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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There are many things in Beverly Hills: fancy cars, big houses, a legion of fake-boobed Botoxed warriors in Roman sleeves waiting to destroy all the men who cross their paths. But there is one thing that there is not in Beverly Hills, and that is a sense of humor. OK, well, some people have it, but many do not. Lisa Vanderpump has a great sense of humor, one that is a little wicked and tinged with just a bit of acid, like one of those British sitcoms you watch on PBS. But those self serious women Lisa mixes with on Real Former American Idol Contestants of Gramophone Gulch, they just don't understand what is funny at all.
The reason I'm bringing this up is because, well, we finally discovered why Adrienne, the queen of the Maloofs (a race of lizards that lives beneath the mountain) and her husband, Paullo the Chimp, are mad at Lisa. Yes, Paullo told us while they were riding in a limo with the bag of facial ticks and white knuckles that is Kim Richards (much more on her later). Here are his three grievances against Lisa, which they are waiting for an apology for: Lisa called Adrienne's shoes "the Maloof Hoof," she referred to their dog Jackpot as "Crackpot," and she said that when she moved out of her house across the street she was going to throw all the furniture she didn't want over their fence. OK, first of all, who even has the problem of having to worry about what goes over your fence? Who has a fence? Secondly, those are all jokes. We heard all those things on the show and it is absolutely obvious to anyone watching with one brain cell and one working eye that it was a joke (which means even Andy Cohen got it). They were kind of funny jokes too. Lisa was teasing. And if your whole reason to hate this lady is because she made a few groaners at your expense, well, then you're a jerk.
So at Yolanda's dinner Paullo is all, "After what she did to us, I'm never talking to her again." Oh please. What she did was tell a few jokes. He's acting like she paid the nanny to kill all of his kids. She's kidding, Paullo, you freaking clown. Oh, sorry, you're a chimp. Whatever. Same deal. Lisa made nice at dinner but really has no interest in mending their relationship until Adrienne apologizes. Now they are playing the Real Housewives' favorite game: Apology Chicken, where one party feels she is wronged and waiting for an apology from another party who also feels wronged and waiting for an apology. In most cases both women have done something totally screwed up and the Emily Post Stand-Off (can we call them Mexican Standoffs anymore? Is that racist?) is totally warranted, but in this case, Lisa has done nothing wrong. Adrienne invented this giant slight and went around spreading lies about Lisa. There is only one wrong party here and she has a whole mountain full of lizards at her command. (Lisa only has one lizard at her command and his name is Ken, so I mean Adrienne.)
OK, before we can start talking about how The Widow Armstrong can't laugh at anything (this has nothing to do with how anatomically improbable her mouth is, but from some sort of mental deficiency) we need to talk about Yolanda's dinner party. Yolanda H. Bananas Foster has a giant freaking house. It is gorgeous and she designed it, every slat on the floor and over-stuffed sofa in the living room. She put her personal touch on all 17,000 square feet of it, even though they only use about three rooms: the kitchen, the living room, and the bedroom. She doesn't use the infinity pool or the outdoor living room. The arboretum lies empty and the conservatory without music. There is no lounging in the lounge and nothing to wrap in the wrapping paper room. They haven't once used the indoor bocce court and, just as the contractor told them, the faithful restoration of a French city block in their basement turned out to be an absolute waste.
The funny thing about Yolanda Bananas Foster is that she planted a ton of lemon trees and then, to her shock and dismay, they grew a million lemons. Now her life is entirely full of lemons and she can not make lemonade. This is her personal failing.
Yolanda invites everyone over and has her butler/caterer, which she has on loan from St. Camille of Grammer, come up with a menu and cocktail list and everything is going well. Lisa and Ken arrive, and Kyle and MMMmmmmmauricio show up with The Widow Armstrong, who is wearing a long, black Victorian mourning gown with a black velvet choker and trailing a black parasol, folded in, behind her and it is jostling her bustle. Adrienne and Paullo bring Kim Richards and the gang is all there. Yolanda invited Mr Body, who I thought was the evil blackmailer in Clue but he's really some jazz musician. She also invited Michael Johns, a very distinguished musician whose career highlight seems to be finishing eighth on Season 7 of American Idol. He wore a fedora to dinner which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about him. Yolanda thought that either the 50-year-old trumpeter or the 34-year-old Australian also-ran would be a good match for Brandi, who didn't even come to dinner. They are not. Brandi, I got your back, even when you're not there.
When everyone arrives their first stop is Yolanda's refrigerator. We need to talk about this at length because, did you see that freaking refrigerator? It was like a giant jewelry display case or the glass coffin where they kept Eva Peron so that everyone could come and view the body. It was like nine feet tall with clear glass doors and just stocked with baskets of fruit that were professionally arranged by a food stylist who comes in every day to rotate the produce and make sure it looks lovely. Also, there were a million lemons and still no lemonade. There were enough lemons in there to make gin and tonics for a room full of British people for a month or one Housewife for a week. This thing is a marvel. It's big enough to walk into, even though you don't need to because you can see everything through the glass door. What does she do with left overs? And condiments? Why is there no half-full ketchup in there and a soy sauce stained white container of last night's noodles from Chinese take out? This isn't just a refrigerator, it is a space ship from the future that has come bringing only gorgeous fruit that will never age or rot. That is what Yolanda ingests to keep her face from aging or rotting.
OK, so everyone is hanging out and The Widow Armstrong is sitting next to Mr. Body and she unfurls her black lace fan with a snap and gives herself a little bit of air and asks why Brandi isn't there. Then she tells everyone, "She told Yolanda that she has slept with everyone in Beverly Hills. Considering there are 16,000 people in Beverly Hills, she has been very busy. Very busy in-deed!" OK, Taylor, first of all we got a sepia-toned flashback to Brandi's comment and she didn't say she slept with everyone, she said "in Beverly Hills everyone sleeps with everyone." That is true. Also funny. The Widow Armstrong, like Adrienne, doesn't get the joke. Also, if Brandi said that she 69ed with everyone in the 90210, which she didn't, but if she did, who would think she was being literal? Who would think she took the voting registry and went house to house dispensing free love and ticking names off her fuck list? No one would think that. No one thinks that is true but The Widow Armstrong and everyone is rolling their eyes as soon as she goes to sit down on a fainting couch.
The Widow Armstrong says all of this after a few too many glasses of sherry and Yolanda says, "There is nothing I hate more than a drunk woman," or something like that. Oh my god. This is like the lemons all over again. Does she know what show she's on? This is like moving to Alaska and after being there a week saying, "There is nothing I hate more than a long winter." Seriously, Bananas.
After dinner The Widow Armstrong gets even worse. Everyone gathers around the piano to listen to Yolanda's husband David Foster (no Wallace) sing on his piano that is made of gold. No, not just gold, it is coated with the metal made from melted down Grammys. That's how many he has, he smelts them and made a piano out of them. (I don't really want to talk about him because he's awful in the blandest way possible. He's been told his whole career that he is great and awesome and a genius and now he believes it so he rattles on and on with his stories about musicians that no one cares about and shows off in front of company and it's just blah. I would hate to spend an evening with the man, but whatever, it's not like he's messed up in his own unique way.) Kyle Richards, ever the showgirl, wants to get up and perform but when the ladies won't calm down, he tells them to shush and that there will be no talking and no singing. It was a little stinging, but he was trying to stay jocular. The Widow Armstrong did not get this. She was all upset. "Well, I never!" she said, while fanning herself faster and faster with her fan and trying not to pass out on her chair. God, Widow, learn how to take a joke.
Then after playing "Amazing Grace," Mr. Body started to play Danny Boy on the trumpet and The Widow Armstrong starts fanning more and more. "Bring me my smelling salts. I'm going down," and she passes out in a heap on the floor because her grief was just so overwhelming that she can't hear a down-tempo song. Paullo the Chimp takes her pulse and determines she's alive and then says, "Why don't we play something a little bit more upbeat?" OK, sure the song selection was whack, but are you really going to go into this guy's house and tell him he can't play "Danny Boy" because The Widow Armstrong lost a loved one a year ago? That's crazier than Courtney Love in detox.
The evening ends without any major atrocities other than the jealousy we all feel for Yolanda's insane refrigerator and the vague pangs of discomfort we feel upon meeting her husband. Now we get the set up is for Lisa and Adrienne's big Contractually Obligated Drinks Discussion About Why We're Mad, but I'm saving that for next week.
That's mostly because we have something tremendously important to talk about. Yes, something happened last night that was sublime in its impact: Kim Richard's daughter Kimberly went to the prom. Oh man. This was the best thing that happened to me since I discovered, through yoga, that I can fit my penis in my own mouth. OK, that is not true, which means this is the best thing I have ever seen.
We already saw Kim and Kimberly go to their sister/aunt Kathy Hilton's house to pick out a frock from her Kathy Hilton's Premiere Elegance Dress Collection that is available on HSN (I made all that up), but the big day is finally here. Kim is dressed in her flowiest dirt brown top and a choker that has never been in style so I have no idea where she got it. She walks to the door and lets in Kasea, the makeup artist who has a name that has never been uttered in any language before this day. Kasea is there to make Kimberly beautiful – wait, no – more beautiful. Kimberly sits down in the chair and Kasea goes to work and Kim gives her a big wad of beads and says, "Listen, Kimberly. I haven't always been there for you. It's been a few really rough years. Mommy's been in and out of the hospital, but I'm here for you now. I'm going to make it up to you. I'm going to make it right." Kimberly gives her the "Yeah, OK, mom," that every teenage girl perfects by the age of 13 and tries to ignore her while a human with an alien's name paints her face.
Kim goes into the kitchen and says, "I'm going to make chicken salad. I'm going to make a whole spread. We're going to make this the most magical day. Look, Kimberly, I'm making the salad. I'm putting in the chicken and the walnuts and the mayonnaise. Look, I'm making salad!" Through the window into the kitchen we can see the Kim is just throwing random amounts of ingredients into a bowl and stirring them up with her fingers. Doot-dee-doot, she's singing as she stirs and stirs, kneading the chicken like it's a big ball of dough. "Look, Kimberly. I made salad!" she said and takes it over to the sideboard that has a cloth runner across the top and is covered with four different plates of hor d'ourves. There are pigs snug in their blankets burned on one side. There are chips and dip in a chip-and-dip that is shaped like a sombrero and is meant for tortilla chips and salsa but is instead full of Ruffles and an onion dip. There's a plate with grapes on it. Just grapes. And there is an empty box of Bagel Bites with some freezer burn slowly seeping inot the runner. Kim puts her salad next to those and goes back to the kitchen to do some more work.
"Cupcakes! We're gonna need some cupcakes!" Kim shouts and pulls some Hostess cupcakes out of the box and unwraps them one at a time before slapping some colored frosting onto the top. She brings them over and puts them onto a glass cake plate that has been broken in half. "How did that happen?" Kim thinks as the first cupcakes she pushes toward the back fall off and stumble onto the floor. She knows how that cupcake feels. She lets it just lie there. It will get up when it's ready.
As she's admiring her handiwork on the sideboard, she hears a little girl voice behind her. "Mom," Kimberly says, as Kim turns around she holds her hands out from her sides a little bit, as if that will help Kim get a better look of her black dress which is frayed on the bottom, like a black swan that is still moist from sitting in a pond. Her makeup is done, her hair aligned in a row of knots along the perimeter of her skull. She looks beautiful and young. She looks like Kim Richards going to a movie premiere.
"Oh," Kim says, holding her hand up to her mouth, joyed that her daughter looks so great and that she could do so much for her on this special day. She's so pleased and so sad. This is going to be the best day of her life. For Kim, things never got better after prom. She tried and tried to recapture that day, that feeling that there is a big strong man coming who will protect her and make her feel better, she tried to burrow her way into that cocoon a million times, but she never quite got there. Maybe she didn't cook long enough, popping out while here butterfly wings were still a bit unfinished and sticking to her sides. Maybe she was grounded for good. But not her daughter, not her beautiful daughter flying before her very eyes.
That's when the strains of the "Star Spangled Banner" start up over the house with its jangly tones and everyone sings along in the heads for the first few bars. "That's the doorbell!" Kim shouts, surprised every time that it's not the start of a Lakers game. She runs down the steps and lets in Joe (I forgot his name, whatever) Kimberly's 20-year-old boyfriend. He's a little old to be going to such a thing and totally huge. "Oh, you're a giant," Kim says. "That so good. You can fight everyone off from my Kimberly!" she does an awkward karate chop and then laughs at her own joke, an awkward smile spreading over Joe's face. "Is, um. Is Kimberly ready?" He asks? "Of course! Come in."
"Wow, you look great!" he says when he sees her and goes in for a kiss, lifting her off the ground a little bit. "Are you ready?" Kimberly asks. "Yeah," he says.
"Wait!" Kim shouts. "You have to have something to eat. Look. I made all this food. Aren't you waiting for your friends? I figured you'd bring them all over and their parents and we can all take some pictures out in the front lawn, because you guys look so great. I frosted cupcakes. There's chicken salad!"
"Sorry, Mom," Kimberly replied. "We're going over to Julie's house. She arranged the limo so it's picking us up there, so we actually have to get going."
"Can I take one picture? Come on, one picture," she says getting her phone out of her pocket and pushing the two of them together at the top of the stairs. "Say 'Prom Date!'" They smile and she pokes her finger at the screen of her phone and it makes that recorded snap sound. "Oh, one more." She turns her phone and pokes again.
"OK, Mom. We really need to go."
"Are you sure? Are you sure you don't want to take some food with you?"
They walk out the front door and off to the car. Kim rushes inside to the window next to the sideboard, the food poised precariously on top. She lifts the blinds up with one finger and peers outside like she's watching something she shouldn't be, like she's peeking. She sees Kimberly walk over to the side of Joe's truck and she remember's the pickup truck that her date drove to her prom. He had a trailer rigged up in the back and they spent the night in it cuddling. The first time she kissed a man. The first time she drank. The first time she ever really felt like she could do something that mattered.
It's going to be different for Kimberly, she thought. She is my do-over. Before opening the door Joe put his arms under Kimberly's and picked her up while kissing her and spun her around. "Joe stop!" she said and let out a little laugh as he opened up the door and let her in, closing it gingerly after her and putting his other hand over the door as if to double seal it, to keep anything bad from happening. This was going to work, Kim thought. This was going to be perfect. As they pulled away she kept staring out into the driveway, wondering what she could do now, trying to figure out how her story was going to end. She was never good at endings, she was never good at the future. Her future just drove off and where did that leave her? Home, on a Saturday night, with no one to call, with no one to bother, with no one to care for.
She picked up the glass bowl from the sideboard and walked into the kitchen. She opened up the door under the sink and slid out the garbage can, quiet on its oiled track. She threw the chicken salad into the bad, bowl and all. It made a thump and the cracks filled the bowl but didn't break it. It just sat there, dead weight. Kim said to no one in particular, maybe to the cracked bowl, "No one even touched my salad."
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: AP Photo]
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