Nancy Allen

Robocop

1987

Orion Pictures

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Produced by Arne Schmidt

Written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner

Even if Peter Weller and Paul Verhoeven had never made any movies after they made ROBOCOP they would be assured of a place in Movie Heaven solely on the strength of this one movie alone.  Peter Weller went on to make “Buckaroo Banzai” which is a masterpiece, plain and simple.  He also starred in “Naked Lunch” which in the words of Nelson Muntz is neither about being naked or about lunch.  But it’s still one hell of a head-trip movie that you don’t have to get stoned to watch and you’ll still feel like you’re in an altered state of mind.  Paul Verhoeven went on to direct “Total Recall” the infamous “Showgirls” and “Starship Troopers” a movie that apparently I’m the only one on the planet who enjoyed for what it was instead of what it wasn’t.  But in 1987 they teamed up for ROBOCOP, a movie that I saw during its original theatrical run and enjoyed greatly.  I’ve only seen it once or twice since then in bits and pieces.  Recently I watched it from start to finish and I’m amazed at how well the movie holds up.  The stop-motion animation is a little shaky in spots but otherwise, ROBOCOP could have been made this year.

I think it’s because I had forgotten how truly well made and how multi-layered ROBOCOP is.  It’s an extremely violent action movie.  But it’s also a superhero movie.  It’s a social satire of capitalism, business and the media.  It’s science fiction.  It’s a whole lotta things that work extremely well together and provide an outstandingly entertaining package.  I really was surprised at how much I found myself enjoying ROBOCOP all over again as if I was seeing it for the first time.

The time is the near future.  In Detroit, crime is insanely out of control.  The most horrifically violent acts are commonplace and legitimate government has turned over the problem of policing the city to the multinational Omni Consumer Products Corporation, in effect, privatizing the Police Department.  The Old Man (Daniel O’Herlihy) is more interested in building a new city to replace the old.  A utopia he calls Delta City.  To this end, the massive crime wave plaguing Detroit has to be stopped.  More and more cops are poured into Detroit including hotshot rookie Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller) who is teamed up with the hardened veteran Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen).  Their first day as partners in the extremely dangerous Metro West Precinct they run across the path of Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith).   This bespectacled crime boss of Detroit   has an intellectual appearance hiding a psychotic personality.  Murphy is brutally shotgunned to death by Boddicker and his gang which includes the sadistic Leon Nash (Ray Wise) and the bloodthirsty Joe Cox (Jesse D. Goins) who has a laugh The Joker would envy.

Murphy is claimed by OCP junior executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) who has deliberately been sending police officers into high risk situations so as to have a dead body for his Robocop Program.  He takes Murphy’s shattered, mangled corpse and turns him into an indestructible cyborg police office that he proclaims as the future of law enforcement.  This doesn’t sit well with Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) the Number Two man at OCP who has his own law enforcement program in the works and doesn’t appreciate a hotshot like Bob Morton trying to slide into his spot.  And the crime wave continues as Clarence Boddicker extends his empire.  Murphy, reborn as Robocop is hailed as the savior of the city as he proves to be a one-cyborg police force.  But Dick Jones has plans in the works to get rid of Robocop as he has his own agenda for Detroit and Delta City.

While cleaning up Detroit and eradicating all crime in the city Robocop meets up again with Anne Lewis who awakens his memories of the man he once was and even though Robocop is supposed to have no mind at all he begins to remember his life as Murphy.  He beings to remember his wife and his son.  And more importantly he begins to remember the faces of the men who murdered him.  And he wants them brought to justice.  But doing so will put Robocop into direct conflict with OCP.  And they don’t take kindly to one of their ‘products’ turning against them…

It’s easy to just sit back and watch ROBOCOP as a mindless action flick but then you’d be robbing yourself.  There’s actually a whole lot of really funny satirical stuff going on that lifts ROBOCOP out of the genre and makes it something really special.  We have the “Newsbreaks” which are spaced throughout the film and presented by two android like news reporters (one of them played by Leeza Gibbons) which gives us a flavor of this near future world much better than any other method.  There’s the wonderfully well done dialog, especially memorable lines given to Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer, all of whom look as if they’re having the time of their lives playing really, really bad guys with relish and diabolical charm.

And how about the star himself?  Peter Weller doesn’t have much time as the human cop Murphy in the movie but he makes the most of it and he wins us over before he’s so brutally killed.  When he’s reborn as Robocop he’s so convincing it’s scary.  He does this thing that seems small but went a long way toward convincing me he was actually a cyborg: He first turns his head and then he turns his body.  Yeah, it doesn’t seem like much but the way Weller does it gives the character a whole new dimension just through the body language.  Nancy Allen is one of my favorite 80’s movie actresses and along with Wendie Jo Sperber starred in one of my all-time favorite movies “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” as well as “Carrie” and she provides solid support for Peter Weller.  Her dad actually was a New York City police officer which probably accounts for why she’s as believable as a tough cop.

The bad guys in ROBOCOP are all memorable, starting with Kurtwood Smith.  Clarence Boddicker is skinny, wears glasses and speaks like a college professor on crack.   Kurtwood Smith turns him into one of the best bad guys in movie history.  Ronny Cox sheds his previous good guy image here and Dick Jones is the perfect incarnation of corporate greed.  Miguel Ferrer easily holds his own with Ronny Cox in their scenes together as their characters are engaged in a behind the scenes struggle to rise up the ladder of success by any means necessary.

I think it’s worth mentioning the violence in this movie.  It’s a bloody superhero revenge adventure with the accent on ‘bloody’.  Like I said earlier, I haven’t seen ROBOCOP in about 10 years and I’d forgotten how marvelously violent the movie is, even by today’s standards.  The shotgunning of Murphy is shown in all its horror and that’s in the first half hour of the movie.  And it goes on from there.  People are getting shot, stabbed, thrown out of windows, bludgeoned, dumped in acid, run over by cars and blown up every five minutes in seems.  The final fight between Robocop and Boddicker is memorable in the sadistic glee the two characters seem to take in trying to kill each other.

So should you see ROBOCOP?  No doubt.  It’s a movie that hasn’t dated at all for me unlike a lot of action movies made in the 1980’s.  And even though the stop motion animation is a bit creaky that adds to the overall charm of the movie.  The acting is top notch, the story is tight and the plight of the human trapped in a robot body fighting to get his humanity back gives it a poignant emotional resonance.

102 minutes

Rated R: For extreme violence and language.  And yeah, for once I think a movie deserves the rating it got.  In fact, ROBOCOP originally got an X rating for its language and violence before Verhoeven trimmed some scenes that were restored to the DVD version.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

1978                         

Universal Pictures

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Executive Producer: Steven Spielberg

Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis

The time is February 1964 and the world doesn’t know it yet, but an event is about to take place in New York City that will change the course of history.  Four mop-topped singers from England have formed this little band they’ve named The Beatles that will irrevocably transform the culture of the world entire forever.  After their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, nothing would ever be the same again.

Pretentious opening, huh?  I thought so too.  But I wanted to get your attention because nothing else about this review is going to be anywhere near as serious and it shouldn’t because I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND takes nothing about itself seriously.  It’s a movie made by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale who have brought us such outstanding movies like “Romancing The Stone” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The “Back To The Future” Trilogy and one of the Ten Funniest Movies Nobody Seems To Have Ever Seen, “Used Cars”

A group of teenagers from Maplewood, New Jersey aim to break into the New York hotel where The Beatles are staying and to accomplish this come up with a harebrained scheme worthy of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz: they’ll use a limousine to get past the police barricade since any other cars that pull up to the hotel are carefully searched.  They figure that security will assume anybody who can afford a limo has a right to be in the hotel and let it through.  The group is made up mostly of girls: Pam, who has no real interest in The Beatles since she’s planning on eloping that night and she just gets dragged along for one Last Great Adventure.  Grace has aspirations of being a photographer for LIFE and figures that an exclusive picture of The Fab Four would be her ticket in.  Rosie just wants to get close to Paul, The One True Love Of Her Life. The appropriately named Janis absolutely hates The Beatles since she’s a folk rock groupie and she’s appalled that the local record store in their town doesn’t carry any Joan Baez or Bob Dylan.

The girls are joined by greaser Tony, who sees The Beatles as a threat to his beloved Doo-Wop.  Love-stuck Larry who has the whim-whams for Grace. Along the way the gang picks up Peter, a twelve year old desperately trying to stay away from his father who wants him to get a haircut and Richard, who is such a Beatles fanatic that his proudest possession in life is a two foot plot of dirt that was stepped on by Paul.  Grace and Rosie are the ones who pull along everybody in their single-minded goal and the two of them are as determined as Gregory Peck and David Niven in “The Guns Of Navrone”.  What follows is a freewheeling movie that doesn’t try hard to work at its story.  Visual gags come fast and furious as the gang arrives in New York, promptly get separated and go off on their own strange adventures, which allows Zemeckis to jump around so that we’re never bored.  We’re always wondering what’s happening with the others and Zemeckis gives his young cast more than enough screen time.

I especially enjoyed Wendie Jo Sperber’s performance (she’s probably best known for her supporting role in the ‘Bosom Buddies’ TV show.  Her character had the hots for Peter Scolari’s character, remember?) Not only is Miss Sperber cute as a kitten, she’s a remarkably physical actress and to watch her fling herself from cars moving at 80 miles an hour and go tumbling down streets, leaping down entire flights of stairs and swinging in elevator shafts is exhausting for us to watch as I’m convinced it must have been for her to do.

When Wendie Jo Sperber passed away after a long and heroic battle with breast cancer I was really hurt to hear that sad news.  Watch her performance in this movie and especially in Steven Spielberg’s ‘1941’ and I think you’ll appreciate how much of a remarkable actress she really was.  Wendie Jo Sperber projected wit, intelligence and sexiness in all her roles.  And she did as much of her own stunts as she was allowed to do and that adds even more to her charm on screen.  She was an amazing talent that wasn’t appreciated in her own time.

She has some great moments in I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND.   I howled with laughter every time she uses the phone to try and call in to win this contest for Beatles concert tickets.  She throws handfuls of dimes at the coin slot with a manic desperation that never fails to tickle the hell outta me.  Her physicality is even more remarkable because Wendie Jo Sperber was what we call in our PC times “full-figured”.  Just so happens I love me some full-figured women and I watch anything Wendie Jo Sperber is in because she does throw herself into physical comedy with such exuberant abandon you’re afraid the poor girl is going to hurt herself.

She’s paired with Eddie Deezen for a lot of the second half of the movie and they make a good team.  Deezen was The King Of Geeks in movies of the 70’s and ‘80’s and he’s very funny here as a guy who has been living in the hotel for weeks before The Beatles even got there as part of his plan to get their autographs.  Teresa Saldana is also very good as Grace as she tries one crazy plan after another to just get one picture of The Beatles.

Nancy Allen has got a couple of strange scenes here that didn’t quite seem to match the innocent hi-jinks of the rest of the movie.  She actually makes it inside The Beatles’s suite and it’s pretty obvious that she’s having a sexual meltdown as she fondles their clothes and the dishes they ate on.  She kisses and caresses Paul’s guitar passionately in a clearly sexual fashion and passes out with it locked firmly between her legs.  And later on she has a scene with her husband-to-be that’s downright creepy as the guy talks as if he’s been getting marriage tips from multiple viewings of “Sleeping With The Enemy”.  I didn’t get those scenes and they certainly don’t match the silliness of the rest of the movie.  The only thing I can figure is that Zemeckis was attempting to show how the liberating new British sound reached something inside these small town, middle class girls who were brought up to believe that all they were expected to be in life were housewives and baby making machines and that’s it.  But that’s a little too heavy for me. I’d rather focus on the sheer exuberant fun of the movie and I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND is certainly that.   By all means this is a movie you oughta see.

104 Minutes

I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND is rated PG-13.  The language is positively sanitary and actually I think this is a PG or even a G movie when you compare it to today’s standards.  The only scene that is kinda kinky is the one with Nancy Allen when she gets inside the hotel room where The Beatles are staying.  What she does with Paul’s guitar is kinda hot so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And since it would be sacrilegious to show anything else, here’s a video of The Beatles performing the title song.  Enjoy.