Friday, January 31, 2014

“Black Robocop” Has The Android Cop As A Sidekick!

The Good: Fairly interesting plot, Good protagonist
The Bad: Predictable character development, Direction/Acting
The Basics: A minor twist on Robocop geared toward the urban audience, Android Cop is a low-budget action cop movie with a familiar science fiction (and cultural bias) twist.

It has been years since I saw Robocop; it’s on my list. Like many people, I’m looking to rewatch Robocop in advance of this year’s remake of the film (reviewed here!) which is going to hit theaters soon. Even so, I remember the gist of Robocop well enough to recognize that Android Cop is essentially Robocop meets Rush Hour with a decidedly urban (yes, read that as “black”) bent. The Tyler Perry audience is the target demographic for Android Cop, but making the buddy action film the way director Mark Atkins does makes for an unfortunate film.

Poor Michael Jai White! Michael Jai White was, once upon a time, a rising star tapped to take on some big projects that had a lot of potential. While movies like Spawn (reviewed here!) might have underperformed, they were not the fault of Michael Jai White. White is the lead in Android Cop and while he performs admirably in the film, he is put in a role that plays on an awful number of stereotypes about the black community.

In 2037, Los Angeles is a post-earthquake wasteland broken down into different Zones patrolled by the police. There, Officer Hammond and his partner are preparing to meet an informant when they run into drug runners for the notorious criminal Dex Muldoon. An automated gun station at the edge of the quarantine zone kills Hammond’s partner and leaves him as part of a team hunting Muldoon. In the course of apprehending Muldoon, Hammond is rescued by an ultra-armored, part machine police officer.

Paired with the android, Officer One (Andi), Hammond goes to talk a potentially suicidal man down from a building. Andi distracts the man, undermining Hammond. After that, Hammond and Andi are called to the Mayor, whose assistant informs them of their next case. The Mayor has an illegitimate daughter who was wounded. She has connected herself to the most lifelike android ever created, one so real that she does not know that she is an android with her organic component transmitting from a remote location. Tasked to prevent the android version of the Mayor’s daughter from being discovered and used as a sex android, Hammond and Andi begin following the clues needed to find her. Going through gang territory on the Mayor’s orders, Hammond and Andi are used as tools to prevent the android Helen Jacobs from undermining the Mayor’s agenda while cleaning up the crime-filled Zone. As the two officers struggle to work together, they uncover the Mayor’s corrupt scheme.

In Android Cop, the police are clumsy and somewhat stupid (Officer Hammond is an obvious exception), but they are characterized as better than the machines. In other words, the police may be corrupt, not smart enough to use their full body armor in clearly dangerous areas, and unskilled in the most basic forms of police work (Andi is supposed to be a police officer’s head grafted to the android body, but he has no ability to bluff or strategize using a human element), but – the viewer infers – it’s still better to have human cops on the beat than having machines take over policing the streets. In the fashion of so many films geared toward the black demographic/community, the dichotomies are set up in very literal black and white terms. Hammond, the Mayor, Jones and most of the police working in what used to be Beverly Hills are black; Dex, the corrupt informant, and the antagonist/sidekick Andi are all white. As if to keep that fresh in the mind of the viewers, Andi is kept with his helmet off for most of the film, despite the fact that he and Hammond are in an incredibly dangerous area where a bulletproof helmet would be advised.

The idea of using the android cop as a sidekick is a vaguely interesting twist on the Robocop idea. The conspiracy surrounding the radiation-filled Zone is actually an interesting one. Sure, Android Cop might just be the most convoluted real estate-centered thriller of all time (really? We need a movie where the Los Angeles real estate market is inflated even more than in reality?!), but on a plot level, it is actually surprisingly engaging. That is not to say the movie’s plot is flawless at all; there are pointless gun fights and fist fights thrown in with little regard to reason or necessity and the effects in the film are largely laughable (was there a deficit of squibs when the film was shot?! One scene has a machinegun-wielding thug shooting off enough rounds to take out a decent-sized aircraft, but the reverse shot has only about five bullet holes appearing in the building next to which Andi stands). But, conceptually, the plot developments upon which Android Cop is built are not bad.

It’s also hard to call the acting in Android Cop bad, especially when one is talking about a film led by Michael Jai White that features Charles S. Dutton (as the Mayor). Michael Jai White and Larissa Vereza (Helen) have cringeworthy moments where they absolutely step on their lines; why Mark Atkins did not get them to do another take (or even use ADR to fix the clunky places) is inconceivable. For the most part, though, Michael Jai White does great as Hammond, delivering a lot of articulate monologues and emoting well opposite the dispassionate Andi. And, it’s always nice to see Kadeem Hardison getting work and Smith – where he is cast as a minor villain – is a good role for him.

What is missing from Android Cop is chemistry. For a buddy action flick to work, the leads have to have some form of chemistry. Android Cop is set up to have either an Odd Couple chemistry based on antagonism or a variation of the cultural mismatch humor chemistry like Rush Hour. Android Cop lacks either. Michael Jai White plays the role of Hammond completely straight and Randy Wayne seems like he is playing the role of Andi straight-laced as well. Wayne is filling the exact performance niche that Jeremy Renner would have if the movie had a bigger budget. Unfortunately, Wayne and Michael Jai White fail to play off one another in any meaningful way to sell the concept of Android Cop as anything audacious.

The result is a film that is set up to be surprising, but when the revelation surrounding manual override of the android finally comes up, the result is more “eh” than “woah!” Despite a plot that moves along, the characters are virtually impossible to care about in Android Cop. What we are left with is a film with potential that remains unreached. Hopefully, the remake of Robocop will satisfy . . . for all demographics.

For other ridiculous science fiction films, please check out my reviews of:
The Snow Queen
Aaah! Zombies!!
Alien Trespass


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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