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Movie Review: 'Robocop 2' (1990)

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In a transparent attempt to duplicate the brilliant satirizing of the media seen in “Robocop,” the sequel starts with a commercial – for the car theft deterrent MagnaVolt (which lethally electrocutes unauthorized drivers). This is followed by a newsreel clip informing audiences of the Amazon nuclear power facility explosion that has irradiated the world’s largest rainforest. In other news, the ED-209 Combat Unit has been commissioned for use in Detroit, despite numerous complaints of malfunctions, and the corrupt conglomerate Omni Consumer Products has orchestrated the privatization of the city’s law enforcement as well as an ongoing police strike. As the film progresses, the elements of satire begin to border on simple spoofing.

In the filthy, humid, neon-glowing streets of Detroit, crime is rampant. Cars speed through stoplights, thieves steal from old ladies, hookers assault passersby, and cashiers are shot dead in their own shops. A new designer drug, Nuke, the most addictive narcotic in history, is one of the predominant causes for widespread lawlessness. Nuke Cult Leader and proud terrorist Cain (Tom Noonan) is behind the primary manufacturing and distribution, with inside man Officer Duffy (Stephen Lee) feeding him information concerning police movements. Meanwhile, OCP psychologist Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer), head of the Attitude Adjustment team, is put in charge of recruiting and developing a new line of cyborg soldiers, after the grand failure of the recent $90 million Robocop 2 models, which immediately became suicidal. Her idea is to convert psychotic, murderous convicts with interest in the power – volunteers who will actually want to be robotized.

The sublime music from the original film is instantly missing. Instead, funky, jazzy, cymbal-tapping tunes clash with rock rhythms and a chanting choir in an upsetting reminder that the momentous score by Basil Poledouris is unacceptably absent. To its credit, Peter Weller and Nancy Allen both return, along with several other supporting roles, while sets are familiar, the action is consistent, and Robocop is still plagued by memories of his former self, policeman Alex Murphy. To further the thought-provoking notion of humans merging with machines, OCP men are assigned to convince Robocop that he’s no longer human, and occasionally they seem to succeed. He must contemplate his inadequacies in human emotion and companionship, especially as his wife and child are still alive and made aware of his transformational existence. His destructiveness and proneness to violence are also questioned, with his status as a role model coming into play. Returning actor Felton Perry as Johnson jokingly suggests the machine’s use in public relations, such as helping a cat out of a tree or working with Boy Scouts.

Noonan is an effectively reprehensible drug kingpin (surrounded by weaker characters like the expletive-spewing young boy Hob, played by Gabriel Damon, and female lieutenant Angie, played by Galyn Gorg), vehicle stunts are impressive, and bullets still produce over-the-top splattering of blood and flesh. But the violence has been amplified to a distasteful (perhaps sadistic) extreme, with bloody torture, civilian collateral damage (press members are less sympathetic), and plenty of children not-so-comically instigating episodes of criminal activities, which overshadows the simpler, satisfactory notes of the predecessor’s revenge themes or comeuppance for carelessly toying with instruments of death. Brief bits of humor are present, chiefly through pitch-black ridicule, but the general aura is no longer amusing or thrilling (part of which can be credited to Frank Miller’s heavily edited screenplay and Irvin Kershner’s uninspired direction). Most of the computer graphics and sound effects are downright pathetic, some of the action is repetitive (with continually out of control robots), and the running time is overlong. Just as Robocop’s warranty has conveniently expired under OCP’s contract, the storytelling creativity and filmmaking innovativeness have already run out for the “Robocop” universe.

- The Massie Twins

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