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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I know there are a few of you out there who are reading my Dancing with the Stars recaps and thinking, “so what? They’re dancing! Their feet are on the floor! Have you heard about that new crazy show called SKATING with the Stars? Where celebrities will be skating with ice professionals? It’s going to be so much better than watching the girl from Dirty Dancing dance around a set to the theme song from Married... with Children.” To that I say, NOT QUITE! IT WON’T HAVE BRISTOL PALIN TRAINING TO DANCE THE JIVE IN A MONKEY SUIT BY GOING TO CLOWN COLLEGE, THAT’S FOR SURE! They got a total of 18 points for their routine, which is 36 more than they deserved.
And Skating with the Stars CERTAINLY won’t have Derek Hough putting baby in a corner while they’re rehearsing the foxtrot! After some troublesome practices, Jennifer Grey and Derek wasted a bunch of time roaming around a couch and a cardboard television for a few too many bars before making their way to the stage and kicking up their skirts. It was cute how the camera caught Grey mouthing the lyrics to the song, but it wasn’t as cute as the fact that her monosyllabic answers convey how totally done she is with being on this show. They scored 25 points.
Brandy and Maksim danced the quickstep to the theme song from Friends, because they’re such good friends and Maksim shows his friendship to Brandy by smacking her on the ass in such a way that even Howard Stern thinks is disrespectful. I guarantee you that if your boss wasn’t busy looking for puppies to adopt on Petfinder.com, you could walk into his office and do this routine with him without putting in any rehearsal time. They got 27 points, which was the highest score the pair have received to date.
Audrina Patridge and Tony Dovolani practiced for their sexual rumba dance (to the theme song from The Hills, no less) by eating onions and garlic together because Tony namedropped that Richard Gere once told him it makes things less awkward. While it did make it easier for the two of them to rub their bodies together on the dance floor, it didn’t convince Audrina’s face to start working as hard as the sequins on her bikini top. They got 23 points for their routine.
Rick Fox and Cheryl Burke also danced the rumba, after Rick introduced Cheryl to some of his old basketball teammates in order to defend himself against the accusation that he’s more like Megatron as opposed to a dancer. I do not know what television theme song they danced to but I feel like it was in memory of Eric Estrata, and the way Rick put his hand on his hip was as perfect as meeting Neil Patrick Harris in a diner. Rick racked up 24 points for dipping Cheryl and spinning her between his two legs while one of Cheryl’s legs remained on the floor.
Kurt Warner and Anna Trebunskaya danced the quickstep to the theme song from Bewitched, and the bit was that when he started to dance poorly she’d wiggle her nose at him to make him keep going. But a lot of the time their footwork was out of synch, and Anna’s long dress tried to hide the fact Kurt was always ahead of her. They scored 24 points, which is only six points higher than the abstinence teacher in the monkey suit.
Florence Henderson danced to the theme song of WHAT ELSE? The Brady Bunch. To make things even more creepy, Barry Williams (who played Greg Brady, who, incidentally, Florence said always had a crush on her while they were filming the show) stopped by the studio to watch her rehearse the Argentine tango with Corky Ballas. I really can’t say anything about the dance because I was too busy Googling if there’s a test you can order online and use to diagnose yourself with mad cow disease. They got 21 points.
And finally, Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer danced the foxtrot to the theme song from Charlie’s Angels. To help him with his posture and technique, Lacey invited fellow DWTS dancers Kym and Chelsea to give him some pointers. They made the tremendous contributions of telling him to bend his elbow and to puff up his chest more than the average Disney Channel star would. They couldn’t, however, get him to grow a mustache to match Lacey’s bellbottoms, which I consider to be an epic failure that is only neutralized by remembering Kyle was born in the 90s and this was his interpretation of how Drew Barrymore would dance to disco music. They got 20 points, which puts them in the bottom two and up for elimination tonight (along with Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas).
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Hollywood celebs flee hotel fire
Several A-list celebs, including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Jim Carrey, had to be evacuated from a London hotel Thursday after a fire broke out. The blaze started in the kitchen of the lavish Claridges Hotel, where guests were evacuated as a precaution but no injuries were reported. Pitt and Damon had to cancel a press conference yesterday promoting their caper-sequel Ocean's Twelve. Funnyman Carrey, who is in London to promote his latest movie, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, joked to the press about the irony of the situation. "The movie's all about fire and disaster and so I get up for the (press) junket today and suddenly my house is burning down, and I'm on the balcony like a damsel screaming with a very high pitched voice," Carrey told Reuters Television. "No one rescued me, no one came. I had to find my own way out!" In Lemony Snicket, Carrey plays the ominous Count Olaf, who takes charge of three children whose parents are killed in a house fire.
Jackson opens the gates to Neverland
Michael Jackson, who is scheduled to stand trial January 31 on a 10-count indictment of child molestation, has invited a group of people Friday to visit his Neverland Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., Reuters reports. Jackson's spokeswoman Raymone Bain declined to identify the group but said a member of his entourage had incorrectly described the event as a holiday party for groups of children. Jackson has frequently invited groups--and children--to Neverland, the place prosecutors allege Jackson plied a boy with alcohol, engaged in "lewd acts" with him, then conspired with his staff to cover up his misdeeds. The singer said last year he no longer considers Neverland his home after police raided the place for evidence against him.
Oscars ceremony pushed back a week
The 2006 Academy Awards ceremony will be held Sunday, Mar. 5--a week later than the calendar schedule in 2004 and 2005, Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, announced Thursday. According to Pierson, the date change was necessary in order to avoid a conflict with the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to fall on the Academy's initial date of Sunday, Feb. 26. "It didn't seem fair to make viewers have to choose between these two special events," Pierson said in a statement. The late-February broadcasts will resume in 2007. The 2006 and 2007 broadcasts, as well as the upcoming 2005 ceremony on Feb. 27, will be telecast live on ABC.
Trump chooses his "apprentice"
Donald Trump hired a second apprentice Thursday, picking bland West Point graduate and software executive Kelly Perdew over go-getting Harvard Law School graduate and San Francisco attorney Jennifer Massey. In a live The Apprentice telecast from Lincoln Center in New York, Perdew accepted Trump's six-figure salary job supervising the sprawling Trump Place development on Manhattan's West Side, saying he wanted to be near the mogul's base of operations. Trump said he was not affected by the opinions of his top executives, most of whom favored Perdew. "I really go with my gut," he told reporters. "But I couldn't have lost with either one. It was a very tough choice."
Elvis Estate goes for $100 million
Lisa Marie Presley has found a partner to buy part of her father's massive estate. In a deal worth $100 million, impresario Robert F.X. Sillerman, who founded and later sold radio operator SFX Broadcasting and concert promoter SFX Entertainment, said Thursday he agreed to buy 85 percent of Presley's estate, including rights to the singer's name and the management of his famed Graceland mansion, Reuters reports. The title to Graceland and its surrounding property, including most of Presley's personal effects, will remain with Lisa Marie. Lisa Marie said she had sought a partner for several years to help expand Elvis Presley Enterprises and hoped the deal would preserve her father's legacy.
Queen to go on tour with new singer
British rock band Queen will go on a 2005 tour for the first time in 18 years, with vocalist Paul Rodgers taking the place of the late Freddie Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991, along with original members guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, Reuters reports. It is unclear whether bass guitarist John Deacon will join the tour. Many Queen devotees are insisting that filling Mercury's often outrageous platform shoes is impossible. "It's a Queen tour with Paul Rodgers, and planned for the spring, although no dates have yet been confirmed," said band agent Phil Symes. "It's not a case of Paul joining the band. The band would say that Freddie is irreplaceable, but Brian felt there was a chemistry with Paul."
Motley Crue's Neil involved in altercation
Motley Crue singer Vince Neil is accused of knocking out an employee of a Dallas, Tex., nightclub after a disagreement over sound levels during a Oct. 30 concert, the AP reports. According to a police report attached to the arrest warrant for misdemeanor assault, the singer motioned for more guitar volume but bolted across the stage as soundman Michael Talbert adjusted it. The affidavit said Neil jumped onto the soundboard, kicked at Talbert, then punched him in the face, the AP reports. Dallas police and prosecutors said if Neil doesn't contact them about the warrant, they probably will wait to act on it when he returns to the area.
Hugh Grant to hand out book awards
Organizers of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award have asked Hugh Grant to be on the panel of judges that will award their 2004 prizes, the AP reports. The annual Whitbread Book Awards were established in 1971 and are Britain's longest-running literary competition. They are open to residents of Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Winners in each of five categories--novel, first novel, biography, poetry and children's book--will be announced Jan. 6.