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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Well, it seems that a bona fide New Yorker, Edward Burns (born and raised in Queens, folks), will be putting his own finishing touches on the classic New York film festival come May 1. Burns' latest, Newlyweds, will be the film that closes the Spring festival and seeing that he is so well-versed in the language of New York City on film and the fact that the film was made in Tribeca, where the festival is held, I doubt they could find a more fitting end.
Read the press release here:
2011 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL TO CLOSE 10th EDITION WITH EDWARD BURNS’ NEWLYWEDS
Writer-Director’s Latest Work to Have World Premiere on April 30
New York, NY – March 28, 2011 – The Tribeca Film Festival (TFF), presented by American Express, announced today it will close its 10th edition with the world premiere of Edward Burns’ Newlyweds. The film will premiere Saturday, April 30, at BMCC TPAC.
Newlyweds is the tenth film written and directed by Ed Burns and the sixth to premiere at TFF. Burns, who wrote, directed and stars in Newlyweds, has had a strong connection with TFF since its founding. Ash Wednesday world premiered as part of the inaugural TFF lineup in 2002, and Looking for Kitty, Purple Violets and Nice Guy Johnny have also been Festival premieres over subsequent years.
The film, shot almost exclusively in New York City’s TriBeCa neighborhood, is a chronicle of modern marriage, pointing out an essential truth: When you get married, you’re not just getting a husband or wife—you’re getting the family, the friends, and even the exes. With crackling humor and sharp insights into contemporary relationships, Burns tracks a newly wedded couple whose honeymoon period is upended by the arrival of the husband’s wild-child baby sister and the crumbling marriage of the wife’s meddlesome sister. The cast includes Burns, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Max Baker, Marsha Dietlein Bennett and Kerry Bishé. Burns produced the film with producing partner Aaron Lubin and William Rexer. Mike Harrop served as executive producer.
“There is no better way to close this year’s festival than with this film, Newlyweds by Edward Burns,” said Nancy Schafer, Executive Director of TFF. “He is one of Tribeca’s best friends. He lives in our community, and this film, which is exceptional and may very well be his best, was both shot in the neighborhood and captures the zeitgeist of a community and its relationships that is intimate and fun and so true. Closing night will be like coming home for all of us.”
“Tribeca is my home in every sense—it’s where I live, and it’s also the place where I have been so proud to show my work,” said Burns. “And from the beginning, the Festival has been a wonderful place for me to showcase my films and enjoy the kinds of conversations that I love as a filmmaker and a New Yorker.”
The 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival will take place from April 20 through May 1, 2011.