Sunday, 20 May 2012

Robocops (1987-1993)

Once again our excellent Picture House cinema The Belmont was showing a classic film, this time as part of the Culture Shock series. So it was that I was very much looking forward to seeing Robocop for the first time ever on the big screen (I was only 10 when it first came out). I had been thinking about reviewing all three Robocops for a while now, and this gave me the ideal opportunity to start. So here are three brief reviews of a classic 80s film and two not-so-classics!

Robocop (1987)

Director: Paul Verhoeven.
Writers: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Miguel Ferrer, Kurtwood Smith, Paul McCrane

Peter Weller is Murphy, a cop in the Detroit police force; left for dead when a notorious gang of criminals shoot the hell out of him, he is saved and re-incarnated as a cyborg who is out for revenge. Director Paul Verhoeven did a great job in creating an iconic hero, and a brutal action movie. By making it a bit tongue-in-cheek and ever so slightly hammy he managed to make Robocop a cult classic.

Helping out is a solid cast. Peter Weller and Nancy Allen are fairly convincing partners; Miguel Ferrer is great as the epitome of 80s yuppy corporate culture, and Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show), & Paul McCrane (ER) in particular are great criminals. Everything adds up to create a fun, brutal and cool movie that could have been instantly forgettable, but instead is actually pretty great.

Things you might like: Seriously violent; lots of blood; great 80s sleaze performances; badass Robocop; eminently quotable; great score from Basil Poledouris; Paul McCrane being melted by toxic waste!

Things you may not like: Stop motion animation on ED209; ED209 growling and squealing like a pig.

Rating: 4 jars of baby food out of 5

Robocop 2 (1990)

Director: Irvin Kershner
Writers: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner, Frank Miller
Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Tom Noonan, Gabriel Damon

Robocop is on the trail of a notorious gang of drug dealers who are peddling the designer drug Nuke. When the leader of this drug ring, Cain, is killed; through various nefarious deals of questionable morals, OCP re-incarnate him as Robocop 2 - a cyborg that Murphy must eventually have a showdown with.

Astounded as I was when I noticed that Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner was at the helm of this project, he couldn't save it from being a very mediocre film. The over-riding story of OCP ruining Detroit so that they can start construction on Delta City is good enough, (it's the same writers throughout the trilogy + Frank Miller for 2 and 3) but the execution just isn't good enough. I think Kershner et al tried to distance themselves from the "I'd buy that for a dollar" feel of the first film, but playing it straight just didn't work; especially when Robo was re-programmed. Shudder.

Tom Noonan was fairly forgettable as Cain, though I was a little impressed with Gabriel Damon's performance as Hob, he's not bad for a kid, though I've seen a lot better. The other problem is that the special effects used are not up to much; Robocop vs a very obviously stop-motion animated Robocop 2 just doesn't cut it. Imagine Tony Stark vs The Dude at the end of Iron Man, but crap. In the first film the main bad guy was a man, not a robot, which worked great. Trying to up the ante by having a robot vs robot climax just didn't work for me.

Things you might like: Robocop saying "Isn't this a school night?" to a bunch of kids in an arcade; OCP being desperate to control Detroit; at least Peter Weller, Nancy Allen and Robert DoQui as the Sergeant are still there!

Things you might not like: Re-programmed Robocop; paper thin bad guy characters, un-convincing climactic battle; fairly lazy un-imaginative direction.

Rating: 2 out of 5 canisters of Nuke.

Robocop 3 (1993)

Director: Fred Dekker
Writers: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner, Frank Miller
Starring: Robert John Burke, Nancy Allen, Rip Torn

OCP have finally gone too far and are employing a brutal Rehab squad to clear people out of their houses to make way for construction of Delta City. Robocop sympathises with the underground resistance to these Nazi-style clearances, and follows them to their hideout. OCP are being taken over by Kanemitsu, a Japanese company who have a vested interest in Delta city; but when the CEO of Kanemitsu learns of Robocop's defection and the resistance to rehabilitation he sends over his highly trained assassin. Yet another mess for Robocop to sort out.

For the third outing, Monster Squad director Fred Dekker was chosen to run the show. Robocop 3 was his fourth and final film as a director. Nuff said. Again, the story of OCP (now run by a new CEO played by Rip Torn) trying to control the whole city is a fair one, but the plot is lame, the script bad and the acting for the most part woeful. Rip Torn is about the only good performance, he has quite a commanding presence. Even Peter Weller couldn't be tempted back for the 3rd instalment.

There are far too many stupid plot holes and daft bits to list, and the less said about the rubber-faced Japanese assassin the better. In some vain attempt to boost audience numbers, the rating was dropped from the 18 certificate of the first two films to a 15. Consequently, there is none of the brutal action of the first films; indeed the action in Robocop 3 is probably more TV A-team than anything else. A real whimper of a film to end a trilogy that started with such a bang, indeed several bangs of shotguns.

Things you might like: erm... Rip Torn?

Things you might not like: Robocop's silly arm accessories, awful script, generally bad acting, little or no real action, Jet-pack sequence!

Rating: I wouldn't buy that for a dollar.

Final thoughts

It's a shame that since the first film is so enjoyable, the follow up films taint Verhoeven's 80s classic. Taking the three films together, the one thing I do like is the overall theme of corporate evil. OCP are clearly in big business to make as much money as possible, and as they become bigger their scruples become fewer. The ends justify the means, even if the means demand exploiting people and destroying lives. This theme is as relevant to day as it was 20-25 years ago; it takes an effort to not buy anything today that has either a Unilever or Nestlé label on it. Huge corporations are here, and though they might not be building destructive robots, their ethics are often very questionable.