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Joel Kinnaman in ROBOCOP

A new RoboCop movie opens this Friday and that is the best example of Valentine’s Day/weekend counter-programming you’re going to get in your neighbourhood multiplex this weekend.

Interesting parallel between the two: both versions–1987 and 2014–were helmed by non-American directors making their Hollywood debuts. The original was directed by Paul Verhoeven, and this new one is helmed by Brazilian director José Padilha. Mr. Padilha made the very powerful Elite Squad movies that are visceral, troubling narratives about the state of affairs in Brazil.

RoboCop is set in Detroit in the year 2028. A company called Omnicorp is working very hard to overturn a law that has declared it illegal to operate drones for law enforcement in the United States. This law is denying Omnicorp a lot of money so the CEO mounts a PR campaign to try and get the law overturned. An unlikely champion for the cause is presented by Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) who is grievously injured in a hit gone bad. A genial scientist, Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), talks Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) through the process of outfitting her husband with enough technology to make him more robot than human. And when she agrees, RoboCop is born.

Mr. Kinnaman does a great job of playing the vital man turned effective-but-limited man/machine. In the scene where the scientist first shows him how much of his human self remains in the new configuration he reacts to the horrific revelation with a powerful set of expressions that genuinely help enhance our horror on his behalf. While RoboCop is nowhere near as violent as either its predecessor or Mr. Padilha’s most recent duo of Brazilian movies, it still packs a punch. Some of the action sequences are so vivid you can actually feel a surge in your own testosterone.

This new version plays itself straight, and with a degree of gravitas. In fact the one attempt at comedy, in the form of the blowhard TV host played by Samuel L. Jackson, is so ineffective it merely serves to delay the beginning, and the end of this movie. And the biggest negative about this film is that unlike the original it does not feature a powerfully loathsome bad guy.

Final Analysis: This new version of RoboCop is its own movie, and while it seems a bit ‘off’ in terms of tone now and then, it is a worthwhile effort. It remains to be seen whether it will make enough money to warrant a sequel but the filmmakers have set up enough interesting ideas in this one to make it possible to build upon the story of what Alex Murphy has become.

My Advice: Check it out, it is not a bad time at the movies.