Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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Instead of some poorly conceived duets filling time during American Idol's two-hour Top 6 performance show, the finalists — Janelle Arthur, Candice Glover, Kree Harrison, Amber Holcomb, Angie Miller and lone dude Lazaro Arbos — will sing two songs each. One comes from the lengthy Burt Bacharach and Hal David songbook, while the second theme, "Song I Wish I'd Written," is much more expansive. Hollywood.com chatted with the finalists on their final rehearsal day and got the scoop on why they chose each tune.
"My song that I wish I had written is 'Love On Top' by Beyonce," Holcomb tells us. "I just actually got done rehearsing and it’s coming together really well. It's not like a wind blowing, 'wooo' [crazy moment], but it's fun. I love that song; it's upbeat and it shows my voice."
Glover is tackling another diva, the incomparable Adele — specifically, the British singer's cover of The Cure's "Love Song." "I am so excited because this is the kind of music I see myself doing in the future," she explains.
In a slightly more obscure move, Miller chose her favorite worship song, "Love Came Down" by Kari Jobe. "It’s definitely not a well known song but I’m so excited for people to hear it," she says. "She is an incredible singer. It’s more like a worship song, but I’m taking the song and making it relatable to everyone."
Like Miller, Harrison is a songwriter herself. She took the assignment very seriously, finally settling on "How Do You Make It Through the Night." "It’s written by Kris Kristofferson, but so many people who influence me have covered it, like Tammy Wynette to Elvis, so I’m really excited about it," she says. "It was kind of hard for me to choose because as a songwriter, you have [tons of] people who have influenced your writing. This song in particular I thought would give me an intimate moment I haven’t had yet — more country rather than Aretha and everything else I’ve been doing."
Country girl Arthur is also excited to stick with her roots and sing "The Dance" by Garth Brooks. "It was actually in a show that I did when I was 11 years old," she says. "It was one of those songs that really opened up my mind to how deep lyrics can be and how there’s more meaning to it than what you think."
Robbie Williams' "Angels" might not have been Arbos' first pick, but it's a song that's still close to his heart. "It’s not my all-time favorite song, but it’s a song that I do love and I felt it was right for the show," he says. "I do know it well. Hopefully I don’t forget the words since that has been becoming a recurring problem!"
The second theme was slightly more problematic for many contestants, but not Harrison. "For a lot of them it’s like the Dionne Warwick catalog," she jokes. "I’m singing 'What the World Needs Now,' which I love. I’ve always loved that song. Have you ever seen My Best Friend’s Wedding? It’s basically that soundtrack, what we’re doing. I’ve always loved that song and from the list of that catalog this was the one I could make my own more than any other."
Holcomb, however, hasn't seen the Julia Roberts rom-com, despite the fact that she chose the movie's iconic ditty "Say A Little Prayer." "I've seen Date Movie, and that's, like, a spoof of that movie," she says. "The song's in there! Listen, I did watch the scene of the song when the guy sings at the table."
Glover chose "Don't Make Me Over" by Warwick, and although she doesn't want to change the classic too much, "I still want to put that Candice in there," she says. "I never want to have anyone to change me, change my opinion. That's what got me sent home the first couple of times. I want to definitely be myself."
Staying true to her country vibe, Arthur's pick, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," was covered by country greats like Bobbie Gentry, Sheryl Crow, and Trisha Yearwood. Arbos, on the other hand, just went with the producers' suggestions and chose The Carpenters' "Close to You." "I heard it and I loved it," he says.
Miller is going obscure on her second song, too. "Anyone Who Had a Heart," which she didn't know before she chose it, is "really intense and dark, which I like," she says. "It doesn’t have an old-fashioned sound; it has more of a modern sound so that’s good."
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