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ROBOCOP (2014)

The original Robocop is a film classic and one of my all-time favorite flicks. Obviously I was enormously apprehensive when they announced a remake and one that would shoot for a tame PG-13 tone at that. But, I tried hard to go into this remake/re-imagining/whatever with an open mind and let it stand on it’s own but, even if you ignore the original Verhoeven version, this flick is just routine, bland and forgettable, despite having a fairly solid cast. The basic problem here is that Joshua Zetume’s script is weak and director José Padilha brings nothing to the table in terms of style or energy. The movie’s pulse, like some of it’s robot characters, is flatline. The story is set in a near future world where Omni Consumer Products and it’s CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) has it’s armed peace-keeping robots all around the world making the planet a supposedly better place to live but, in fact has turned it into a virtual prison. A law has been passed in America that forbids the use of armed robots and OCP needs to come up with a way to sway the American people into accepting their automated police and soldiers. They come up with the idea of a cyborg cop, a part man, part machine law enforcement agent to charm the American public into warming up to their cold hearted machines. Now they just need a human subject to set their plan in motion. Enter Det. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) who has a wife and son and is a good, honest cop, who, unfortunately, steps on the wrong toes and gets his car blown up right in front of his house. Sellars and scientist Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) convince Murphy’s grieving wife (Abbie Cornish) to let them save what’s left of a near-dead Alex through the Robocop program. A new hero is soon born but, one who’s human qualities hinder OCP’s attempts to use him as part of their PR campaign to get their drones on American streets. But, the more they try to make him a machine, the more Murphy fights to stay human. And the more he rebels against his programing, the more Sellars believes it’s time to turn their hero into a martyr and the people who created him now seek to destroy him. Can he save himself and his family? While the story here does deviate somewhat from the original film and the enormous budget allows the film to take us to other parts of the world, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the film has none of what made the original such a great movie. And I’m not talking about the gruesome gore that permeated the original, the flick could have succeeded without the massive bloodletting, I mean the strong emotional undercurrent, the biting social satire and the twisted sense of humor. We never warm up to Kinnaman’s Murphy either, like we did with Weller’s immediately likable cop, even with having far more time for us to get to know him and there is little spark between he and Cornish to make them believable as a couple and thus sympathetic to their fight to remain a family… despite that dad is now 80% hardware. It’s all presented rather generically and we never bond with them therefor, making us root for them as a family. Making his partner a wisecracking man (Michael K. Williams), removes the dynamic between the original film’s Murphy and Lewis, as in that film, Lewis became the anchor for his humanity after his wife thought him dead and left town. These two are just generic (there’s that word again) TV show style cops with one serious and the other wise-cracking bad jokes. Which brings me to the next point, the few attempts at humor in the film just fall flat and the attempts at social satire, through the rhetorical ramblings of right-wing TV show host Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson in an obvious paycheck part), fall equally flat and only serve to illustrate how shallow this new film is. Technically, Padilha is a competent director and the film’s budget is on screen but, he doesn’t give the film any soul or energy. I was never bored but, I was never really involved either. The action scenes are all very by-the-numbers and are instantly forgettable once they are over, much like the rest of the film. Forgettable characters going through the motions in forgettable scenes. The original film had colorful and memorable characters and vividly memorable action, not to mention, some very funny moments that never invaded the drama. This film takes itself far too seriously and yet with much less to offer. The cast is decent. Veterans like Keaton, Oldman and Jackson do the best they can with their weakly written parts but, even Keaton’s Sellars is no Dick Jones villain-wise. Kinnaman tires hard and has a few moments but, he never becomes endearing like Weller’s Murphy and his performance is ironically a little too robotic at times for us to really like him. Cornish is pretty and does the stereotypical long-suffering wife but, she also never becomes endearing or sympathetic because, she never rises above that stereotype into a three dimensional character. Jackie Earle Haley has a moderate part as OCP’s military expert but, his Rick Mattox is also a stereotypical military bad guy and he never is given much chance to give him the rage or depth of his Rorschach character from Watchman and that is just another of this film’s woes. Weak villains… not that the good guys fair much better… and the whole corporate conspiracy thing they are involved in makes no sense. If the public accepts Robocop because he is part human, how does it somehow make them suddenly accept the drones who are all machine. If they like Robo because he is a person underneath the armor, that should make them even less accepting of the inhuman machines that OCP wants to shove down our throats but, this is even more evidence of the weak script. At least production value is strong. The FX in the film are all quite good but, without an emotional center, they are as cold as the rest of the movie and while I liked the initial Robocop design that pays homage to the original’s look, the final  black ‘tactical’ version looks like a plastic Batman costume with a helmet instead of the cowl. Boring. The score by Pedro Bromfman adds little to the atmosphere or drama and is equally forgettable. I couldn’t hum a single note unless it’s the few times it revisits the original score by Basil Poledouris. Yes, I did try to look at this flick on it’s own but, ultimately the comparisons do have to be made as it is called Robocop and is technically a remake and, with or without comparisons, this flick fails on most levels. Basically, the makers of this new generation of Robocop have taken something that was very special and recreated it into something routine and quite forgettable… uh… bravo?

2 remade Robocops .

Robocop 2014 rating




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Late 70s flick is a combination of post-apocalyptic drama and disaster movie that opens with an Air Force bunker in California detecting a massive nuclear strike incoming and firing all missiles in response. The resulting nuclear war throws the Earth off it’s axis and the planet becomes a wasteland with only patches of survivors. Among the survivors are occupants of that Air Force base including, Tanner (Jan-Michael Vincent), Denton (George Peppard) and Keegan (Paul Winfield). The men have been receiving radio transmissions from somewhere in Albany, New York and after an accident leaves their living quarters destroyed and most of the men dead, they decide to travel to Albany in two massive land rover vehicles called Landmasters in a hope to find survivors. Along the way they encounter a few normal folks (Dominique Sanda, Jackie Earle Haley), some not so friendly survivors, giant scorpions, flesh-eating cockroaches, earthquakes, sandstorms and floods. With all these natural and unnatural elements against them and one Landmaster destroyed, will they make it to Albany and will anyone be there to greet them?

Ironically, 20th Century Fox counted on this to be their big science fiction hit for 1977, but post production problems delayed the film’s release until October and a little sci-fi flick called Star Wars got released first. Upon release, the big budget Damnation Alley bombed, so it was Fox’s good fortune Star Wars made such a bundle. Damnation Alley is an amusing and nostalgic watch, though, with it’s now cheesy SPFX, cheesier dialog and 70s disaster movie tone. It’s directed by Jack Smight, from a script by Alan Sharp and Lukas Heller, based on a novel by Roger Zelazny, who wasn’t happy with the film. Damnation Alley is pretty by-the-numbers, but there are some fun action scenes, such as the flesh-eating cockroach attack and an encounter with some mutant hillbillies. The cast give it their all and take their roles very seriously with Vincent doing his rebel hero thing perfectly and Peppard as the by-the-book senior officer. As said, the FX are pretty cheesy by today’s standards, in fact they were outdated by Star Wars‘ great FX work months before Damnation Alley finally got released. The Landmaster ATV’s are the real stars and as actual functioning vehicles built for the production, they are impressive, especially to a kid like me who wanted one upon seeing the film in a theater in 1977 when it opened.

Overall the 70s nostalgia helps make this an entertaining watch and there are some legitimately fun sequences. While the directing style by Smight is nothing special, he does keep things moving pretty fast and there is enough action to keep one entertained and it’s all bolstered by a good score from the legendary Jerry Goldsmith. So if you are a fan of 70s sci-fi or disaster flicks, Damnation Alley is a fun and cheesy combination of both that is probably more entertaining now that it has become so charmingly outdated.

Rated 3 (out of 4) flesh-eating cockroaches!

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