Under the Radar

A Different Kind of 'Robocop'

Joel Kinnaman

This new version of Robocop (out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital) shares a lot of things with the 1987 original: title, plot, corporate bad guys and Detroit setting. And yet, Brazilian director José Padilha's take on the American dystopia has almost nothing to do with the flashy, camped-up vision of Dutchman Paul Verhoeven.

Anyone who loves the original Robocop because it's a product of those wisecracking '80s is going to be very confused by this new movie. The first half of the movie focuses a lot more on character than action and even the corporate overlords aren't really the cartoony bad guys you remember from the original.

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There's trying to do something a lot harder, something that might have been better served by a 10-episode series on STARZ or HBO. The filmmakers are trying to cram a lot of hard thinking into a mainstream blockbuster movie. From a strictly commercial perspective, it didn't really work here in the United States (although the film did way better overseas). The filmmakers are trying to make some points about military and law enforcement outsourcing and ask some questions about how the technology we use to save and attempt to repair our wounded warriors might affect their family relationships and their sense of themselves. Sure, those elements were present in the original movies, but the technology of 2014 makes those questions a lot closer to actual reality than they were back in the old days.

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Joel Kinnaman (best known here for The Killing TV series) doesn't really compare to Peter Weller in the title role, but he's surrounded by first-rate actors having a great time. Jackie Earle Haley is particularly good as an old-school mercenary who mercilessly mocks Kinnaman.

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Gary Oldman plays the scientist whose research creates Robocop and labors mightily to make an emotional connection with Kinnaman. Michael Keaton continues his run of great supporting character roles as the head of Omnicorp, Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire) shows up as Kinnaman's partner and Samuel L. Jackson wears an amazing hairpiece as a Fox-style TV commentator.

Full disclosure: I like the 2012 remake of Total Recall at least has much as the Verhoeven original, which now seems like an extended Schwarzenegger standup routine. The original Robocop was a better movie than Total Recall and this new Robocop is not nearly as good a movie as the original. But it shares some of the Blade Runner-style darkness that was the strong suit of the Total Recall remake. If you're looking for a straight action picture, you won't enjoy this Robocop but it might just hold your attention if those attempts at deeper themes sound interesting.

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There are a lot of documentaries on the Blu-ray and the interviews support my theory that everyone working on the movie was interested in making a more complicated blockbuster.

One massive complaint: Robocop is an MGM movie. It was released theatrically by Sony but the Blu-ray is coming out via Fox and the digital copy of the movie is supposed to be delivered via UltraViolet. The release date was June 3rd and Robocop wasn't available for download. By the end of last week, it showed on the UltraViolet website that it would be available June 1oth. On June 10th, the Flixster website took my code and showed the movie in my library on some (but not all of my devices). There was a lot of emailing with customer support and now answer

I finally (accidentally) solved the problem by creating an account at the Walmart-owned Vudu website just to see if Robocop was Vudu-only. The movie then showed up in the Vudu apps, the Target Ticket apps and (finally) the Flixster apps. That's way more complicated than it should be for a regular consumer and most people would've given up and felt ripped off if they didn't head to a torrent site first. Digital copies are a great incentive to get people to still buy physical discs, but UltraViolet is still a train wreck.

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