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've been working for quite a while to come up with a funny enough joke to lead into the particularly noteworthy guest casting on the upcoming Glee Christmas episode, but nothing I think of is nearly as good as the news itself: Chewbacca—Han Solo's Wookiee copilot in the Star Wars universe—will be coming to McKinley High. How can you trivialize the most wonderful casting in a musical dramedy with mere wordplay? Sure, I could play off a possible romance with Jane Lynch's character, dubbing the duo Suebacca. As it is a Christmas episode, I might allude to leaving Wookiees and milk out for Santa Claus. But let's put all that treachery aside in favor of discussing what role Chewbacca will play at McKinley High. Glee star Matthew Morrison revealed that Chewbacca will exist in a within-the-episode special that pays homage to the Star Wars Christmas special of 1978. Glee's Christmas episode will air next Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. Catch tonight's new Glee, "Hold on to Sixteen," which brings back good ol' Trouty Mouth (Chord Overstreet). -THR
No one fights like Sage Brocklebank, douses lights like Sage Brockleback...in a wrestling match, nobody bites like—yeah, just doesn't have the same ring to it. But the ABC series Once Upon a Time will see Brocklebank take on the role of the man who once earned these accolades in a much more rhythmic way: Gaston, the brawny dufus antagonist from Beauty and the Beast. Once seems to be working on collecting a handful of Beauty and the Beast characters; they've already cast LOST's impeccable Emilie de Ravin as Belle, and now Psych's Brocklebank will play her nefarious suitor. Witness this tale as old as time on Once on Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. -EW
Speaking of LOST, someone much darker than the glowing young Claire (I choose to remember her as she was in the first half of the series) will be making a cameo on another fairy tale-themed show: Titus Welliver, who terrorized the island as the Man in Black, will be bringing his supernatural abilities to the NBC series Grimm. Welliver did his share of shapeshifting back in his beachside days, and apparently, he's feeling a bit nostalgic: Welliver's Grimm character, Farley Holt, will have the power to transform into a golden eagle. At least he's sticking to solid states of matter this time around. Grimm airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. -Zap2it
TNT is making some serious plans for the final episode of its long-running series The Closer. In the most poetic fashion possible, Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) will find herself pit against her arch nemesis—the dishonest attorney and suspected rapist Philip Stroh, played by Billy Burke of The Twilight Saga films. Burke will find himself back on the series when a serial killer investigation involves both Brenda and Stroh, set opposed to each other in one final, epic, and likely super-cathartic battle. The Closer's series finale will air sometime in the summer of 2012. Watch the remaining three episodes of The Closer's "mini-season" on the next three consecutive Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT. -TVLine