It will shock no one when I mention that I haven't seen the original Robocop movie, or indeed any of the sequels or TV series it inspired. One of these days I'll sit down with a list of all those movies you're supposed to see before you die and my Netflix account and see how far I can get. I am informed, however, that this version is both less bloody (it's PG-13, after all) and less cyberpunk than the original, and Detroit actually doesn't look like such an awful place to live even before Robocop is on the job.

Robocop -- or more precisely Alex Murphy -- is played by Joel Kinnaman of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He lives with his lovely wife Clara (Abbie Cornish, Sucker Punch) and adorable son David (John Paul Ruttan) in a nice little house in the suburbs, where everything is lovely until his car blows up in Alex's face. That happens because bad guy Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) is annoyed by the fact that good cop Alex tried to arrest him even though he's paid good money for some Detroit cops and he expects to be left strictly alone.

Enter Omnicorp and its slightly sleazy CEO, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton, The Other Guys). They're the world leaders in robotic protection, except in their own home country, where robotic law enforcement of any kind is prohibited by the Dreyfuss Act. That has to be embarrassing. So Sellars is determined to change that, and he decides to start by giving the public a kinder, gentler sort of robot -- a man in a machine.

This is clearly a job for Gary Oldman (Dark Knight Rises), here playing Dr. Dennett Norton, who's some sort of biomechanical engineer or something. He's a cyborg doctor, basically, or rather a doctor who makes and treats cyborgs. He isn't a cyborg himself, or at least not yet. That might be a cool thing for a sequel, though. With Alex shockingly still alive despite being mostly burnt to a crisp, Sellars thinks he's found the perfect guinea pig for his project.

At this point, Alex is basically a head, a pair of lungs, a heart, and a hand. It's a little creepy, how that hand is still there even though it doesn't seem to be attached by anything organic. Also, someone goofed and sometimes it's the right hand that's flesh and blood and sometimes the left, so that's also creepy. All right, the entire thing is creepy. His brain is right there underneath that headpiece, with no skull left or anything. Ew.

But when he's all neatly encased in the suit he looks... well, not normal, of course, but at least not nightmarish. And everyone wants something from him. His family wants him back, of course, Sellars wants him as a tough but friendly spokesrobot for the company to help him repeal the Dreyfuss Act, and Omnicorp robot wrangler Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley, Dark Shadows) just seems to want him dead, convinced he's a waste of space. It's a movie full of agendas, basically, with everyone trying to figure out how to best get an edge over everyone else.

Don't get me wrong, there's also a lot of shooting. It isn't exactly a quiet, thoughtful sort of movie. But it's a bit like Surrogates, in that it hints at a lot of interesting questions about identity and what really makes a human, human. It doesn't really attempt to answer them because, well, they're busy shooting and such, but at least it acknowledges the elephant in the room.

And it was fun to watch. Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained) plays frightening talk show host Pat Novak and gets to chew a lot of virtual scenery, for instance. Sometimes I really wonder how he decides what roles he wants to play, but at least he really seems to be enjoying himself here. So let's go with a solid three and three-quarters out of five. I'd buy that for a dollar.

Alex stares at his new hand and his old, trying to tell left from right.


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