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.

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