1987 - R - 103 Mins.
|Director: Paul Verhoeven|
|Producer: Arne Schmidt|
|Written By: Michael Miner, Ed Neumeier|
|Starring: Peter Wellers, Nancy Allen, Paul McCrane, Ronny Cox |
|Review by: John Ulmer
"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense."
- The Miranda Warning
For me, one of the best parts of "RoboCop" comes at the very end. An old man asks the robot, "What's your name, son?" The robot cop turns his head, sports a wan smile, and says, "Murphy." Then as he turns to start to walk away the camera cuts to black and the theme song roars in as we read the bold print on-screen that says, "ROBOCOP."
"RoboCop" could be called a rip-off of "The Terminator" in many senses. The trailer even used the exact same theme song as that of "Terminator." But "RoboCop" is a different story in many ways, and, in some ways, the action is even better than that in "The Terminator" (though I must include that the latter film is a better one overall).
The film's hero, RoboCop, has a gentle affection to him absent in the evil "Terminator," mainly because he is still human in some ways. It starts with a man named Murphy (Peter Wellers). Amid talks of a police strike, he and his new partner (Nancy Allen) chase down a pack of criminals to an abandoned warehouse. After being caught, graphically tortured and then shot in the head by the gang, Murphy is shipped off to a hospital whereupon he is announced dead on arrival.
However, Murphy is revived by fusing his body together with that of a machine robot named "RoboCop," the "future of law enforcement." RoboCop is a cop who will never hold a strike against the police force, never take a bribe, never become corrupt in any way. There is only one problem with RoboCop--he has flashbacks of his past life and family. He also remembers who killed him. And so RoboCop sets off to find his killers.
"RoboCop" is an action man's action movie. Things blow up, people get killed, and there are some impressive stunts. But all the while the movie keeps true to its core. The simple premise behind the film is nothing more than a B-movie so typically found in the era of the eighties (a decade of some very memorable, very forgettable, and/or cheesy films). But it's nevertheless brought out of mediocrity by its lead performance from Peter Wellers, whose acting skills seemed pretty bad out of the suit rather than inside it, where he seems at home.
Wellers (a.k.a. Buckaroo Bonzai) also extends a technique Arnold Schwarzenegger used in "The Terminator." As a cyborg, Schwarzenegger would turn his head, then let the body follow. Wellers' character is even more rigid and robotic in movements than the T-800, and so he turns his head, for example, far to the right, and after a second his body spins on its heels and follows the head. Something like that takes a lot of concentration--just try walking around like that. Now add acting and remembering your lines. Wellers does a pretty good job.
The director, Paul Verhoeven, knows how to construct a well-oiled action vehicle. He skips the bull and gets right to the harcore blood and guts stuff. But he does manage to bring a certain sense of connection with the character--and a sense of morals. Given another director, "RoboCop" would have been an average 80s film at best. Its plot vaguely resembles "The Terminator," and the script isn't always A material. But Paul Verhoeven knows when and where to insert touching scenes (like when RoboCop goes through his old home and sees flashbacks), and he firmly grips the point of the story (messing with nature can be dangerous, not only physically but emotionally for the person you screwed around with). Another director helming a movie like this would never have thought to include such things. Unfortunately, Verhoeven does not know how to construct a film about a strip club (see "Showgirls"), but that's another story.
"RoboCop" had amazing potential for sequels. Murphy's quest to find his family, to unlock his past, and to continue fighting crime are all the sort of stuff you hear about in comic books and comic book films. Unfortunately, the two sequels that followed "RoboCop" were major drags--the sort of films that "RoboCop" avoided becoming ever so carefully. Overblown, cheesy, stupid action flicks with no plot nor affection. As it stands, the third film has exactly 3.3 out of 10 stars on the IMDb, giving it a place on the Website's list of worst films of all time. I wouldn't go so far as to say the sequels were necessarily some of the worst films of all time, but after watching "RoboCop" you have an odd starvation to dig deeper into the film franchise and deeper into the story. The sequels kind of negate that starvation.
"RoboCop" is a superhero movie, make no mistake about it. But it's an extraordinary one--an action film that starts and never lets up on its goals. And all the while it presents a truly lovable main character who is nothing more than a robot. In a time when every single action film out there presents us with overblown budgets, crappy acting, writing, directing, horrible buddies, and nothing but special effects we've seen mimicked since the release of "The Matrix," "RoboCop" is a gentle reminder that, at one time, action movies were what they were--action movies--and the directors, writers and actors behind them had a wide range of talent. "RoboCop" is a B-movie, but movies of this B-quality are simply not made anymore.