Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Robocop (2014) Part 1

Original Vs. Remake Part 2: Robocop (1987) vs. Robocop (2014)!”

 Click here for the first half of Original Vs. Remake: Robocop (1987)!

I was PISSED when I first heard Hollywood was attempting a Robocop remake. And I do mean pissed, we're talking Internet Fanboy levels of rage here. This was a few years ago, I was totally used to Hollywood remaking stuff because they were literally out of ideas for mainstream films at that point.

But THIS was different. Up to that point they'd only remade stuff that wasn't worth getting upset over because it was all so “blah”, like the Footloose remake for instance.  Robocop is literally a cinematic classic. It was a critical success in 1987, and its legacy has only grown since then with people WAY smarter than me writing big, fancy words about WHY it's one of the greatest movies ever made.

This remake is the harbinger of something very dark to me, as I consider it Hollywood “testing the waters” to see what they can get away with. If this worked, then it's OPEN SEASON on all the classics. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, the Godfather, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Princess Bride, the Silence of the Lambs, nothing is safe anymore.

And guess what? This did work. The film had a bloated budget of $130 million dollars, literally TEN TIMES that of the original. While the film did pretty much bomb in America, making only $60 million dollars, it was a hit overseas where it made almost $185 million dollars. Since the only number that matters to Hollywood anymore is the international total, that $240 something million gross was a home run for them.

Be afraid. Be very afraid as you read A Ghoul Versus Robocop (2014).

We begin with Samuel L. Jackson doing vocal exercises in a dark room, as apparently the makeup team for this movie thought this was the sequel to Unbreakable judging by the wig they stuck him in. He is playing Pat Novak, host of the Fox News show The Novak Element.

I'm going to break from tradition here with this review. Usually I try to do these reviews sequentially without spoiling story events in advance, but this one's going to be special. The original movie would break up scenes with footage from Media Break News, highly satirical political broadcasts where they'd commentate on horrific world events with the same casual attitude as an E! TV journalist. It worked SO well, and for a lot of people is the highlight of the movie.

The 2014 incarnation attempts this with The Novak Element, as Samuel L. Jackson's character is an ultra-right wing shock jock clearly modeled on Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh or whatever Fox News mouthpiece of your preference. Which is fine, it's a great idea to introduce the element we're about to see in the upcoming scene. The PROBLEM is the movie plays this completely straight up, hell I'm not even sure this WAS supposed to be satirical.

Right, with that in mind, Novak is interviewing an Army General from the Pentagon about a current US operation in Tehran, Iran. We see the Army is using drones to police the city and keep the peace, and we get to meet the first remake characters from the original movie: the ED-209s. They're the only characters who barely got changed from the first movie, so naturally they're the best thing in this movie!

Just like in the 1987 version, they are made by an American corporation to uphold the law more efficiently than humans ever could. The remake does a little further with this, as they are now treated as combat drones to push the next major political element of the movie: the moral debate over using drones in combat.  Sadly though, they're barely in the movie at all as they take a backseat to the OTHER drones in the movie: the EM-208s. 

I literally have no idea why they're in this movie. Like the EDs weren't enough? Every single scene involving the 208s could have been replaced with the EDs and it wouldn't have changed a single thing in the scene besides making for some better action scenes. I have a theory though, something I call “I'm A Better Writer Than You!” Syndrome. You see this ALL the time in every adaption/remake/whatever, where they change the smallest details of the source material because they can. It's THEIR story now, dammit!

Damn, we're a page in already and the movie hasn't even started yet. That's a bad sign if ever I saw one. Alright, so we're in Tehran where Novak's film crew is live on location broadcasting the drone occupation of the city. NO WAY THIS GOES WRONG, as the Middle East has a FANTASTIC record for being a completely peaceful region.

Supervised by OmniCorp tactician Rick Mattox- oh, and how about that: Omni Consumer Products isn't actually the company behind RoboCop anymore. Now it's their SUBCOMPANY OmniCorp behind things, because “I'm A Better Writer Than You!”. Why? What does this accomplish besides needlessly adding things to the movie that do NOTHING?  Mattox is played by Jackie Earle Haley, who is going against all of his previous type casting and playing a psychopath.

Mattox is giving the film crew a rundown about how the drone program works blah blah blah whatever, what I want to talk about is how the film's tone goes right out the window in this scene only a few minutes in. We've established our serious political tone already, so what kind of events do we see scrolling across the news ticker at the bottom of the screen?

“...Brazil legalises marijuana, stoned Congressman celebrates...”
“...Presidents gives OK for astronauts to take hookers to space...”

Get used to this folks, the movie in incapable of going a few minutes without doing something stupid. Now this stuff is OBVIOUSLY satirical and is actually funny, but completely breaks Novak's serious tone from just a minute earlier. The film only has one credited writer to it, but this story REEKS of multiple rewrites and ghost editing.

The drones parade down the city streets, announcing IN ENGLISH for all the citizens to come out of their homes and be scanned for threats. Novak talks about how great this is, how there is no risk to American lives and how the HONEST citizens of Tehran appreciate this too since they get to watch their children grow up in an environment of safety and security. Again, this so could have worked as being subversive in the classical Paul Verhoeven fashion, but Jackson plays this so straight I have no idea what they're going for here.

But in an amazing plot twist, we learn the citizens of Tehran DON'T appreciate the US intrusion into their homes, as we cut to a group of suicide bombers planning an attack on the drones because OF COURSE they are. Just as Novak's reporter is talking about the perfect harmony of the city they strike, blowing themselves and as many of the drones up as possible.

A teenage son of one of the men watches this from his apartment window, grabbing a KITCHEN KNIFE and running outside to avenge his father. This goes about as well an you'd expect, as an ED blows him into smithereens. I could bring up how we get a shot of ED's Heads Up Display assessing the knife as a threat when it couldn't even have made a scratch on his armour, but if I stop to talk about stuff like that the review is going to be longer than War and Peace.

Also I'm just assuming the kid got shot up, as all we see is a huge dust cloud the bullets start hitting him. Because the movie had to hit as many demographics as possible, they made it PG-13 so all the kiddies can go see it! I find that quite odd, as SO many more kids saw the original Robocop (which as a HARD R) than will likely ever see this rubbish. I'll get to the PG-13 stuff much later though, just keep in mind this entire movie is as bloodless as a G.I. Joe cartoon.

It's at THIS point the Pentagon decides to cut the live feed, because they were totally okay with showing suicide bombers completely contradicting how well Operation Freedom was really going. Novak rants about Senator Hubert Dreyfus, the mastermind behind a bill that bans the use of these drones on American soil. His opposition is the CEO of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars, who is lobbying very hard to have the bill overturned. Sellars is played by Michael Keaton, who is still alive apparently. Huh.

Don't bother putting much though into this opening scene though and the questions it raises about combat drones or the continuing failures of America's attempts to bring peace to the Middle East, because NONE OF THIS is ever referenced again. In fact, I'm not even sure this was a part of the original script as this is probably something they just added later on. They just included it because they desperately wanted this movie to be topical and thus give the impression it had something deep to say. Spoilers: it doesn't.

The movie actually starts now in Detroit, as we join the legendary Detective Alex Murphy as he reports to his chief about an undercover operation that went south on him. I am legit shocked they didn't change his name to “Alec Murphy” or something similar, but the fact they changed Murphy from a regular cop to a gritty undercover detective will have to do.

See, in the original Murphy kind of had a naïve innocence about him as he was from a much nicer part of Detroit and wasn't used to the insane levels of crime he'd come to experience, but make no mistake about it, he was still a pretty bad ass professional whom you should NOT mess with. This made him very likeable and he felt like a very real character, he could kick ass but still retained his humanity and wasn't some burnt out husk like you see in pretty much every cop story ever. Oh hey, like this one for instance!

Alex Murphy is played by Joel Kinnaman, who is a STRONG frontrunner for Worst Actor in the 2014 Razzies thanks to his performance in this movie. Oh no, there was an Adam Sandler movie this year wasn't there? Okay, runner up then.

To study for this role, I believe Kinnaman did a marathon viewing of the Fast and the Furious movies and went “yeah, that's EXACTLY how I should act!” because he tries so hard to be this down, street-wise monotone thug and fails miserably at it. Hmm, that's not fair at all. He does NAIL the monotone part. Through a flashback, Murphy details how he and his male partner Lewis- wait, what the fuck?! No seriously, WHAT THE FUCK?!? THEY TURNED LEWIS INTO A MAN?!? Anne Lewis from the original was a groundbreaking character in what had been a testosterone soaked genre up to to that point: she was a strong female character that WASN'T in love with the male lead and never played the damsel in distress and could kick every bit as much ass as Robocop!

But no, let's get rid of all of that and make her a man. And a totally useless man at that. I do want to say this is absolutely no disrespect towards the actor Michael K. Williams, who is the definition of “Awesome” in the Ghoul Dictionary, but he is given absolutely NOTHING to do besides be the black partner whose shooting motivates our noble white hero to go out GET REVENGE!

Murphy and Lewis were working an undercover sting where they were buying Army-level assault rifles from a minor dealer named Jerry, who works for a major dealer named Antoine Vallon. They ran the serial numbers on the rifles and found out they were supposed to be in police evidence, but somehow got out. So naturally instead of getting Internal Affairs involved, the two cops went out on their own to solve the whole thing because that's the kind of movie this is.

Vallon is the Clarence Boddicker of this movie and I wish you could hear how hard I'm laughing right now as I say that. Boddicker, of course, was one of the most memorable and vile villains in movie history, and I really wasn't joking when I said it was a crime he wasn't nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1987. Vallon is, um... well, I guess he's a bad guy because he sells stolen guns and uh... well, he does order the deaths of police officers but that sure is a far sight from Boddicker.

Our heroes meet with Vallon, who gets a phone call tipping him off to their true identities He orders his men to kill them, and we get ourselves an insanely lame PG-13 restaurant shootout where you never get to see a single bullet land. For some stupid reason that I'm sure amounts to “it looks cool”, most of the shootout is filmed over shoulders of the actors like a damn third person video game. I kept checking the corner for his health meter and remaining ammo.

The flashback ends with Lewis getting shot and the bad guys escaping. The chief warns Murphy to not take any more action against Vallon until she approves it. She sadly doesn't take his badge and his gun, nor does she yell at him. And she calls herself a police chief?! Booooooo! On his way out Murphy butts heads with the two undercover cops originally assigned to the Vallon case.

We go to Washington DC for a summit between Dreyfus and Sellars that only repeats what we saw earlier. Dreyfus is all “robots bad!” and Sellars is all “nuh-uh!”. This is another scene that STRONGLY makes me believe the Tehran scene was added on after the movie was done, because Dreyfus makes a point about how the drones have no humanity in there actions and would feel nothing if they shot a child. Um... they- they did that. Were you not watching the movie like the rest of us?  I don't blame you if you WEREN'T, but my question still stands.

This sets up the next scene, as Sellars is back in the OmniCorp Tower in Detroit brainstorming with his Yes Man and Yes Woman how to sway public opinion on drones. Sellars concludes they're going to give the public a product with a conscience and put a man inside a machine.  Elsewhere in the tower we meet Dr. Dennett Norton, played by the “I'm WAY Too Awesome To Be In This” Gary Oldman. Just like Michael K. Williams, he's an actor of deity-like levels but his character is just written horribly. Hope the paycheck was fat as hell.

Norton works in the Rehab Division of OmniCorp, where he outfits patients with cutting edge robotic prosthetics. We see the scope of his work as he's given a patient robot hands, the man able to play the guitar with them. To be fair, this scene is pretty phenomenal and features some of the best CGI I've ever seen in my entire life, both regular and undead. I'm also pretty sure they blew the film's entire budget on this one scene, because WOW the rest of the CGI is Godawful.

The man starts off playing amazing but starts bobbling notes. Norton's assistant Kim, played by a totally bored Aimee Garcia (a/k/a the nanny on Dexter who fucking hates clothes), is monitoring this via computers and tells him the patient's emotions are spiking. Norton explains you can't get too emotional or it'll mess up the chemistry of the robotics. Remember this for later, there will be a test.

Sellars meets with Norton about his plan, Norton immediately establishing he's the “I Don't Want My Research Being Used For Killing!” kind of scientist, he only wants to help people. But he's also the stupid kind of scientist, as Sellars talks him into doing it because it'll “save thousands of lives” or whatever.  Sellars is a strange character to me. He's a combination of Dick Jones and Bob Morton from the first movie, but lacks all of the things that made them memorable, surprise surprise. Jones was a pure monster who would kill anyone who got in the way of his profit and Morton was an asshole trying to follow in his steps.

In this movie Sellars just doesn't really have a point other than he really wants to get public support for his drones so he can overturn the Dreyfus bill. He doesn't care about making America safer, he just wants more money but you CANNOT tell me he'd make more money from a domestic contract than the insane internationally military one he already has? He's WON! No one throws larger piles of money at anymore more than the military, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

Across the city, the two undercover cops Murphy clashed with are revealed to be in cahoots with Vallon. Okay, so earlier in the movie we saw Jerry had CRATES of assault rifles that they stole from police evidence. HOW DID THEY DO THIS?! In my Alex Cross review we saw Alex had to knock out the security system of the whole damn police headquarters and give a fellow officer brain damage just to steal two measly pistols, how did these two idiots smuggle out huge crates with no one noticing? This is made even more impossible as later on we find out Detroit has security cameras every 2.3 feet, so there is no way they got away with this unless the entire police department was in on it.

Idiot #1 tells Vallon that Murphy is going to be visiting Lewis in the hospital later that day. Vallon uses this chance to have one of his men plant what I assume in a bomb on Murphy's car in a scene that I guess explains how the Idiots were able to steal the guns. The thug calls Vallon to make sure the cameras are off below planting the bomb. Vallon has the ability to control the cameras in the city, doe he? I sure hope he made sure he turned them off when he had that very public meeting with the Idiots!

I was wrong about it being a bomb, as the next scene has Murphy comes home to his loving, monotone family. His wife Clara is played by Abbie Cornish whom I'm not familiar with but I assume she must have had a horrific Botox accident involving the same doctor that January Jones uses because her face can only make one expression.

His son David is played by Child Actor #59087 who is a huge Detroit Red Wings fan. I don't like to bash on child actors so I won't, let's just say it's a good thing he's barely in this film. Kinnaman and Cornish are absolutely the frontrunners for Worst Screen Combo in the 2014 Razzies because they have NO chemistry whatsoever. Cornish, who is also in the running for Worst Supporting Actress at the Razzies, is more monotone than Kinnaman which is almost mind boggling. Whereas he prepared for his role by studying Vin Diesel and crew, I believe she just overdosed on horse tranquilizers for her role between takes. So thank God we segue to one of the most awkward and uncomfortable sex scenes in history! It's PG-13 so she only takes her shirt off, but they kiss each other with all the enthusiasm of a brother and sister having to kiss on the lips.

Click here for Part 2!