Robocop Makes an Arrest
Like Rambo, Robocop is one of those titles that have become household names but do not necessarily imply that one has seen the movie behind them. In my house, that would be a sin so I’m here to educate you lest you run around taking Robocop’s name in vain.
Robocop (1987) is the film that put Paul Verhoeven on the map and allowed him to continue existing in Hollywood long enough to direct other messy movies such as Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), Showgirls (1995), Starship Troopers (1997), and Hollow Man (2000). On the surface, Robocop is a semi-science fiction tale of one man’s transcendance of the law he swore to uphold in order to achieve a higher form of gory justice and is immensely enjoyable from a good-ol’-boy, kill-the-bad-guys perspective. Just a few strata below, Robocop also succeeds as a satire of the genre it represents and the crazy times of the 80’s.
In the near future of Old Detroit, Omni Consummer Products (OCP) controls the police force and wishes to begin the demolition of Old Detroit to make way for their metropolis of the future, Delta City. To do so, they first need to rid the city of the crime which has made future habitation almost impossible. Vice President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) wants to start putting Enforcement Droids on every street corner, but the idea is nixed after one unit named ED-209 goes AWOL during a board meeting and turns one of the employees into swiss cheese. A young hotshot, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), suggests the Robocop project: turning a police officer into a cyborg, thus giving the necessary crime-fighting hardware to a human mind that is in full control. The program is given the greenlight. Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), Catholic family man and good cop, is brutally gunned down and is the prime candidate for the Robocop project. He is turned into the robotic personification of the law as Robocop and fulfills the job with great efficiency… until memories of his past come back to haunt him and he seeks retributition both within and outside the law.
The film is intensely violent even by our modern standards and the recent DVD release just adds to it. Murphy is literally blown to pieces by handguns and shotguns: his hand is blasted off with a shotgun at close-range and is fully visible thanks to the use of a prosthetic special effect. No amount of blood is spared throughout the course of the film and it is quite gratuitous: people are shot, exploded, and even turned into walking zombies and smacked by trucks. As far as anti-heroes of the 1980’s goes, Robocop tops them all by sheer violence alone but treats the death of the bad guys with a gung-ho spirit that is obviously satirical. Fake infomercials and news broadcasts throughout the film are desensitized to violence and seem to suggest a world in a post-Reagan/ Cold War era whose media and information network is so vast that even the most horrific news is sensationalized for the sake of news alone and not for its intrinsic, disturbing nature. All of this is balanced out by the more provocative and sensitive subplot of Murphy’s humanity: as he starts to remember his previous life as a husband and father, he finds himself grappling in a realistic way as a “ghost in the machine” on his own via dolorosa. Though it is stretching it a bit, many see the Robocop / Alex Murphy character as a secular Christological figure, resurrected to dispense righteous justice as the rightful judge, jury, and executioner of the law.
Don’t forget to notice that the deliciously despicable, ultra-crass villain Clarence Boddicker is none other than Kurtwood Smith of “That 70’s Show” fame. Robocop is not a film for everyone, but it is a film that has unquestionably defined itself for the ages.
Effects & Entertainment: A