ROBOCOP, ABOUT LAST NIGHT, and ENDLESS LOVE
I caught a triple-feature this past weekend, and lemme tell ya, it made me feel like a teenager again. Specifically, it made me feel 19, my age when the original RoboCop debuted; 18, my age when the original About Last Night debuted; and 13, my age when the original Endless Love debuted. I don't know what confluence of release strategies resulted in this trifecta of Reagan-era remakes, but I guess I should be grateful to Hollywood for the collective trip down memory lane. I'd be more grateful if the movies themselves were better, but ... .
Like Paul Verhoeven's seminal sci-fi action flick from 1987, director José Padilha's updating of RoboCop finds an incorruptible police officer (Joel Kinnaman) ridding a futuristic Detroit of crime via his cyborg body suit, most of which, following an explosion, is now part of his actual body. (As we're shown in a neat, disturbing effect, all that remains of the guy's human form are his head, right hand, spinal cord, and lungs. There may have been a heart, too, but I was too queasily hypnotized by the functioning lungs to be sure.) There's more, of course, including treachery at RoboCop's ominously named "birthplace" of OmniCorp, plenty of video-game-style mayhem, and some mild satire of the ultra-right wing, embodied by Samuel L. Jackson in full, comically mannered "I've had it with these motherf---ing snakes on this motherf---ing plane!!!" mode. But as opposed to Verhoeven's opus, none of it is particularly interesting. The shoot-outs and blow-'em-ups are staged with no discernible wit or kinetic flair, and the revelation that Big Business - gasp! - might actually not have our best interests at heart is hardly the stuff of astonishment. (Michael Keaton's OmniCorp CEO turns out to be a major prick, a plot point that might only surprise viewers not alive in 1987. More likely 1997.)
Yet the visuals are impressive and the sound design vivid and decibel-bursting, and there are enough amusing flourishes to keep you engaged throughout; even though the moment trashed the film's reality a tad, I laughed out loud when RoboCop sized up a perp, and the electronics inside our hero's helmet deemed the lowlife non-threatening by identifying him as "Totally Stoned." And while Kinnaman, especially considering his limited opportunities, makes for a terrifically touching, empathetic lead, he's also surrounded by a sensational supporting cast, with Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Michael K. Williams, Marianne Jean-Baptise, and Jackie Earle Haley all lending texture to dimensionless roles. RoboCop may pale in comparison to its predecessor, but it's a solid base-hit of a reboot.
Director Steve Pink's About Last Night, meanwhile, is more of an easy-out fly ball that still manages to score a runner. Or, rather, runners, because while this remake of Edward Zwick's relationship comedy is no great shakes, second bananas Kevin Hart and Regina Hall take their spectacularly crude banter and behavior and absolutely go to town with it. Most of this rom-com concerns the first attempt at cohabitation between friendly lovers Danny and Debbie, and actors Michael Ealy and Joy Brant, here, are just as pretty as Rob Lowe and Demi Moore were back in the day. Performance-wise, though, they're much blander (even if Ealy is a far stronger actor than 1986 Lowe was), which is mostly the fault of Pink and screenwriter Leslye Headland, who oversell Danny and Debbie as "normal" - and consequently really dull - alternatives to the crass live wires that are their best friends Bernie and Joan. Yet Hart and Hall are so powerfully, hilariously in-sync as these gabby egoists with a penchant for hate sex that they're totally irresistible, and even in the script's watered-down form (with the "I don't love you anymore" heartbreaker noticeably absent), the material still has bite enough to make About Last Night an easy sit. Considering that both this movie and its '80s inspiration are based on playwright David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, however, was it really necessary to set this new film in Los Angeles? Now that's perverse.
Not quite as perverse, however, as the embarrassment of director Shana Feste's Endless Love, which pulls off the amazing feat of making Franco Zeffirelli's campy "forbidden romance" look like a model of sexually charged neorealism. If you can buy 24-year-old Gabriella Wilde and 23-year-old Alex Pettyfer as newly graduated high-schoolers, I guess maybe you could buy them as this film's opposite-sides-of-the-tracks sweethearts whose affair is waylaid by the girl's mean, overprotective father. (Given their slippery accents, buying the British cuties as Americans may prove tougher.) But you still have to contend with the complete lack of dramatic urgency, and the flowery-tampon-commercial imagery, and the humiliating sight of the excellent Bruce Greenwood and Joely Richardson actually trying to act in this goopy piece of romantic twaddle. And for those of us old enough to remember (and shudder at) the experience, why no nods to the film's 1981 precursor? RoboCop gives us a reprise of the classic "I'd buy that for a dollar!" meme, and About Last Night, at one point, actually has Danny and Debbie watching Zwick's About Last Night on TV. But no Diana Ross or Lionel Richie on the soundtrack? No Tom Cruise cameo? Hell, no Jami Gertz cameo? This isn't Endless Love. It's just endless.
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