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'RoboCop' Review: Another Sanitized Reboot

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I write this as a die-hard "RoboCop" fan.

At the age of 10 I was quoting "I'd buy that for a dollar!" as my smart-mouth quip, before I'd really discovered the magic of swearing. The year was 1989, and "RoboCop" had come out two years prior; I was exposed to it at a friend's house, and was hooked by its senseless violence (blatantly over-the-top and satirical), outright sexism (Miguel Ferrer doing the now-tame cocaine cleavage snort), and completely grotesque special effects (the image of the bad guy driving into the nuclear waste and emerging a deformed pile of goo still haunts me to this day). Sure, it's cheesy when you watch it now, but it was the '80s. Whatever that decade suffered in terms of bad hair and clothing, it certainly made up for it in movies.

Do you remember the enjoyment you felt watching action films from the '80s? "Commando," "The Terminator" (OK, Arnie's whole roster), "Rambo," "Die Hard" and the like? At the beginning of the movie, lines were clearly drawn: here is the good guy, and here is the bad guy, doing something absolutely unforgivable so it's OK to kill him later. Oh, and here's his army of cronies -- all those guys can be killed too. The rest of the film is spent watching said good guy kill the bad guys, perhaps saving a kidnapped child or hostage at the end. That's it. Simplicity at its best. No ambiguity to muddy the waters.

So seeing the 2014 version, all scrubbed and polished, sanitized and given a "message," was disheartening. I'm not saying the latest version of "RoboCop" is terrible, because it's not, but it is the same movie in name only, save for a few lines of dialogue inserted for audience reference. It's almost as if the studio wants to say, "We remember you!" to the original '80s fans, before fully taking the legacy of "RoboCop" and making it into some moral lesson.

One thing I will concede is the cast is stupendous. I have no quibble about that. It's probably to this group's credit that the new "RoboCop" works at all. Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Joel Kinnaman, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Michael Keaton (in another goofball-y God Complex role), and Abbie Cornish all ably carry their roles, sometimes bringing much-needed laughs -- even if those laughs are at the expense of the film itself.

The humour of the original "RoboCop" is there, in spurts, in the reboot. Similar tricks used in the 1987 version are present, like the ridiculous newspaper articles a character is reading, or the funny commercials showing on TV; I caught a newspaper headline from the 2014 version: "RoboPup Wins Best In Show." It's no coincidence that what's successful in the modern take originated in the first film.

Everything else feels empty. It's like taking something inflatable, blowing it up, letting all the air out and then blowing it up again. The second time the shape just won't be the same. I've felt this before with multiple recent reboots ("Total Recall," "Carrie" among them): don't mess with an already-perfect formula. What's the point of an action hero who broods and weighs the pros and cons? The key word is action. (But I suppose the emergence of the Christian Bale-type action hero, complete with angst and introspection, might be the new norm for this decade.) So when I see yet another movie with its sanitized villains (the endless meatbags, a.k.a. Orcs, of "Lord Of The Rings," the synth armies of "Total Recall" and any other non-human enemy sect -- there are a lot nowadays) it makes me yearn for the days of yore, when Arnie would run into the jungle wrapped in ammunition and armed with gargantuan weaponry, shooting at anything in his way -- human, non-human, or anything at all.

To its credit, the new "RoboCop" does have a few gunfighting scenes, but the longest one is when Kinnaman (as RoboCop) is being tested. He spends ten minutes shooting and fighting against what look like the titular enemies from "Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones." Boring. Only later in the movie does he fight actual humans, but ... of course ... a lot of the time he's using a Taser. If there's any symbol for action-hero impotence, it's a Taser. Can you imagine James Bond using one? Seriously, just think about it.

The "RoboCop" of my youth deserves better. Or maybe it's best that I leave the nostalgic feelings back with those movies, where they belong. After all, they'll never be able to make them like that anymore.

"RoboCop" is now playing in theatres.

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