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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Jar Jar Binks bending to the P.C. police? Don't hold your breath. As casting for the second installment of the new "Star Wars" trilogy continues, Lucasfilm is refuting reports that had George Lucas is seeking a more culturally diverse cast in response to accusations of racist stereotyping in "Episode I -- The Phantom Menace".
The original Daily Variety article, published last Wednesday, said the new, politically correct roles would include "a Native American character, said to have a forceful, spiritual nature; an Indian or Hispanic character; and an Asian character, possibly trained in martial arts."
But in a post on the official 'Star Wars' (www.starwars.com) Web site, Lynne Hale, Lucasfilm's director of communications, labels the Variety report "completely false," saying that no character descriptions have been decided on since Lucas is still working on the script.
"The descriptions reported would never be appropriate for a 'Star Wars' film," Hale writes in the message. "'Star Wars' movies have always been populated with a rich cast of characters that make up this fantasy world."
Currently the only role casting directing Robin Gurland is holding auditions for is that of Anakin Skywalker.
Names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and James Van Der Beek have been tossed around -- rather jokingly -- as possible candidates for the future Darth Vader, as have lesser-known names like Jonathan Jackson. But despite the "inside" claims that one blondish actor or another has the edge, Lucas' camp is saying it's all baloney.
"Robin [Gurland] has seen 700 tapes and submissions and met with 300 candidates," says Hale on the site. "She does not have a short list yet and is still exploring many possibilities. I know there have been many reports of actors saying that they have met with George Lucas and have done readings for him, or are the number one choice for Anakin. These are false rumors (but fun to read!)."
Recently rumored to be leading the race is 26-year-old Paul Walker, a little old to be romancing Natalie Portman, we think, especially since her Queen Amidala character looked considerably older than Jake Lloyd's Anakin in "Episode I." But Walker's a veteran of teen films "She's All That" and "Varsity Blues," and according to a source close to his family, he interviewed with Lucas and is the No. 1 choice for the part so far.
"Paul has another movie role in the works that might damper scheduling for 'Episode II,' but Lucas assured him that they could work something out," the source said.
Another name added to the pot is Eric Christian Olsen, of Fox's "Get Real". The college-age Olsen reportedly came to Lucas' attention when he guest-starred on NBC's "ER" as a severely burned patient. Olsen confirmed to IGN Movies that he was "stoked" at meeting Lucas at Skywalker Ranch to discuss the part.
"We'll see what's up, man. I'm stoked. Even no matter what, man, I still get to meet [George Lucas]," Olsen gushed to IGN.
Judging from his vernacular, dude, we've got, like, a bad feeling about this.
LEO'S 'PLUM' DEAL: It's the picture Leonardo DiCaprio would rather forget, but "Don's Plum," an underground movie shot in 1996 starring DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, has been bought by Danish director Lars Von Trier's production company. Von Trier's Zentropa has bought the international sales rights to the film, meaning it'll be released everywhere but North America.
'DUETS' LOSES BACKUP: Gwyneth Paltrow's karaoke film "Duets" is being shopped around to other studios after Disney decided to remove it from its release schedule, the Hollywood Reporter says. The film, directed by Gwyneth's father Bruce Paltrow, was in the can and scheduled to open May 5. But Disney is reportedly removing "Duets," which follows characters across the country to a karaoke competition in Nebraska, due to its "violent content." Which leaves us wondering what on earth could be violent about a movie in which people sing off-key tunes to a Muzak-style accompaniment. Death by microphone-cord strangulation? Barroom brawls over another rendition of "Hey Jude"?