Jose Padilha’s glossy remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi blockbuster looks and sounds like the old Robocop, just tamer.
The setting is still a dystopian, futuristic Detroit, home to conglomerate OmniCorp, which plans to revolutionise global law enforcement with its robot technology including hulking ED-209 drones.
The central character remains a murdered cop called Alex Murphy and elements of Basil Poledouris’s original score, including the theme tune, have been incorporated by composer Pedro Bromfman.
So far, so familiar. Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer embellish this framework with timely references to the War On Terror plus slick digital effects.
Back in the 1980s, lead actor Peter Weller lost three pounds in sweat each day encased in a heavy, cumbersome suit. In the absence of digital trickery, he was a convincing hybrid of man and machine. Statuesque Swedish-American hunk Joel Kinnaman, who headlines the revamp, also wears a suit but he is frequently lost amidst the pyrotechnics of computer-generated battle sequences that play like video games.
Crucially, filmmakers have jettisoned the biting satire.
Verhoeven’s film was punctuated with TV commercials, which pointed both barrels at the rampant consumerism of 1980s America, and pulled the trigger.
Here, excerpts from a TV show fronted by Pat Novak (Samuel L Jackson) bookmark the narrative but fail to draw blood.
‘Why are we so robo-phobic?!’ bellows Novak, lambasting the law which prevents mechanised soldiers from patrolling the streets of 2028 America.
Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), CEO of OmniCorp, realises that he needs to pluck consumers’ heartstrings to sway political opinion.
‘We’ve got to give Americans a product they can love,’ Sellars says. Verhoeven’s relentless blood-soaked vision earned an 18 certificate from UK censors. By comparison, Padilha’s re-imaging is 12A – the same as The Dark Knight Rises – and wanton carnage has been dialled down.
As Sellars and his marketing team would concur, mechanised killing machines have to be family-friendly nowadays.