Darik's Review of RoboCop
Part man... part machine... all cop.
It's ironic that a film set in a hypothetical near future would be so unmistakably "eighties", but RoboCop is so perfectly executed that it transcends such superficial criticisms. While you might think, at first glance, that this was an example of high-concept Hollywood at its worst, RoboCop's simple premise and blood-soaked action sequences belie a thoughtful, intelligent film that serves as a meditation on the value of identity and the nature of humanity. This is science fiction at its absolute best, exploring the most fundamental questions about life and society through the exaggerated lens of a future (though not necessarily futuristic) world in which a corporation can literally buy your body and turn you into a machine- which raises the question of whether the same can be done to your soul. When you really break it down, RoboCop has a little something in it for almost everyone. Don't care for the sci-fi or metaphysical philosophizing? Well, it's also a scathing satire of Reagan-era America, where corporate sharks are in control of everything and the criminal masterminds spew the same capitalist jargon as respected businessmen. Political commentary making your head hurt? Feel free to turn your brain off and enjoy the whirling dervish of bloody action this movie tosses your way- action so extreme, in fact, that the film was initially slapped with an "X" rating (the Criterion Collection DVD and the unrated cut restore the more graphic footage that was removed to ensure the film's eventual "R"- FYI, that's the one I own). "Smart" and "visceral" are not two qualities that typically come together in a single movie, but RoboCop manages the feat with seeming ease; the film may look like just another silly sci-fi exploitation flick, but like the character himself, there's an unexpected humanity lurking just below the surface.
As the first American film from director Paul Verhoeven, RoboCop features a lot of the elements that would go on to become his trademarks: social and political satire, unflinching ultraviolence, Ronny Cox as a bad guy, and, of course, faux news breaks that move the story forward- kinda like the one that opens the movie, introducing us to the '80s-style near future and letting us know that Detroit is facing a crime wave... one that the now privately-owned police department is unable to deal with. From there we meet Officer Alex J. Murphy, a Detroit cop reassigned to the besieged Metro West precinct and partnered with hellion Anne Lewis. It's not long before the two find themselves chasing down local crime boss Clarence Boddicker and his gang; tracking them to an abandoned factory, the two rush in without back-up, and Alex ends up cornered by the criminals... who promptly shoot him to death in one of the most graphic on-screen murders in movie history. Murphy's story would have ended then and there, if it weren't for the intervention of Omni Consumer Products, the corporation that owns the police; appropriating Murphy's body as O.C.P. property, they use him as a test subject for an experimental law enforcement program, incorporating his remains into a cybernetic crime prevention unit they dub RoboCop. At first, he seems like the perfect unquestioning tool, programmed merely to "serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law", but slowly he is confronted by memories and images that he doesn't understand-- ephemeral flashes of the life he once had, and the man he used to be. Driven by his half-remembered past, RoboCop tracks down the men who killed him, only to discover that they have connections with one of the top executives at O.C.P. itself; in the end, RoboCop must face both his destroyers and his re-creators in order to reclaim his identity and reassert his lost humanity.
This film wouldn't be half of what it was if it weren't for Peter Weller's outstanding portrayal of RoboCop. This is the role he was born to play, if for no other reason than that he was thin enough to fit into the suit (they wanted to give the role to Michael Ironside, but he was just too big); through slow, deliberate movements and an artificial, monotone delivery, Weller sells that he's been transformed into an indestructible mechanical juggernaut, before slowly allowing his humanity to creep back in as he rediscovers the man he was. The actor excels in all three roles that are demanded of him, actually: the likable human cop, the platitude-spouting corporate tool ("Thank you for your cooperation. Good night."), and the bitter, disconnected "man" trying to remember the life he once had. Helping him back on the path to his humanity is Officer Anne Lewis, played by Nancy Allen. Lewis is a good cop and a tough woman, and I can't begin to express how glad I am that they didn't try to turn her into a love interest (since that's what Hollywood usually does with the sole female character in any given action movie); instead, she serves as RoboCop's foil, brimming with the vitality and humanity that he's had taken from him. Taken, specifically, by Kurtwood Smith's Clarence J. Boddicker, the crime kingpin of Detroit. Smith has all kinds of fun in the role of Boddicker, reveling in the character's evil nature and giving us a villain we can truly love to hate (along with some of the most quotable lines in the film). But Boddicker is just a tool, like RoboCop-- a patsy serving the interests of O.C.P. Vice President Dick Jones, played by Ronny Cox. Apparently, this was the first time Cox had ever played a villain, but after this performance, it wouldn't be the last; Jones is a cold, calculating bastard with no interests save his own and those of the company. The personification of corporate greed, Jones is the white-collar counterpart to Boddicker's blue-collar urban terrorist, and it's telling that the filmmakers consider him to be the more evil of the two. The rest of the cast is stocked with a plethora of character actors who enrich their often short rolls. Dan O'Herlihy plays the unnamed "Old Man" who runs O.C.P., blissfully unaware of his second-in-command's double-dealings and naively certain that the people of Detroit won't mind if he bulldozes their homes to the ground to build his vaunted "Delta City" (the sequels would paint him as a clear villain, but in this film, he comes off more as a callous but well-meaning fool). Robert DoQui (whose name sounds like a Klingon curse word) plays Sergeant Reed, the typical blustery commanding officer trying to hold his precinct together by shouting at everybody. And lastly, Miguel Ferrer plays Bob Morton, the coke-snorting O.C.P. junior exec who develops the RoboCop program, who proves to be the embodiment of selfishness, excess, and corporate bullsh*t before ultimately "fuck[ing] with the wrong guy" and finding out what it REALLY takes to make it in the business world: killer instinct.
The script for RoboCop is a masterpiece of satire. While today the idea of portraying corporate suits as money-grubbing monsters may be old hat, it's only because this film made an art out of it-- exaggerating the pervasiveness of corporate greed by taking it to its next logical step. But what really sets this film apart from all the clumsy imitators that would follow is that, even amidst the barbed political humor and subversive, cynical tone (the Newsbreak interludes are priceless), the story still has sincere humanity at its core. (more to come)