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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Let the Pokémon backlash begin.
First, there was the recall of Burger King toys over safety concerns. Then there was the Michigan man who was granted a refund by a Kmart after saying his cute, little Pikachu doll dropped the F-bomb when its circuits were punched rapidly. (To be fair, cussing when one's circuits are being rapidly punched does seem a natural response.) Anyway, the man's calling for yet another nationwide recall.
And if that weren't enough, Nintendo, the gamemaker responsible for the video craze that spawned a TV show and hit movie, is being threatened by a lawsuit from spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller.
Geller says his image (not to mention his name) is being ripped off by the evil Pokémon character called "Un-Geller" (or, as its known in Japan, "Evil-Geller"). Un-Geller, by the way, carries spoon and boasts psychic powers.
On the plus side, the character does not spout the F-word.
AN ODD COUPLING: Jack Klugman is proud and happy with his surgically enhanced -- er, asset. The 77-year-old "Odd Couple" star spills all on his penile implant in the new TV Guide.
"I'm not ashamed of that," Klugman tells the magazine. "It's a medical thing, a surgery that is done millions of times. But there's all this humorous ridiculing and silliness that goes along with it."
Fine, but the question is -- is it working?
Klugman is both married -- and dating. His marriage to ex-game-show fixture Brett Somers is still legal (although they've been legally separated since 1974). On top of that, he's dating actress Peggy Crosby. Klugman says he never divorced Somers so that he wouldn't be tempted to marry the women he sleeps with.
Says the erstwhile Oscar Madison: "I can't live with anybody."
'SOUTH PARK' ON ICE: Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano was parodied in the musical number "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" in "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut". Now the figure skater will eschew his usual classical repertoire to perform to the song on the NBC special "Brian Boitano: Holiday Skating Spectacular," to air Sunday at 4 p.m. EST.
No hard feelings then apparently between Boitano and the "South Park" scamps -- unless, of course, Boitano tries to kill Kenny with an ice skate.
CAREER PATH EXAMINED: No, despite tabloid reports to the contrary, Jan-Michael Vincent is still not dead.
The 1970s-era leading man ("Big Wednesday," "White Line Fever") and 1980s TV star ("Airwolf"), whose career was plundered by substance abuse and domestic-violence allegations, is now clean and sober and ready to take on a new role: grand marshal of Van Nuys, Calif.'s, New Year's Eve party.
Vincent, now 54, will be paid $4,000 for the job, a far cry from his $250,000-a-week paycheck on "Airwolf." Can he make it all the way back? Well, feathered hair did.
STEEL CITY BACKS KELLY: Gene Kelly fans may see a familiar sight in Pittsburgh next year: The city is considering a statue honoring the late actor, who was born and raised in the city and attended school there before hitting Broadway and twirling an umbrella in "Singin' in the Rain."
Y2K STARWATCH: Despite increasing Y2K jitters, some stars are still braving the millennium in front of a crowd. Will Smith will be in Washington, D.C. (with Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg and Warren Beatty in the crowd). Gloria Estefan ("Music of the Heart") will perform in Miami, the Eagles will play Los Angeles, Billy Joel performs in New York and Bette Midler will put on a show in Las Vegas.
But if you're holed up in the house, lacking the significant moolah to see any of these acts, fear not: You can catch the biggest of them all, Barbra Streisand, in the comfort of your own home.
Streisand, whose own Vegas concert is boasting $1,500 to $2,500 ticket prices, will appear live (from her show) on ABC on New Year's Eve -- her first singing gig on live television in more than three decades.
In return, ABC will give Babs a live feed of its millennial coverage so her audience in Las Vegas can watch various New Year's celebrations around the world. According to the New York Daily News, Streisand will show up on the tube between 12:45 and 1 a.m. EST on Jan. 1.
Provided the world doesn't end.