Jose Padilha’s ultraviolent Brazilian Cop drama paves the way for a remake of RoboCop

After a successful career in Holland, Paul Verhoeven became the king of ultra-violent scifi action films in Hollywood from the late ’80s to mid ’90s, mixing in liberal doses of sex and biting social satire to create instant classics like RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man. Along the way, he made his most famous (infamous?) Hollywood movie of all, Basic Instinct.

Not surprising that Hollywood studios are now looking at remaking a few of his films. I have been reading about the upcoming RoboCop remake for some time, with the same mix of trepidation and excitement that I felt when I heard about the Total Recall remake, which was released a few days ago.

I have not yet watched the Total Recall remake; Colin Farrell ain’t no Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kate Beckinsdale ain’t no Sharon Stone and Len Wiseman certainly ain’t no Paul Verhoeven, although he did do a good job resurrecting Bruce Willis’ action career with Live Free or Die Hard.

Anyway, back to the RoboCop reboot/ remake. What made RoboCop such a breakout hit and a cultural phenomenon in 1987 was the way Verhoeven used a basic scifi B-movie plot to talk about corruption, corporate greed and urban decay. To do justice to the original movie, the remake would have to engage in similar levels of social commentary, rather than just creating shiny new versions of ED-209 and the RoboCop suit. Let’s face it, RoboCop writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner didn’t really have much of a career in Hollywood outside of the RoboCop series (which went steadily downhill with the sequels). So, it really was the way in which Verhoeven translated their script from page to screen that made the movie so powerful.

The articles about the remake all referred to director Jose Padilha, who I had never heard of. I kept wanting to check up on him, but somehow never got around to it. Then yesterday, I felt like checking out if there were any good Brazilian movies worth watching. So far, I have seen only 3 Brazilian films, they are Central Station, City of God and Carandiru. All are set in Rio and all of them deal with slums, poverty, crime, violence and drugs. When I was searching through boxofficemojo.com, I saw that the #1 movie for 2010 was a Brazilian film, which is very unusual, because the top movies in most countries are Hollywood movies like Avatar, The Dark Knight or The Avengers. This Brazilian film was Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within. Naturally, I checked online about the first movie, Elite Squad and discovered that it is one of the most critically and commercially successful Brazilian movies of all time, having even won the Golden Bear at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. And lo and behold, the director of both the films is none other than Mr. Jose Padilha.

I watched the movie yesterday and no surprises, it is about slums, poverty, crime, violence and drugs. This is an ultra-violent account of an anti-drug SWAT team in Rio which goes up against police corruption and the slum-based drug lords. The film is shot in semi-documentary style and is extremely intense, almost as tough a viewing experience for me as City of God a few years ago. On the basis of what I have seen, I can understand why Jose Padilha has been chosen to direct RoboCop, as he will make the film really gritty and hard-hitting. I am not sure how he will handle the black humour and social satire which was what made the original so special. I am already seeing the names of three different script writers in the credits, so I hope this is not going to become a mash-up of a bunch of different ideas.

A viral campaign has already begun with a website purported to belong to the Omnicorp, the company which manufactures RoboCop and ED-209.

RoboCop is scheduled for release in August 2013. Hopefully, it will be a bigger success than the Total Recall remake which is probably not going to make its money back.

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