RoboCop (1987)

The best part about RoboCop is the way that it stays unpredictable throughout its running time. When a scene starts, you’re not exactly sure how it’s going to go. Lots of the time, you’ll laugh because of how absurd it is. The main plot, which is interspersed with “commercials” and news broadcasts, is clearly intended to be satirical and funny. The over-the-top violence is exactly the same in that regard. How many movies contain a commercial for a new board game called “Nukem,” in which families play different countries just waiting to blow up their opponents?

This one does. That might have been the funniest part of the film, making me laugh and cover my mouth from the embarrassment caused by laughing at something like that. I think that was the intention of director Paul Verhoeven. At least, I hope it was. If it wasn’t, it was effective in doing something that most movies don’t do: It made me feel more than one thing at a single time. There are more scenes like that in the film, and if something happens more than three times, it’s unlikely to be a fluke, so I’m going to keep with the assumption that it was intentional.

RoboCop begins by putting two cops together, although this isn’t going to be a buddy cop picture. The male, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), has just transferred divisions, while the female, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), is a veteran. They bond quickly, but on their first mission together — in which backup was going to arrive in an estimated twenty minutes which would have taken too long — Murphy is killed and Lewis is injured. He, our main character, ends up having his brain implanted in a robot’s body, thus becoming “RoboCop.”

His memories were supposed to be erased, but he gets random flashbacks from time to time. And while he has objectives that he has to accomplish, he seems to have a bit of free will. Is he human, or is he a robot? That’s the main question, which will get an answer by the end. You’ll probably be able to figure it out pretty early on, considering we see a lot of the film from his perspective, but at least the question is proposed.

The bad guys: Clarence (Kurtwood Smith), the man who killed Murphy; and Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), the man who hired Clarence and who wants to become the CEO of the company that created RoboCop. He proposed a similar concept in a board meeting earlier on, but his malfunctioned and didn’t have any human element to it at all. And by “malfunctioned,” I mean it put bullets into the body of a board member who was being used for demonstration purposes. Lots of bullets. Again, the black comedy shines through.

There is a lot of shooting in the film, with bullets flying everywhere. RoboCop is given a large gun with precise accuracy — he is, after all, supposed to be the best cop to ever live, expected to clean up the Detroit streets almost single-handedly — and he uses that opportunity whenever he gets the chance. People shoot at him instantly, and he shoots back just as fast. That is how most of the encounters with the street level thugs play out.

Problematically, RoboCop can’t be killed by these people, making the film seem far more like a revenge fantasy than a genuine thriller. He is bulletproof, or at least, seems to be considering his entire body is covered in armor that doesn’t let bullets through, and all of these situations make for a lack of tension because of this. Even when he goes up against Clarence for the first time, he easily beats him now that he’s mostly robot. It’s only when the bigger guns get involved that we actually begin to think that RoboCop could be in danger.

In that respect, RoboCop feels a lot more human than Alex Murphy ever did. We rarely get to see more than the bottom half of RoboCop’s face, which, as I’m sure Peter Weller would tell you, makes it very hard to turn in a good performance. You can’t use your eyes, and in this case, he can’t even use his voice because it’s been turned as monotone as possible in order to make him sound robotic. But Weller pulls through, somehow making us care about this robot, making him feel like a real human being.

Nancy Allen tries to make her Anne a pivotal performance, but is given so little to work with. She’s relegated to cheerleading and a definite backup role. RoboCop is who you’re here to see, so RoboCop is what you’re going to get. Except he’s immobile, monotonic, and not a terribly exciting character. Having a female lead — teased to be a romantic interest here but nothing ever came of that — might have improved matters. She could die from one bullet, instead of taking hundreds like RoboCop can.

RoboCop is an enjoyable film, over-the-top in style and comedic/satiric in nature. Its lead isn’t particularly interesting at first glance, and doesn’t work well for action scenes, but the copious amount of blood and gore, combined with the absurd advertisements that pop up from time to time make for a hilarious and involving watch. You’ll get a few questions to answer for yourself by the time it ends — some of which the film will answer and some which it will not — and is definitely worth your time to watch.

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