Robocop is a bonifide classic, a movie that took me by surprise when I first saw it in 1987 as I thought it was going to be silly fun at best but, turned out to be a well crafted, satirical and delightfully blood-soaked good time with good performances across the board, especially from leading man Peter Weller. It is now one of my all time favorites. The story opens in a future Detroit where crime is rampant and corporations now run the police force, which is sadly being overwhelmed. Omni Consumer Products plans to build a new city but, needs crime put on a leash to insure new occupants. Devious executive Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) plans to use the walking tank, the ED 209 to bring law and order but, when it gruesomely malfunctions, junior executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) jumps in with his Robocop project. This plan focuses on using fatally wounded police officers in a Frankenstein-ish process to turn them into cyborg cops to do the job the ED 209 is failing to do. Now they only need to wait till an officer is ‘volunteered’ as a subject… which in crime ridden Detroit, shouldn’t take long. Enter good cop and family man Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) who is transferred to Old Detroit (by Morton who sees him as a high risk in the crime ridden area) and on his first day out with partner Lewis (Nancy Allen), is gunned down by ruthless crime lord Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his henchmen. The deceased Murphy is taken and transformed into Robocop, a cyborg law enforcement agent who is sent out to clean up the streets of Old Detroit. But, despite having his memory supposedly wiped, Robocop starts to have recollections of his previous life, memories of a wife and child and of the vicious criminals who gunned him down. With the help of Lewis, Robocop tries to regain his lost humanity and take down those responsible for his murder. But, there is a conspiracy of high level executive and low life criminals that stands in his way and once he turns his attention towards them, they conspire to make sure the cybernetic police officer and the man buried deep inside him are destroyed once and for all.
With the combination of a sharp and satirical script by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner and the over the top, energetic directing style of Paul Vehoeven, Robocop is a deliriously fun Sci-Fi/action flick with a twisted sense of humor and a giddy use of blood and gore. No more evident then in the film’s gleefully gruesome opening moments when a malfunctioning ED 209 uses it’s massive guns to blast a poor junior executive into mulch during an ill-fated demonstration. There is plenty of fast-paced action as Robocop takes to the streets and then pursues bad guys Boddicker and Jones to bring them down and avenge himself but, a healthy dose of social satire is woven in between as well, especially aimed at the theatricality and superficiality of the media, as we get to see news clips and commercials of the type that are commonplace in this shallow futuristic world. One can say Murphy’s battle to regain his humanity seems to echo a society where we have lost ours. And what makes this movie so much more then just an action flick is just how well the social commentary blends in with the story and action. It’s never heavy handed or preachy and is often served with a biting sense of humor so, it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the film. The same could be said about the theme of regaining humanity in a superficial society where excess is the order of the day. Murphy is symbolic of humanity being buried under such excess as he is buried under all the microchips and shiny alloy of his robotic armor. Yet, none of this overshadows that this is also a fast-paced and fun movie about a hero up against insurmountable odds, despite his steel skin and firepower, and good fighting to triumph over evil. This is what makes Robocop such a great film, it is on the surface a dynamite popcorn movie but, with a very smart and soulful center. Rarely has a movie with a scathing message and a popcorn flick been blended so well as done here.
And Vehoeven gets great work from a good cast. Weller is perfect in his portrayal of a good cop and a good man who they try to turn into a soulless machine but, instead fights to become an extraordinary human being within his cybernetic shell. Allen is both tough and sweet as Lewis. She makes you believe she can kick your butt and is equally believable in her quest to help the man that is Murphy triumph over his computerized programing. Her joining him in a fight with overwhelming odds also gives her a nice nobility to add to an already likable character. Cox and Smith make a great team of scumbag bad guys with Cox making his Dick Jones the perfect corporate suit dirt-bag and Smith’s Boddicker, a twisted and sick criminal whose not without his charm and an equally twisted sense of humor to go with it. Ferrer is also very effective as an overambitious corporate douche who steps on the wrong toes. Strong heroes and equally strong bad guys are essential to a story like this and the film nails it along with everything else.
The FX are a little dated but, still very effective and add to the film’s nostalgia. We get some great make-up FX, as usual, from FX master Rob (The Thing) Bottin who also designed the Robocop suit and make-up for Weller and even some very charming stop motion model animation to bring the ED 209 to life by another FX legend, Phil Tippett. The FX and production design are unique, yet appear realistic as to how a near future city like Detroit might look and there is a fantastic score by the legendary composer Basil Poledouris to accent the film’s moments and add atmosphere. It is one of his best scores.
Overall I can’t say enough about one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s recognized as a classic and is exactly that in every sense of the world. I am hard pressed to come up with any criticism about a film which is probably my favorite type of movie alongside Horror, one that is fiercely entertaining on the outside but, has something substantial going on underneath much like Cameron’s Terminator, Miller’s Road Warrior and Carpenter’s Escape From New York. All favorites and all Sci-Fi/action flicks with a solid emotional base and/or some scathing social commentary running beneath the explosions and gunfire. And there is nothing like a little butter for the popcorn. A true classic and one of my all time favorite movies. Also stars Dan (The Last Starfighter, Halloween III) O’Herlihy as OCP’s CEO who appears to be a good guy here but, became one of the villains in the really disappointing sequel, Robocop 2.
4 classic Robocops.