Photo by Kerry Hayes - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

This being the now-traditional blah season for movies, it should come as no surprise that RoboCop is a cheerless PG-13 retread of the subversive R-rated 1987 hit. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven painted a bleak, ugly picture of the future in that film. The shiny new rendition, set in the year 2028, is much cleaner and somewhat less nihilistic than the original, but otherwise it’s business as usual. Swedish-born Joel Kinnaman, from television’s The Killing, plays a dedicated Detroit policeman whose body is shattered in an explosion plotted by a local crime lord. Hovering near death, he is resuscitated by a doctor (Gary Oldman) who is conducting high-tech experiments for a cutting-edge corporation run by Michael Keaton. Thus, he becomes the first robotic officer on the Detroit police force and, indeed, a force to reckon with.

Joel Kinnaman-Abbie Cornish-290
Photo by Kerry Hayes - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

The story, showing signs of wear, is framed by an obnoxious new device, in which Samuel L. Jackson plays a strident, opinionated television host who sets up the moral debate over using machines (or drones) in the field of law enforcement.

Jackson’s character is as thin and superficial as all the other principals, who line up as either cyphers or caricatures: Oldman as the once-principled doctor who’s willing to sell out, Keaton as the manipulative mogul, et al. Give Abbie Cornish credit for trying to breathe life into her one-note role as Kinnaman’s devoted wife. But give no points to freshman screenwriter Joshua Zetumer.

This marks Brazilian documentarian-turned action director José Padilha’s American debut, but it doesn’t reveal anything other than an ability to execute high-octane action scenes. For some audiences, that may be enough. I was hoping to care a bit more about the main character and his outcome. The finale is especially disappointing, with an expected rooftop showdown that fizzles and an energy-sapping coda featuring TV host Jackson.

The RoboCop concept still has life in it, but it will take a better film than this to fuel a new fan base.