Robocop (1987): If you can, buy it for a dollar. (I’d pay up to $10)

Paul Verhoven’s deliriously brutal satire Robocop was unfairly written off as a Terminator cash in, although it has very little in common with Cameron’s relentless sci-fi hit.  Notionally fitting the Sci-Fi genre, it is more like an old western, where a stranger rides into a bad-ass town and cleans things up…the hard way.

Detroit, sometime in the near future – the city is plagued by crime.  The beleaguered police force is fighting a losing battle against the ruthless villains controlling vast swathes of the city.  We meet officer Murphy (Weller) on his first day in the precinct – he is partnered with a sassy, butt-kicking Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), who is immediately drawn to the calm, slightly arrogant new boy. Top on their agenda is notorious cop killer Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), a snide and vicious ganglord who is running riot in the city with his cackling band of hoodlums.

Meanwhile, over at the sinister multinational corporation OCP (Omni Consumer Products), they’ve just won a contract to run the police force.  In order to do so, two rival executives are pitching high-firepower alternatives to fragile human law enforcers.  Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) unveils his crude and fatally flawed ED209, a walking gunship with a ferocious growl, in a boardroom bloodbath that is one of the movie’s standout scenes.  ED’s malfunction is both frightening and hilarious.

The murderous debacle opens the door for Robert Morton’s (Miguel Ferrer’s) brainchild, the “Robocop” programme, which is lower key than the military-style ED209, and will feature a law enforcer that is half human, half machine. All he needs is a volunteer…

Hot on the heels of Boddicker and his gang, Murphy and Lewis chase the crew to an abandoned factory, and unwisely decide to continue without back up. Our two heroes are separated, and Murphy is soon caught, tortured, and blown to bits.  Morton now has his candidate.

Murphy is resurrected as a gleaming knight in shining armor, and it’s not long before he’s cleaning up the streets in old Detroit.  However, the techies haven’t wiped Murphy’s memory properly, and he goes renegade, looking for clues to who he once was.  Robo is also back on the trail of Boddicker, who happens to have a connection with vindictive exec Dick Jones…

Robocop is extremely violent, and scenes such as Murphy’s demise are visceral enough to hit hard 25 years on.  However, the violence is undercut by Verhoven’s energetic direction, a sly and subversive sense of humor, satirical swipes at Reagan era 80’s America, and tremendous performances from actors making the most out of 2-D roles.

Standout is Weller as Murphy/Robocop.  He has only a few scenes with his full face showing, and fewer still as a living human being.  Weller maximizes on his strange, ethereal features and calm delivery, His few early scenes with Lewis establish their instant bond and get the viewer rooting for him.

Once transformed into Robocop, his performance is threefold.  He showcases some truly remarkable mime work as he creates Robo’s way of moving, with determined striding arms and jerky head movements.  Notice how his head turns first, then the body follows.  Most people who try doing the robot – apart from Peter Crouch – just look ridiculous, but Weller pulls it off brilliantly.

Then there is his monotone voice, which can be very funny. Listen to his cadence when he advises “Come with me or there may be…trouble.”. Later, the monotone becomes sad and melancholic once he discovers his former life, and realizes he can never go back.

Thirdly, is how much of an emotional performance Weller creates considering his face is covered from the nose up for the majority of the movie.  He manages to convey recognition, disbelief, confusion, anger, and sadness with just a few minor twitches of the lips. Weller gives the movie it’s emotional punch that makes it a more rewarding film than Terminator or other genre pics of the era.

Nancy Allen makes the most of her brief scenes with Murphy; Kurtwood Smith makes a deliciously sleazy villain; Ferrer and Cox enjoy themselves as the warring, greedy executives, undermining each other for the big buck.

Verhoven enjoys himself thoroughly, handling the B-movie material wonderfully, investing it with some satirical bite – the TV Adverts are delightful, particularly the “Nuke Em!” board game.

Some of the shoot ’em up sequences are rather generic, as when Robocop storms a cocaine lab. We are also treated to some wonderful moments –  Murphy’s gut-wrenching last few seconds; a POV sequence intercut with flashbacks as Murphy lays dying on a operating room table; Robocop’s visit to his old house, where flashbacks vanish as he walks through them.

Everyone has their favorite Robocop moments and quotes. Give it another visit if you haven’t seen it for a few years, because there is sure to be some detail you’ve forgotten.If you haven’t seen Robocop before, then you’re in for a treat – forget its dated look and give it a bash.

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 09/05/2012, in action, Film, Movies, R, sci fi, Thriller and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I saw the Robocop movies for the first time last year or the year before (wasn’t allowed to watch them around the time they came out) and the first one really is the best. Like you mention the humour and the dark tone are both great and I think they form a perfect combination. It’s a movie I’m sure to revisit in the future.

    • Bummer, so you missed it when you were a kid? That’s a shame, because I think early teens is the best time to catch flicks like Robocop, The Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.!

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