- Movie Rating -

RoboCop (1987)

| July 17, 1987

I did not know that I needed a film like RoboCop until I had seen it.  Just a week ago, I was lamenting to a friend that I was sick of the state of American action movies which are so safe, so timid, so unwilling to try anything new.  But here it is, a movie that is not just a commentary on the timid state of our action movies, but an assault on it.

RoboCop is a hyper-violent comic book action movie in the extreme.  How extreme?  Let’s put it this way; did you ever wonder why there was were so many dead bodies in Rambo but not that much blood?  Seriously, Rambo should have been covered in blood and viscera.  When bullets hit flesh, we know that there should be more than just grunts and dust.

It doesn’t sound like much to comment on the violent content here but I think it is important.  We are so willing to watch movies with all sorts of violence, not just Rambo but all of the Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies plus Freddy and Jason; we love violence but we wince when the blood begins to flow.  That’s why the bloody violence of RoboCop is so interesting.  Yes, there’s blood and guts and viscera but the script counter-balances it with a wicked and often sick sense of humor.  

Example: Early in the film there is a board room meeting in which a new armored police robot is exhibited.  The head of the manufacturing company (Ronny Cox) hands a gun to a young executive who is then ordered by the machine to drop his weapon.  The man responds in kind.  The machine malfunctions, thinks that the man still has the gun, and tells him that he will be shot on the count of ten.  Everyone panics and eventually the man is shot to death in a scene of bloody horror.  The response from the head of the company?  “I’m sure it’s just a glitch.”  That’s sick and it’s funny.

That kind of humor rages all through the movie as we see a gonzo future in which we see a city that is riddled with crime though the persistence of consumerism rolls on.  Dutch director Paul Verhoeven makes the future as ridiculous as day-time TV with frequent interruptions from an “Entertainment Tonight”- style newscast that reports on the ridiculous: The South African government has a neutron bomb; the Mexicans are crossing the border and invading; an SDI satellite has fired on the San Fernando Valley killing two former Presidents.  These are interspliced throughout some really funny commercials for silly products such as a ‘Battleship’ game called “Nuke’em’

These extra bits bolster what might otherwise have been a bland story.  It takes place sometime in future Detroit which, typical of this kind of movie, has become a burned out hellhole ruled by lawlessness and death.  The rich comfort themselves high above the streets while the poor sleep in gutters and those in the middle live in fear.

Worse, the city’s cops are being killed at an alarming rate.  So, a megacorporation, Omni Consumer Products, has decided to make this problem their multi-million dollar opportunity by creating a robotic super-cop that can lay waste to the criminal element.  After the first test results in the bloody corpse of that young executive, the team decides to add a human touch.  He comes in the form of Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) a good cop who was brutally gunned down by a street gang in the line of duty.  As he is barely clinging to life, OCP decides to use his body to remake their new police robot.  A bolt here, a rivet there and RoboCop is ready for duty, a visually interesting Terminator-style machine with flesh parts and a command to be tough on crime.

Of course, if we just watched RoboCop slaughter bad guys, this would be a pretty boring movie.  Verhoven manages to give this flesh-bot a bit of melancholy.  Murphy, though mostly robot, still has flashes of his former life and therefore of his humanity.  As the movie goes on, the character progresses, not just in what he remembers but in how he reacts to the criminal element.  It is an interesting construction because it allows the character a little bit of humanity inside of the metal suit.

I love that construction.  I love the world of this movie, which is garish and obscene with all of its technology overlaid on a world gone mad.  The world here is presented in terms of a comic book.  It’s big, it’s over-the-top, it’s bloody and its loud in a way that most American action movies are afraid to be.  RoboCop is not afraid to go big, to shock you or to make you uncomfortable.  You can’t say that about Predator.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.