With social satire, you really have to either go big or go home.
Paul Verhoeven, director of the original RoboCop, understood this concept possibly better than anyone. His film, an ultra-violent black comedy that skewered everything from media-driven sensationalism to military privatization, was initially rated X and was so deliberately over-the-top that it transcended its seemingly "big dumb movie" tendencies.
The new PG-13 RoboCop opts for a more serious take on the RoboCop origin story, which means it's ultimately not as fun. In fact the only person who seems to be having much fun is Samuel L. Jackson, doing his best Bill O'Reilly impression as the host of a wacky right-wing political commentary show called The Novak Element. His intense, flippant character provides a look into the film's world of 2028, where OmniCorp's mechanized soldiers are utilized overseas but aren't legalized for use on domestic soil.
Chief among the new film's many satirical marks is the PR world (easy target). The problem for slippery CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) isn't so much a political one as it is a brand management one: How to get people to accept robot killing machines. His smarmy PR team (made up of Jennifer Ehle and a perfect Jay Baruchel) agree that the secret is the human element, or at least the appearance of it.
Enter maimed cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a detective who is investigating bad guys one minute (with his partner played by Michael K. Williams, a master at talking about preparing to shoot people) and who is a disembodied head the next. By combining his brain with a multi-billion dollar suit of armor, OmniCorp succeeds in their public vision, until they take it too far. The family dynamic (Abbie Cornish as his confused wife and John Paul Ruttan as his son) makes the plot more interesting and functional in and of itself, though pre-RoboCop Murphy could have stood to be a little less robotic than the RoboCop version of him.
Despite the very overt digging towards Fox News and drone programs, the satire is muted and the heartstrings tightened in arguably a better (though more conventional) Frankenstein-ish story. The RoboCop reboot isn't ridiculous enough, but that doesn't make it bad -- it's just not as memorable.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material.
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