Following Total Recall and the most recent entries in the Die Hard and Terminator franchises, RoboCop becomes the latest violent action film to get a family friendly, pimped-up makeover. José Padilha's film has contemporary resonance and is different enough to the original, but unfortunately fails to distinguish itself from the corporate product it satirises.
Detroit, 2028. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is closing in on a crook when he's critically injured by a car-bomb. His predicament is exploited by wicked conglomerate OmniCorp who - under the stewardship of CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) - have cornered the global market in mechanised policing. They're looking to introduce their droids to America, despite public resistance and so Alex becomes their first man-machine hybrid, a human face on a formidable robot.
Padilha's film starts well, fleshing out its protagonist and giving his story context. The action is delivered in refreshingly succinct if formulaic measures and it's well cast, from star-in-the-making Kinnaman to Gary Oldman's Dr Frankenstein-like scientist and Samuel L. Jackson's media loon. Abbie Cornish does a lot with a little as Alex's traumatised wife and although Keaton doesn't get to do his crazy eyes he's creepily indifferent and entirely disconnected from humanity. But with Keaton defanged and a diminished role for Alex's criminal nemesis this leaves a hole where the movie's villain should be.
RoboCop is slick but feels sanitised and overproduced: its satire doesn't bite, its premise doesn't chill and its (bloodless) violence doesn't have any impact, in short it's a film without much of a soul. Some of the effects are breathtaking, particularly when we see Alex sans suit, but remakes need more than technological updates (we're not talking about a mobile phone here). This model of RoboCop might have been brought bang up to date but it doesn't display any significant improvements.
General release from Fri 7 Feb.