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Retro Review: RoboCop (1987)

Part man, part machine, all cop
Part man, part machine, all cop

RoboCop (1987)


Them: "Part man, part machine, ALL COP"

Me: "Dead or alive, you're coming with me.."

*SPOILER WARNING* This review is going to assume that 1.) you have seen or at least having working knowledge of the details surrounding the plot for this movie, or 2.) you don't, but don't care about having the plot spoiled for you. If neither of those apply to you, now's your time to exit.

Not just one of the best action movies of the 1980s. Oh no, it's so much more than that. It's razor sharp wit, practical (though, truth be told, somewhat dated) effects, bold brassy soundtrack, wall shattering action and excellent performances make this one of the best and most quintessential action movies ever made. And all from a movie whose title and basic plot look and sound like it was put together by a pack of twelve year olds on a sugar binge.

In the not too distant future, the city of Detroit is ravaged by crime, drugs and is a couple of months away from declaring bankruptcy (the not too distant future my ass..). Private corporations have run of most of the city and its biggest conglomerate, OCP (Omni Consumer Products), has just entered into a contract to run local law enforcement. Into to this war torn wasteland walks Alex Murphy (Peter Weller, Star Trek Into Darkness), a good cop transferred into one of the worst districts in the city (a dead cop is just another day at the office). No sooner does he arrive that he and his partner Anne (Nancy Allen, Carrie) are called into action against a gang of drug & gun runners led by the vicious Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, That 70s Show). They corner the gang in their hideout, but Anne is overpowered and Murphy is cut down in a hail of bullets (in a scene of startling violence, even for these desensitized eyes).

Due to a medical release signed by Murphy when he joined the force, his body is donated and volunteered (?) to OCP, who quickly turn him into RoboCop, a law enforcement cyborg who is charged with cleaning up the streets of Detroit to make way for OCP to turn the city into the brand spanking new "Delta City". At first, everything goes fine, but something of Murphy's memory has remained, and he soon breaks free of his masters and sets off on a mission of his own to find the men who murdered him, and make them pay. But just how deep does the corruption surrounding his murder run?

In the interest of full disclosure, RoboCop was/is the first R rated movie I ever had the pleasure of watching. And, ho boy, if you're gonna make a restricted movie your first, they don't come a whole lot more R rated than this one. Murphy isn't just shot at gunpoint. He's turned into Swiss cheese while subsequently obtaining lead poisoning. And this is after the bad guys have shot both his hand AND arm off. Villains aren't just dispatched, they're shot several times before falling from a window fifty floors up. They are stabbed in the neck, sending streams of arterial spray flying. In one instance, a villain finds himself submerged in toxic waste. This of course immediately turns him into a grotesque mutant of sorts (he's then hit by a car which causes him to explode). The violence reaches a point of almost absurdity. But therein lies the satire.

Speaking of satire. What sets this movie aside from the other 1980s future/action/sci-fi "run and gun"s is a well developed and written script which features some of the most on point satire you're likely to ever see (well, at least in a film like this). News anchors deliver tragic news as if it were the headlines on "E! News" (casting "Entertainment Tonight"s Leeza Gibbons as one of the anchors was a stroke of casting genius), A corporate yes man assists his boss with a demonstration and is obliterated with a hail of bullets in one of the best examples of applying logic to where it is not relevant you'll ever witness, the hot new car being hocked to the masses is called the 6000 SUX (what's that spell??). I've only named a few examples, but trust me when I say that the underlying satire is a giant statement on where we were (and, quite frankly, where we still are in some cases) as consumers, suits and corporations. And it makes the film so much more than something you would expect with the title 'RoboCop'.

Granted, some of the effects are dated (the ED-209 sequence would have made Harryhausen proud) and none of characters, even our lead, are exactly three dimensional. But, the dated effects add to the charm. And if the characters are a touch underwritten, the actors certainly don't play them as such ( I haven't even mentioned the always great Ronny Cox who plays the puppet master behind it all, and the consistently reliable Miguel Ferrer as RoboCop's creator). When you sum it all up, unless you're squeamish or easily offended, RoboCop has something for almost everyone. You want action? It's laced throughout the film, culminating in a warehouse shootout with a body count that rivals Rambo. Drama? Murphy pining for the family he lost after his "death" should resonate with any family man. Comedy? The aforementioned satire and, at times, comically excessive violence. Quotability? You'd buy THAT for a dollar.

RoboCop is, even today, one of the most quintessential action movies, period. Not just because of its visceral violence, not just because of its biting wit and not just because of its committed cast. But, because with all those elements combined, you have the themes of corporate greed and the bottom line taking priority over human life front and center. And that is as relevant today as anything else you'd find on display in modern cinema. It truly is one of the greatest action movies ever made.