By on February 15, 2014

Is there anything sadder than a single guy alone at a screening of “Robocop” on Valentine’s Day? Yep. A single straight man alone at a screening of “Endless Love” on Valentine’s Day. You’re welcome, geeks. Myself and the geek faithful piled into the theaters on said day for the ultimate in V-Day counter-programming. Aside from a few older couples, it was single guys all the way in the theaters, save one guy lucky enough to have snagged the lone hot chick in the area willing to see “Robocop” on the most romantic day of the year. You could practically feel the envy in the air.

From the jump, we geeks were given the full-court press. We’re talking the latest superhero movie (Spiderman, Captain America, X-Men) and action movie trailers rolled out one by one. “From the co-writer of ‘The Transporter’!” beamed one, as if that were a movie one saw for the script, and thus something to be celebrated.

“Robocop” is a movie that seems like it was concocted in a lab for maximum geek potential. About the only surprising thing was a lack of gratuitous cameos from anyone in the original cast that I was aware of. Beyond that, though, this was pure, undiluted geek bait.

We’re talking an opening with the MGM lion hilariously making the sound of actor exercises (think “lemon face, lion face!”) instead of a roar, before Samuel L. Jackson emerges, in full Samuel L. Jackson mode, complete with ridiculous hair and fiery bluster, making like some unholy hybrid of Glenn Beck and one of those CNN guys with all their fancy-smancy holographic images floating behind them to wow the tech geeks. The sum message being imparted: everyone else has robot cops, why can’t we?

So, a lab looks for a likely candidate to become Robocop: half man, half machine. You know the drill. Headed up by a nefarious and shady Big Corp-type played by Michael Keaton and a doctor/scientist played by Gary Oldman, the two find Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit cop all but taken out by local criminals working in tandem with members of Detroit’s own police force to get away with all sorts of thuggery, primarily gun-running. With the willing consent of his wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), Murphy becomes RoboCop, and wastes no time taking out all manners of criminals in short order.

Of course, inevitably, he does his job all too well, ferreting out local corruption to its highest order, including putting bullets into some of Detroit’s own not-so-finest. To make matters worse, those pulling the strings can’t quite seem to perfect where to draw the line between the human side and the robot side. Too human and he makes rash, emotional decisions in the spur of the moment; too robotic and he alienates himself to the general public, not to mention his loved ones. Needless to say, things don’t end well for most of the bad guys.

“RoboCop” is a fever dream of a movie, by turns mannered and raucous, thoughtful and over-the-top. It goes by in a whir of mechanized parts, all sound and fury, with little time for much complacency. It’s not bad, all told, but neither is it anything life-changing. You pretty much know what you’re going to get walking in the door, and you get nothing more, nothing less.

Don’t get me wrong. The script has its clever moments. The Jackson character is inspired, and I like that he just bursts in from time to time to fire off a litany of reasons why robocops are the bomb, and it’s high time we got onboard as Americans, damn it!

And casting the too-cool-for-school Kinnaman, best-known from AMC’s “The Killing,” as the lead is an inspired choice. You get the sense he means business, even as he keeps his emotion mostly in check, making him the perfect choice for RoboCop consideration. Some of the other casting choices are likewise inspired, such as Michael K. Williams (of “The Wire” and “”Boardwalk Empire”) as Kinnaman’s partner, who has the best line in the movie, when he celebrates RoboCop’s newly-minted color scheme. (That would be black.)

You’ve also got Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Without a Trace”) doing her best CCH Pounder as Detroit’s police chief; Jackie Earl Haley (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) doing his best manly-Military man type; Jay Baruchel (“This is the End”) doing his best Jay Baruchel as the Head of RoboCop marketing; and Aimee Garcia (“Dexter”) as the resident hot nerd scientist. All are fine, and the movie is nothing if not evenly-paced between action and hotly-contested debates about what is feasible when it comes to enforcing the law, and where science crosses the line.

That said, if you saw the original, you’ve basically seen this movie. It’s main point of originality is that it sort of filters that film through something like “Starship Troopers”- remember those recruitment interstitials that were peppered throughout that film? Replace those with Jackson caterwauling about the need to enforce robotic law enforcement sooner-than-later and you’ve got this film, basically.

It’s passable entertainment for those looking for a more guy-friendly Valentine’s Day weekend alternative, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before and better. I’m going to go ahead and give this a charitable B- and call it a day.

Besides, better this than “Endless Love”- am I right, fellow geeks?

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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