the “thud, whirr” sound effect as he walks and the bike is so much more practical than the Ford Taurus he used to have. Makes me wonder when someone is going to remake Street Hawk…

If you liked the Total Recall reboot, you will like this.