The 400-Word Review: Robocop

By Sean Collier

February 18, 2014

Don't get excited. It's not Batman.

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It seems that no Hollywood studio believes a film can be a product of its time. Even movies inextricably tied to the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s can be repackaged and updated, even if their themes were informed by long-dormant politics and their methods utilized for outdated or out-of-fashion technology and tone. To wit: we’re rebooting Robocop.

That series debuted in 1987 and firmly fit the action milieu of the era: over-the-top, R-rated and with more schlock than self-seriousness. In 2014, however, action has no milieu; we’ll make whatever we can think of, as long as something blows up. If it’s an extant property, particularly one that 18- to 35-year-olds have childhood memories of, all the better. Oh, and we’ll make sure it has a PG-13 rating.

That reality is somewhat disappointing, but not in and of itself capable of impacting the quality of a film. What will sink a project is the exhausting, gritty weightiness that seems to permeate all genre fare. There’s no fun, and certainly no cheese, to be found in an action flick this decade; no, we’re going to be very serious about things, we’re going to comment on global politics and we’re going to deliver a very earnest message.

And those tactics are wholly unnecessary when your basic premise can be summated as: “He’s a robot, and also a cop.”


It’s the near future, and giant conglomerate OmniCorp (little on-the-nose, that) has drone peacekeepers on the streets of every nation except America; it seems that yankees would like their police force to have a bit more soul, and Congress is standing in the way of automated enforcement. So OmniCorp figures they can throw together a cyborg that’ll nominally be human, but have the ruthless capabilities of a machine.

When true-blue detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, who does well enough) is nearly killed by a drug kingpin, OmniCorp convinces his wife (Abbie Cornish, awful) to sign him up for the cyborg treatment. Our newborn Robocop quickly discovers that the corporation doesn’t have his best interests in mind, yada yada yada, roll credits.

The modern Robocop is kept (temporarily) above water by a motivated supporting cast; Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Jackie Earle Haley enliven the proceedings. But any Robocop needs to be all bombast and little weight. Instead, this remake fails to dazzle and piles on ineffective drama to make up for its shortcomings.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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