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Tom Tangney

'RoboCop' gets breath of new life in remake

I don't think anyone was exactly clamoring for a remake of the surprise hit of 1987, "RoboCop." But given the ways of Hollywood these days, a remake was probably inevitable. And as bad ideas go, we're fortunate this remake is as good as it is.

It lacks the spontaneous combustion of the original but it smartly updates the political satire to fit our times and successfully teases out some of the philosophical issues buried in the 80's film.

The original RoboCop was half man, half machine. A dead cop is brought back to "life," so to speak, as a robot. He's a kind of super cop - smarter, stronger, and practically invulnerable. Crime rates plummet when RoboCop is on the beat. Things come to a head in the original when a rival crime-fighting-machine executive takes on Robocop in a fight to the finish. This low-budget sci-fi film has attained the status of a cult classic, thanks to its black humor, its ultra-violence, and most especially to that iconic image of the RoboCop itself.

Set in 2028, the new "RoboCop" film thrusts itself smack dab into the middle of our country's ongoing debate about the government's use of drones both here and abroad. Only this time the "drones" are giant robots.

Samuel L. Jackson plays a rabble-rousing host of an opinionated political TV show. It's advocacy journalism at its best, or worst, depending on your point of view.

"What if I told you that even the worst neighborhood in America could be made completely safe," says Jackson. "How do I know this? Because it's happening, right now, in every country in the world but this one. It is great to see American machines helping to promote peace abroad. So tell me, why can't we use these machines here at home? Why is America so robo-phobic?"

The giant robots Jackson is talking about scare Americans because they don't like the idea of ceding control to an army of machines. This becomes a political problem for Omnicorp, the robots' manufacturer. Michael Keaton plays Omnicorp's CEO and it's up to him to find a political solution.

And thus RoboCop is born. This time out, a nearly dead cop - all that remains of him after his car explodes are his head, his lungs, and one arm - is saved by doctors who build a robot body around him.

If the RoboCop is meant to be part man/part machine, the philosophical battle that ensues revolves around the exact ratio of man to machine - the more the former, the less efficient he becomes; the more the latter, the less morally responsible he becomes. The great Gary Oldman plays the doctor who most wrestles with the issue as he tries to balance corporate pressures with medical ethics.

Despite all the philosophical issues this film raises, it also remains true to the original's penchant for action scenes. You can't have a RoboCop without giving it/him a lot of chances to shoot at criminals, battle giant machine-robots, and take on corrupt tycoons.

The violence is only PG-13, rather than the original's R-Rated variety, but there's enough of it to satisfy the action crowd.

Overall, this remake is an upgrade in terms of its cast, its script, and its budget. Obviously, it can't compete for originality. There's a freshness to the first film that simply can't be replicated but as reboots go, it legitimately breathes new life into a 27-year-old product.

Tom Tangney, KIRO Radio Host, Film & Media Critic
Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.
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By day, you can hear Tom on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, and by night, he sits in the dark, making snide comments about what he sees on the silver screen.

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