FS, Contributing Writer
Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original was ultra-violent for its time and sharply satirical to boot, but the reboot of “Robocop” (wide release) is a much tamer affair.
Once again, a greedy corporate executive determines to meld what remains of a straight-arrow detective, nearly obliterated by an attempt on his life, with advanced robotic technology to create a new crime-fighting device. In this version the CEO intends to use the humanized hybrid to persuade the public to allow such machines on U.S. streets and that they are nothing to fear after all, enabling him to open up a lucrative new market.
The crunch comes when our hero is reprogrammed to allow his merciless software to override his emotional core, negating what had distinguished him from mere machine (and made him palatable to ordinary citizens) in the first place. Fortunately, his relationship with his wife and child acts as an obstacle to his complete takeover.
“Robocop” touches fleetingly on big issues. What makes a person truly human? How great is the power of love? Who will win in the struggle between man and machine? But it never seriously addresses any of them, instead devolving into a fairly conventional contemporary action movie in which attention is primarily given to gunfights, chases and explosions.
And while there are a few cool CGI moments, like when we’re shown the hero’s parts being disassembled to reveal how little of the policeman’s body is left, for the most part, the picture looks pretty humdrum, a trait shared by the majority of the characters.
The exception is the scientist, Dr. Dennet Norton, who constructs Robocop and finds his ethics challenged by the project. He is played with nuance by Gary Oldman, who adds a touch of class to what is otherwise just an unnecessary remake.
There is nothing of Shakespeare in “Winter’s Tale” (wide release) besides a similar title. This adaptation of a widely-hailed book by Mark Helprin confirms the idea that novels that are referred to as unfilmable usually prove to be just that.
This strange narrative, which sets a romance that transcends time against the background of the eternal struggle between good and evil, is meant to be profound, uplifting and sentimental. But what might have worked on the page — conflicts between demons and angels in a 19th-century New York City teeming with immigrants — becomes more than a little ridiculous on screen.
In print, for example, the image of a snow-white horse that periodically appears to rescue the hero from a devilish ward boss by suddenly growing wings to fly him to safety might seem magical, but when depicted via CGI it is more likely to provoke giggles.
In a novel, the figure of Lucifer himself could carry a touch of real menace, but when he shows up on screen as Will Smith, the threat is one involving snickers rather than goosebumps.
And when the big conclusion arrives — involving the apparent demise of an ill little girl and the transformation of our hero into a star — one is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s remark that it is impossible to read the death scene of Little Nell in Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop” without dissolving into tears … of laughter.
In the case of this film, though, you needn’t stifle the urge to respond derisively, since you will probably be part of a chorus — if, that is, anyone else in the theatre has managed to sit through “Winter’s Tale” to the bitter end.
“About Last Night”
David Mamet’s 1974 play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” a sharp-edged comedy-drama about how easily relationships can dissolve into acrimony, was adapted for the screen in 1986. Now, it has been remade under the same adapted title, “About Last Night” (wide release).
Both movies are much softer than the original play, though the new version is certainly raunchier than its ’80s predecessor.
What mostly sets it apart, however, is the fact that the cast is African-American. One of the major roles — played by Jim Belushi in the earlier picture — is taken by Kevin Hart, the pint-sized, motor-mouthed comic who recently scored a smash success in “Ride Along.” Given a steady stream of put-downs to deliver, Hart certainly keeps things percolating.
But neither of the “About Last Night” movies can hold a candle to Mamet’s play.