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Verhoven's American Masterpiece!
Member Name: LeeRobertAdams
Date: 13/08/11, updated on 14/08/11 (10 review reads)
Advantages: A violent, satirical thriller with a surprising emotional punch.
Disadvantages: Looks a little dated now, and some of the action sequences drag.
Paul Verhoven's deliriously satirical and violent action movie "Robocop" was unfairly and thoughtlessly derided in some quarters as a "Terminator" rip off, although it has very little in common with Cameron's relentless sci-fi hit. Notionally fitting the Science Fiction genre, it resembles more closely an old western, where a stranger rides into a bad-ass town and clears things up...the hard way.
Detroit, sometime in the near future - the city is plagued by crime, and the beleagured police force are fighting a losing battle against the ruthless villains that control huge 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 and 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, both frightening and hilarious.
That 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 armour, and it's not long before he's cleaning up the streets in old Detroit. However, the techies behind the project haven't done a thorough job on wiping Murphy's memory, and he's soon gone renegade, looking for clues to who he once was, and back on the trail of Boddicker, who happens to have a connection with vindictive exec Dick Jones...
"Robocop" is still extremely violent, and scenes such as Murphy's demise are still strong enough to hit hard even almost 25 years on. However, the violence is undercut by Verhoven's energetic direction, a sly and subversive sense of humour which pokes fun at 80's America, and tremendous performances from actors making the most out of what should only be 2-D roles.
Standout is Weller as Murphy/Robocop - he has only a few scenes with his full face showing, and only a couple as a living human being, but with his strange, ethereal features and calm delivery, his couple of scenes early on with Lewis establish their instant bond and get the viewer rooting for him from the start.
Once transformed into Robocop, his performance is threefold - some truly remarkable mimework 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 - Peter Crouch notwithstanding - 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." - to sad and melancholic in later scenes with Lewis once he knows who he really was, and that he can never go back.
Thirdly, is how much of an emotional performance Weller manages to put in considering his face is covered from the nose down for the majority of the movie, conveying recognition, disbelief, confusion, anger, and sadness with just a few minor twitches of the lips. Weller gives the movie it's emotional punch that make it a more rewarding film than "Terminator" or most other genre pics of the era.
Nancy Allen makes the most of her brief scenes with Murphy; Kurtwood Smith makes a deliciously sleazy and snide villain; Ferrer and Cox enjoy themselves as the warring, greedy executives, greedily 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 wonderful, particularly the "Nuke Em!" boardgame.
Some of the shoot 'em up sequences are a bit generic, as when Robocop storms a cocaine lab, but we are also treated to some wonderful moments, from 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 he seems to walk through the flashbacks.
I'm sure everyone has their favourite "Robocop" moments and quotes, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend giving it another visit if you haven't seen it for a few years, because there's sure to be some little moment or detail you've forgotten.
(This review originally appeared on Ciao! under my alias, Midwinter.)
Summary: Buy it for a dollar, if you can.