Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop was a landmark achievement back in 1987 and remains a pinnacle of the sci-fi/action genre more than twenty years later. Despite how well it's aged, MGM is crafting a reboot of the property with Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) at the helm.
Padilha is currently collaborating with screenwriter Josh Zetumer to develop a new take on the material that will reintroduce audiences to the character of Alex Murphy - a slain Detroit police officer who's resurrected as the cyborg RoboCop. Although the role has been played by numerous actors in various films and television shows over the years, most fans still regard Peter Weller's performance in the original film and its sequel as the definitive portrayal.
The fact that Weller wasn't an extremely recognizable star actually worked in favor of the film and allowed him to disappear into that role completely. The RoboCop reboot will most likely diverge from the original in a number of ways, and according to Clint at Moviehole, the casting of its lead actor might be the first obvious example of that.
Evidently, MGM is eyeing stars like Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and Keanu Reeves for the role of Alex Murphy/RoboCop. Clint also indicates that if these actors haven't already been approached about the project, they will be shortly.
Ordinarily, I'd disregard a rumor like this as nothing more than tabloid fodder - but Clint has an extremely reliable reputation and if he claims that he's heard these names mentioned, I'm fairly certain that means there's some truth to this. That doesn't mean any of these guys will ultimately wind up playing the part, but it does indicate that they're looking for a recognizable name to headline the film.
I personally find it hard to imagine that Cruise, Depp, or Reeves would be even remotely interested in this (well, maybe Reeves...), but I do think it's interesting that MGM is setting its sights so high. I'm sure those same three actors are probably on every studio short list for every potential blockbuster, but is RoboCop really a property that needs the added draw of an A-list celebrity?
The primary reason that reboots, remakes, and sequels are so attractive to this industry is that they represent established brands with a built-in audience. In my opinion, when you see the word RoboCop on a poster you already know if you're interested in it or not. I always thought that was one of advantages in making a film like this - you don't necessarily need an expensive star when the name sells itself. That's how we wind up with guys like Christian Bale as Batman or Henry Cavill as Superman.
We've heard before that RoboCop is a high priority project for MGM, and trying to land a well-known leading man is probably an attempt to help hedge their bets. I'm just saying - my mom loves George Clooney, but dressing him up as a robot wouldn't make her any more interested in seeing this film. I'd prefer that they go after an up-and-coming actor who doesn't bring the baggage of his last few films with him into the role. Save that money for another facet of the production.
Some might argue that the role of a cyborg who has most of his face covered and speaks with monotone delivery doesn't require much in the way of acting chops - but the subtle nature of the character is precisely why you can't throw just anyone into the costume. Weller's depiction of Murphy is still the one I find most tragic - and the most effective. RoboCop 2 gets a bad wrap from a lot of fans, but the scene where Murphy has to lie to his ex-wife about who and what he has become is incredibly powerful. It's also a revealing glimpse at the untapped potential of this series and why I was slightly more optimistic about this reboot when it was in Darren Aronofsky's hands.
I like that they're chasing actors with a certain degree of gravitas, but in this case I can't help but feel that the film would be better served by someone who's on the verge of being a star - not someone who's already headlined other tentpole franchises.
If nothing else, perhaps this indicates that we may see more of Murphy before his transformation - which is an aspect I think would not only help the narrative, but also help further separate the RoboCop reboot from the original.