Tuesday, June 21, 2016

ROBOCOP (1987)

(July 1987, U.S.)

Paul Verhoeven's ROBOCOP may have been released in July of the summer of 1987, but I swear, it took me over a month to take notice of it. By late August, I was about a week away from returning to my college in Buffalo, New York and the bulk of my summer blockbuster season had been concentrated more on titles like THE UNTOUCHABLES, the newest Bond reboot in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and more recently, Stanley Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET. By late August, it seemed as if there wasn't much left to feed on. When I finally got around to noticing ROBOCOP in the newspaper, my attitude and enthusiasm was really no more than, "Sure. Why not. One more movie before I shuffle back to Buffalo." Frankly, the entire premise seemed no more than a cheap remake of THE TERMINATOR (1984).

Actually, in a way, I was right. There are many echoes of THE TERMINATOR in ROBOCOP, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Like THE TERMINATOR, we're asked to take an inside look between what it means to be human versus machine. But above and beyond that, there are themes in this tale of the not-too-distant-future specified toward the influence of the media and the news as sensationalized entertainment, greed and capitalism, crime and corruption, and dystopia. At heart, however, this futuristic action film is centered on the meltdown of humanity as a result of economic meltdown and an uncontrollable crime rate in the city of Old Detroit, Michigan (think ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK without New York City!). The police are owned by a mega-corporation known as Omni Consumer Products (OCP) and the cops are getting their asses kicked (and killed) on the violent streets they're trying to protect. At the start of the film, there is talk about the police striking. Although the idea is immediately squashed, it's an important element that's being set up for later. Good cop Frank Murphy (played by Peter Weller) arrives as the new guy at the precinct and is paired up with new partner Anne Lewis (played by Nancy Allen - remember her in some of Brian DePalma's films?). Tragically, Murphy is killed on his first day out by a gang of hard-ass criminals led by Clarence Boddicker (played by Kurtwood Smith). Killed is putting it mildly. The poor man is absolutely slaughtered by an onslaught of gunfire which finally ends with one right to the head! And you want to tell me that he actually survived that bloody slaughter long enough to make it to the hospital (where he eventually does die)?? The now deceased Frank Murphy is selected for the RoboCop program and what is left of his useless body is replaced with cybernetics, except, that is, for his brain, his face and part of his digestive system which lives on baby food.

So now Murphy is gone and RoboCop has arrived. The new cyborg is given three primary directives: "Serve the public trust, Protect the innocent, and Uphold the law", as well as a classified fourth directive that he's unaware of. Like Superman on his first day out, he single-handedly and efficiently cleans up Detroit of its crime. As things progress, we learn of the city's true corruption as it appears that OCP Senior President Richard "Dick" Jones (played by Ronny Cox) is tied with Boddicker in a racket of drugs, gambling and prostitution. He's also the creator of "Directive 4" in which RoboCop cannot arrest any senior member of OCP. Any attempt to do such shall result in shutdown (yes, the bad man does know how to cover his ass!). RoboCop is also slowly learning who he was as Murphy and the wife and son he lost when he was murdered. Machine on the outside, yes, but it's really Murphy's humanity and the ability he still has to feel that elicits our sympathy and makes it all more than just mindless cyberpunk action. In the end, when all the bad guys are defeated and the police strike has actually taken place, it's still RoboCop that's on the job, though if you ask him his name, he'll reply, "Murphy". The police strike is what sets the stage for the inevitable sequel ROBOCOP 2 (1990), which, of course, sucked! Never saw ROBOCOP 3 (1993) and I won't! I did watch the 2014 remake DVD out of curiosity, but really, what was the point??

It's impossible not to discuss ROBOCOP without getting into its effects. CGI was still years away, so the old stop motion models of things like the ED-209 robot still work well. The true effects, however, probably lie more in the film's use of over-the-top gore. Now I've never seen any of THE TOXIC AVENGER films that were popular in the 1980s, but having to stare at this guy after taking an unexpected bath in toxic waste is certainly an experience in itself...

Geez! Those melting fingers are enough to keep me off my food for a week! And this monster is played by the same actor who played the shy, gay, red-headed kid in FAME (1980)! But for me, it's really Clarence Boddicker who absolutely steals the show! It's like watching a guy who bears resemblance to George Costanza play pure evil! The man likes no one, cares for no one, and won't hesitate to kill when he has to or if it just makes him feel good. But on the positive side, the man appears to love baseball; "Come on, Sal! The Tigers are playing...tonight! I never miss a game!"

Favorite line or dialogue:

Clarence Boddicker (to Frank Murphy before killing him): "You probably don't think I'm a very nice guy."

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