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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Bones has never shied away from the quirky or unorthodox, but the FOX drama's 150th episode, "The Ghost in the Machine," was particularly unique: The entire episode was shot from the point of view of the skull of a 14-year-old boy whose murder the Jeffersonian gang was investigating — and it worked.
The death of a kid hit close to home for Booth, Brennan, Angela and Hodges, being new parents and all (and father of a boy who's approaching that age, in Booth's case). But it took on extra meaning when Cyndi Lauper's psychic character, Avalon, returned to tell the group that the child's spirit was still lurking around on Earth. If they solved his murder, maybe he could finally be at peace.
Turns out, it wasn't a murder after all — it was just an accident that happened when a few teenage boys decided to do something stupid.
Bones is at its best when it's at its most unconventional. On another show, the handheld camera, smoky graphics and characters directly addressing the viewer as if you were the skull of a teenage murder victim would be considered weird.
Well, on Bones it's probably weird too, but that's precisely why everyone loves the show so much. Between the 9/11 episode and "The Ghost in the Machine," Bones has tackled some pretty resonant topics in Season 8, and that's something to be applauded. Not every show is so ambitious so late in its run.
As for the murder case itself, was it more or less tragic that Colin's death turned out to be an accident while trying to "surf" on top of a car being driven by his friend? At least he was finally at peace once the truth about his death was revealed — and the girl he loved finally knew.
Bones airs Monday nights at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.
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[Photo Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FOX]
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