I’ve just seen Jose Padilha‘s Robocop at the Cinema City plex in Prague, and the general critical view is more or less correct, I’m afraid. It’s an efficient, smartly scripted high-tech actioner, but you can’t help thinking that it just wasn’t necessary to remake Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, which had more style, verve and humor. The social allegory is more about the present than the future. Joel Kinnaman does a decent job as Alex Murphy (Peter Weller‘s role in the original) but he’s not star material — he slightly resembles the young Keith Carradine but lacks that X-factor snap. The story is more complex and convoluted, and there’s a persistent effort to explore Murphy’s conflicted emotions as he copes with suddenly being 90% mechanical with only vague ties to his previous organic self.

The irony is that the film doesn’t really kick into gear until Murphy is temporarily shorn of emotion and allowed to ruthlessly enforce Robocop law. Before that happens it’s like “okay, he’s unhappy and confused about no longer being human…we get it, fine…but let’s get to the good parts.”

Joshua Zetumer‘s script is saying that it’s inhumane and venal for society to give aggressive, emotionally vacant super-robots the power to hunt down and kill the baddies without blinking an eye, much less due process. (For the most part Verhoeven’s film portrayed this situation as darkly humorous, certainly in terms of corporate yuppies trying to make a profit out of the Robo-mayhem; it also cheered the ability of Weller’s Robocop to ruthlessly waste criminal ass.) But consider a very similar law-enforcement system that was described with admiration in Robert Wise‘s The Day The Earth Stood Still (’51). Michael Rennie‘s Klaatu explained to earthlings that robots had been given absolute power to deal with aggression on his home planet. All aggressors, he explained, are instantly neutralized by all-powerful robots like Gort — no bargaining, no appeals, toast. It’s not a perfect system, Rennie said, but the result is that “we live in peace, free from aggression.” How different, really, is this system from the one dramatized in Padilha’s Robocop? They’re nearly identical.