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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Summit via Everett Collection
You can imagine that Renny Harlin, director and one quadrant of the writing team for The Legend of Hercules, began his pitch as such: We'll start with a war, because lots of these things start with wars. It feels like this was the principal maxim behind a good deal of the creative choices in this latest update of the Ancient Greek myth. There are always horse riding scenes. There are generally arena battles. There are CGI lions, when you can afford 'em. Oh, and you've got to have a romantic couple canoodling at the base of a waterfall. Weaving them all together cohesively would be a waste of time — just let the common threads take form in a remarkably shouldered Kellan Lutz and action sequences that transubstantiate abjectly to and fro slow-motion.
But pervading through Lutz's shirtless smirks and accent continuity that calls envy from Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland performance is the obtrusive lack of thought that went into this picture. A proverbial grab bag of "the basics" of the classic epic genre, The Legend of Hercules boasts familiarity over originality. So much so that the filmmakers didn't stop at Hercules mythology... they barely started with it, in fact. There's more Jesus Christ in the character than there is the Ancient Greek demigod, with no lack of Gladiator to keep things moreover relevant. But even more outrageous than the void of imagination in the construct of Hercules' world is its script — a piece so comically dim, thin, and idiotic that you will laugh. So we can't exactly say this is a totally joyless time at the movies.
Summit via Everett Collection
Surrounding Hercules, a character whose arc takes him from being a nice enough strong dude to a nice enough strong dude who kills people and finally owns up to his fate — "Okay, fine, yes, I guess I'm a god" — are a legion of characters whose makeup and motivations are instituted in their opening scenes and never change thereafter. His de facto stepdad, the teeth-baring King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), despises the boy for being a living tribute to his supernatural cuckolding; his half-brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) is the archetypical scheming, neutered, jealous brother figure right down to the facial scar. The dialogue this family of mongoloids tosses around is stunningly brainless, ditto their character beats. Hercules can't understand how a mystical stranger knows his identity, even though he just moments ago exited a packed coliseum chanting his name. Iphicles defies villainy and menace when he threatens his betrothed Hebe (Gaia Weiss), long in love with Hercules, with the terrible fate of "accepting [him] and loving [their] children equally!" And the dad... jeez, that guy must really be proud of his teeth.
With no artistic feat successfully accomplished (or even braved, really) by this movie, we can at the very least call it inoffensive. There is nothing in The Legend of Hercules with which to take issue beyond its dismal intellect, and in a genre especially prone to regressive activity, this is a noteworthy triumph. But you might not have enough energy by the end to award The Legend of Hercules with this superlative. Either because you'll have laughed yourself into a coma at the film's idiocy, or because you'll have lost all strength trying to fend it off.
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The show opened without its usual "You are being watched". It jumped right in with a montage. John Reese (Jim Caviezel), attached to a heart monitor, was on a hospital bed at the library after being shot by corrupt cop Patrick Simmons. Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) was sitting by him. Johnny Cash's "Hurt" began to play and I had a much harder time writing this due to the room getting really dusty. Then it showed Joss Carter's (Taraji P. Henson) ex-husband and son at her funeral, with Finch and Samantha Shaw (Sarah Shahi) hanging back. Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman) was there. Then there was a bar scene with Shaw beating people up and showing Simmon's picture. Then to a seedy place with money being exchanged - Simmons was getting a fake passport. The passport go-betweens were then riding in an SUV, counting Simmons' money and laughing. A big truck t-boned the SUV and Reese, who was in the truck, strode to the rear seat, where one person was still conscious. He showed the picture of Simmons. The guy, who was in bad shape, babbled something and Reese, showing about as much emotion as a robot, walked away as the SUV exploded. That was the opening. Some shows down't pack that much in an HOUR.
The episode used its flashback method of bouncing back and forth between a timeline. This time it showed each member of the team sitting across from someone at various points in time and talking about an aspect of their personality. The first was in 2010: Finch was with a therapist, after the ferry bombing that had cost him his co-partner. He wanted to talk about grief. He was sitting in a wheelchair and he said that he had lost his closest friend. They were debating the use of grief in evolution. He said he was thinking of doing something radical to honor the memory of his friend. The therapist said that he was not God and that his friend's death was not his fault. He asked if survivor's guilt would go away if everything WAS his fault.
Back to 2013. Finch opened Root's (Amy Acker) cage to give her food and she looked at him with a worried glance and offered her help again. He said it was too late. She said not for Reese. She also that there was a bigger problems at hand. Whatever the Machine was planning was coming soon. Finch's cell phone rang. It was Fusco. He met him at the burned SUV. Fusco alluded to it probably being the work of a psychopathic vigilante, prompting a snarky Finch reply: "Which one?" Fusco said Reese and Shaw's scorched earth was not good, it was making it harder to find Simmons. The guy told Reese about the forger, a guy named Yorke - which meant they needed to find him. Too late. Shaw had him hanging - literally - by his arms from the ceiling. She ignored three voicemails. Soon Fusco and Finch strolled in. It turned out Reese had gotten to him first and thrown him off the roof and disappeared. Shaw was just working with leftovers. Finch warned her that Reese's injuries were life-threatening. Quinn was the only one who knew where Simmons was coming and going. They decided to get Quinn's lawyer. The problem was, the Russians were also after Quinn as well as Reese. The lawyer was dead, courtesy of the Russians.
It looked like they were at a dead end. Or were they? Shaw then realized that she had to make Finch swallow the possible poison pill: They had to bring Root into the fold.
The next flashback was 2005. Shaw, who was a medical resident, was called in to the office for her lack of emotion after telling a family that their father was dead while eating an energy bar. Her sociopathic personality traits were called out. The man said that she was supremely bright and talented, but she was a risk; she might be bored of the job soon, since she only thought about fixing things, not healing people. She wouldn't be a doctor.
Back in 2013, Shaw was telling Finch that Root was his only option, with Finch still displaying understandable reluctance, but he acquiesced, opening the Faraday Cage that was holding Root. She came out and a cell phone rings for her. She answered it with a smirk while putting a bluetooth piece in her ear. Later, they were driving and Fusco was not happy about sitting next to Root, saying that if he had known, he would have driven to the location by himself. Root guided them to the right place in the dark by using the machine. They pulled into a desolate area. Fusco was skeptical, but Root told him information all about himself, including how he got the name Lionel. She promised that she was there to help. "Just when I thought life with you was weird enough, one of you takes it to the next level." he fumed. Root asked for a gun, Shaw declined...she then told her to turn around, with Shaw shooting a U.S. Marshal in the leg just in time.
They found Quinn's hideout - a very large hotel that had been taken over. Any doubts that it was the right place was dispelled when a car in front bust into flames. This drove marshals outside to investigate. Shaw could only smile at that.
Another flashback brought us to 2007. Reese was in a military uniform and getting raked over the coals before joining an elite program. The interviewer wanted to make sure he was tough enough to do his job. Reese replied that he had been through it already and he'd been in the program for three years. His job was to find the person who had sold secrets to the Chinese. It turned out it was the interviewer who had betrayed his country. Reese shot him under the table, with no compunction.
Back in 2013. Reese was coming for Quinn, even though he was still losing blood and looked quite haggard. He locked the doors and turned off the power. Upstairs, Quinn's bodyguard thought his men could handle the situation, but the head of HR knew that Reese can't be stopped. The scene shifted to the hallways. First he set some kind of explosive on a ceiling and then took a bag of flares and dumped them in the hallway. Quinn's protection team came downstairs wearing night vision goggles. Reese jumped some of them and then shot the pile of flares to blind night vision. Then he blew up the room to finish off other guards. Several seconds later, the main bodyguard of Quinn's was neutralized and knocked out. Reese was back with the defiant Quinn.He put his pad down for him to write where Simmons was exiting. Quinn talked about loyalty and that he wouldn't give up the corrupt cop.
Reese too that too well. He said that he kept his word. "I'm going to kill you. In 3 minutes." He told him that he knew how to kill people painlessly, but was going to forget that. Instead, he was going to make the last three minutes of Quinn's life last forever if he didn't tell him the exit.
The cavalry got to the hotel and this time, Root asked for and got two guns. Seconds later, the Russians came to the hotel entrance and the two parties shot it out, with Root being a badass with her twin guns blazing. Shaw grudgingly admitted, "OK, that was kind of hot."
Finch made his way to the room and got to a rapidly deteriorating Reese just as the three minutes ended. He was trying to talk sense into the grieving ex-military man. His strength waning as his blood continued to flow. Sinking to the ground, Reese aimed his gun at Quinn, but it was empty. They had a choice: either get Simmons or take Reese to get help. Shaw was fuming that it looked like Simmons would get away to fight another day. Quietly, Root said, "The machine never said that Reese was the only one that wanted to kill Simmons." it cut to the hotel room, with Fusco organizing the arrest of Quinn. He looked down at the pad, shoved it in his pocket and walked off.
Back in time to 2005: Fusco was in therapy and talking about a shooting. The therapist asked how he was doing, and he said that he was sleeping just fine. He was being a hardass, but then he asked about doctor-patient confidentiality. The therapist expected him to break down, but Fusco turned the tables and admitted that he tracked down the perp, who had shot an off-duty cop. He said the guy got what he deserved and practically walked out of the office whistling.
Back in 2013, Simmons was making his way to a plane. He smiled as he left the hangar. Fusco greeted him and told him he had sent the pilot off. Simmons asked if he was going to shoot an unarmed man. They fought which didn't seem like the best idea, since Simmons seemed to be in better fighting shape and Fusco still had broken fingers from the last episode. Sure enough, Simmons had the upper hand at first,. but Fusco rallied and broke his arm. Beaten, Simmons egged him on to shoot him, but Fusco was having none of it. He said that Carter had been the best thing for him and shown him that he could be a good cop. He handcuffed him and led him off to the precinct.
The scene shifted to Reese recuperating and they found Root, who apparently was free to have slipped off to wherever she wanted to go, in the library. She had decided to stay for whatever the Machine had planned. At least in the beginning.
Finally, we were in the hospital, where Simmons was under police guard while he recuperated from his injuries. He groggily woke up to find someone in the shadows. It was the gangster, Elias (Enrico Colantoni). Simmons asked him what he wanted, since HR was dead. There was nothing. But Elias was not satisfied. He wanted to collect a debt, and he admitted that he was not civilized. He liked Carter. She had been civilized to the end. and now he was going to kill Simmons. Well, he watched as his bodyguard garroted him and the final scene showed Simmons' heart rate monitor go crazy and then flatline in a reversal of how the episode began.
It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.