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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Top Story: Wynonna Judd Sentenced on DUI Charge
Country singer Wynonna Judd, who was arrested last month for drunk driving near Nashville, Tenn., will lose her driver's license for one year and must perform 200 hours of community service, The Associated Press reports. Judd, 39, was pulled over Nov. 13 for driving 47 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone. After consenting to a Breathalyzer, Judd blew a .175--more than twice the state's legal limit of 0.08 percent. Judd said in a written statement after her arrest that she had been celebrating her impending nuptials and a friend's birthday "and clearly let my excitement get the best of me." Judd married D.R. Roach, her longtime bodyguard, in a private ceremony in Leiper's Fork, Tenn., on Nov. 22, according to her official Web site. On Tuesday, sessions Judge John Brown gave Judd the choice of 48 hours in jail or the community service--an option available to any first-time drunken driving offender in Nashville. Judd received an 11-month, 29-day suspended sentence, during which time she will be on probation, and she must pay almost $1,000 in court costs and fines.
Williams Takes Stage in Baghdad
Comedian Robin Williams took to an outdoor stage at Baghdad International Airport Tuesday in a U.S. military show that also featured actress Shannon Tweed, wrestler Kurt Angle and stock car driver Mike Wallace. According to the AP, Williams kicked off his comedy routine with "Goooood morning Bagh-dad"--a play on his 1987 movie Good Morning, Vietnam. Williams entertained a crowd of about 200 American and Australian soldiers.
Ben Affleck To Start Daytona 500
Ben Affleck, whose sci-fi thriller Paycheck opens Dec. 25, will take on a new role in February. According to the AP, Affleck has accepted Daytona International Speedway's invitation to be the grand marshal at the upcoming Daytona 500. Affleck, a NASCAR fan, will begin the Feb. 15 race with the traditional command to the 43-car field: "Gentlemen, start your engines." John Travolta started last year's Daytona 500.
Man Sues Sony Over Wedding Planner
A Virginia Beach man has filed a federal copyright infringement lawsuit, claiming the 2001 romantic comedy The Wedding Planner starring Jennifer Lopez copied his screenplay. Jeffery R. Ballard's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk this month, accuses the companies that made and distributed the film, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, of illegally basing The Wedding Planner on a screenplay he wrote in the 1990s titled, In the Palm of My Hand, about a wedding planner who falls in love with a client. He is seeking unspecified damages and a share of the profits from the movie, Reuters reports, adding that a Sony spokesperson declined to comment.
J.Lo Rocks the Vote
Jennifer Lopez has taped a public service announcement urging politically disengaged Americans to register to vote, Us Weekly magazine reports in its latest issue, set to hit newsstands Friday. According to Reuters, the TV spot, which was taped Dec. 12 in New York City, will debut during the Super Bowl telecast in January and run on MTV throughout 2004 leading up to the November presidential election. The magazine reports that J.Lo registered to vote via Rock the Vote's Web site on the day she filmed the PSA.
Model Heidi Klum Expecting
German supermodel Heidi Klum is expecting her first child with Flavio Briatore, the managing director of Renault's Formula One team, the AP reports. Klum, 30, and Briatore, 53, have been together for about a year. Klum declined to say when the baby was due or whether she already knew the sex of the child. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit model separated from her husband of five years, hairstylist to the stars Ric Pipino, last November.
Singer Mary J. Blige Weds Record Producer
Singer Mary J. Blige married record producer Kendu Isaacs at her Bergen County, N.J., home Dec. 7, People magazine reports in its Dec. 22 issue. According to the magazine, a guest played "Here Comes the Bride" on the piano, and Blige's mother and sister cooked up a menu of oxtail, barbecued chicken, crab, red rice and salad. "He completes me in the areas that I'm weak in. He's an analytical brain. I'm a creative brain. We pray together. We read the Bible together," Blige is quoted as saying on her official Web site.
Prime-Time Nielsen Ratings From Dec. 8-14
Relying heavily on Survivor: Pearl Islands and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS took half of the top 10 spots in last week's prime-time viewership numbers, compiled by Nielsen Media Research for the week of Dec. 8-14. The top shows were: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS; Survivor: Pearl Islands-Finale, CBS; Survivor: Pearl Islands, CBS; Survivor: Pearl Islands-Reunion, CBS; ER, NBC; 60 Minutes, CBS; Average Joe, NBC; Trista and Ryan's Wedding, ABC; Without a Trace, CBS; NFL Monday Night Football: St. Louis at Cleveland, ABC.
Role Call: Suvari Goes Six Feet Under, Pardue's Chasing Fate
American Beauty star Mena Suvari is re-teaming with the film's Oscar-winning writer Alan Ball for a six-episode arc on the HBO series Six Feet Under. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Suvari will play a student attending the same art school as Lauren Ambrose's character Claire ... Kip Pardue (The Rules of Attraction) will play the lead role in the romantic comedy Chasing Fate, being developed by Madonna's Maverick Films. Pardue will pla