Tuesday, February 18, 2014

RoboCop (2014)

Too many mediocre remakes have come and gone, their disappointing results not just being a big letdown, but in some instances making me resent the original movie. This always makes me when I approach a remake, especially when its source material is a movie I hold dear. Such was the case with the new version of RoboCop, which I'd been dreading since it was first announced in 2005. The remake languished in developmental hell for years due to a combination of creative differences and MGM's financial difficulties, at one point even having (and losing) a commitment from Darren Aronofsky to direct. But after finally getting their ducks in a row, the remake of RoboCop was released last week, and I just had to see it. And while it doesn't come anywhere close to matching the original, the 2014 version isn't that bad either.

By the year 2028, the United States military will be policing war zones with mechanical soldiers manufactured by the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp. These drones have been nothing but successful, but OmniCorp finds itself legally prohibited from putting them to use in America. Seeing that potential revenue stream going right out the window, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) tasks his marketing team with devising something America could get behind. To accomplish this, they enlist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), a scientist renowned for his work with crafting robotic artificial limbs for amputees, to assist in grafting cybernetic enhancements onto disabled and handicapped soldiers and police offers to create a hybrid of man and machine. All they need is the right test subject.

One soon presents himself in the form of Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). Murphy and his partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) have spent months undercover trying to get to the bottom of an illegal gunrunning operation operated by notorious crime boss Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), but a tip-off from some dirty cops on Vallon's payroll cause Murphy and Lewis's bust to turn sour. Lewis ends up in the hospital after a shootout, while Murphy is critically injured by a car bomb. With the consent of his wife Clara (Abby Cornish), a crippled Murphy is enrolled in OmniCorp's new program in a last-ditch effort to save his life.

He awakens months later, the few undamaged parts of his body having been implanted in a robotic body. Murphy is initially horrified and rejects this new body, preferring to die rather than live as a machine, but eventually grows to accept it if it means he can see his family again. He's put through what he believes is a rigorous training regimen to get used to his new body, but unbeknownst to him, Dr. Norton has been forced by his superiors to program Murphy's brain into behaving like a typical OmniCorp military droid during combat situations while still giving him the perception of free will.

Upon his return to Detroit, Murphy is uploaded with the entire police database and linked into every surveillance camera in the city. The influx of new information overwhelms him, with the security camera footage of his own attempted murder in particular affecting so badly that he has a seizure. The only way Dr. Norton is able to circumvent this is to completely suppress all of Murphy's emotions despite it overstepping his own ethical boundaries. He's soon introduced to the public and without emotions slowing down his reaction time, Murphy ― nicknamed "RoboCop" by the media ― is able to become a one-man police department and causes a significant drop in Detroit's crime rate.

But despite OmniCorp's best efforts to keep them separated, Clara's attempts to see her husband trigger his emotions to override his programming. Murphy starts investigating the attack that nearly killed him, and as he pursues Vallon's gang, he also draws the ire of Sellars and OmniCorp, who begin to view Murphy's growing unpredictability as a potential public relations disaster.

I was admittedly very nervous when I entered the theater to see this movie. While I wasn't opposed to the idea of Hollywood remaking RoboCop and giving the franchise a clean slate after two lousy sequels and twenty years of dormancy, the fact that a classic movie that I've held dear since adolescence was being redone made me apprehensive. Would it do the original justice? Would it stay true to what made people love RoboCop to begin with? Would it at least be a good movie? The truth is that while the new version of RoboCop isn't particularly great, it's certainly a watchable effort that, at its very least is still a lot better than either of the sequels.

Taking the reins is José Padilha, making his first American film after previously finding success in his native Brazil with his acclaimed crime drama Elite Squad. Having never seen Elite Squad (nor having even heard of it until RoboCop came out), I didn't really know what kind of expectations to have in regards to his style of filmmaking. But judging by RoboCop alone, I'd call Padilha a solid director. The movie never grows dull, with Padilha doing something to keep we the audience invested at all times. The action scenes are exciting and well done for the most part, even if the heavy use of CGI is a little distracting at times, and Padilha never loses focus on the story he wants to tell.

The only problem I had is that the movie was rated PG-13, and thus doesn't have quite the same impact as it could have had otherwise. Part of what made the 1987 movie so great is the combination of excessive violence and sardonic humor that Paul Verhoeven brought to it. While some of Verhoeven's sensibilities remain (I'll get to that later), the movie feels like it's had some "oomph" removed in order to allow teenagers into the theaters. It's not as bad as RoboCop 3, which was completely dumbed down across the board, but I feel like the movie could have pushed its boundaries a bit more. The movie comes close to replicating the horror behind Alex Murphy's initial transformation into RoboCop, replacing with the sheer brutality of Murphy's murder at the hand of Clarence Boddicker in the original movie with a discomforting sequence where we're shown just what's left of Murphy when the RoboCop armor is removed. I thought this scene was one of the most effective moments of the entire movie, a fantastic addition to the core concept of pitting Murphy's humanity against the machinery he's been thrust into.

I was also intrigued by what writer Joshua Zetumer chose to approach the material. I noted in my review of the original RoboCop that I would have enjoyed spending more time getting to know Alex Murphy before his transformation into RoboCop, going deeper into how this transition had an effect on his humanity and vice versa. Zetumer actually uses this as the basis for his story, so the movie never really feels like it's retreading or copying the original, but taking the concept and going his own way. It allows we the audience to really connect with Murphy before the tragedy that changes him, to know just what becoming RoboCop is taking away from him. While the movie does lack some of the acerbic spark found in Verhoeven's original, Zetumer's script does make up for it by giving the movie a little more heart.

And while Zetumer doesn't approach the franchise's satirical element the same way Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner did in 1987, he still has his own unique spin on the idea. Rather than go after Reaganomics and '80s-era big business, Zetumer instead aims for a number of targets. There's references to America's current military policies, particularly its usage of drowns in overseas battlefields, and a subtle jab at companies ruining perfectly good products thanks to an over-reliance on focus groups. His biggest target, though, is right-wing politics, going after them replacing the original's recurring "Media Break" segments with Pat Novak, a political pundit in the vein of Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. Much like these pundits, the Novak character is condescending, rude, frequently interrupts and shoos away anyone who disagrees with his particular agendas or has an opposing viewpoint on anything. He's much more of a prick than the "Media Break" anchors, and far more interesting and entertaining to watch. And I'll admit that the satirical elements aren't always as biting as they could have been, Zetumer still does a decent enough job handling it.

The acting, however, is inconsistent. Sometimes it's really good, sometimes it isn't. Among the good is Gary Oldman, who plays his character with the perfect amount of pathos. Dr. Norton's internal conflict pitting his moral convictions against his loyalty to his employers is made believable by Oldman's performance, once again proving that Oldman can always be counted on to be awesome no matter how bad or good the movie is.

To tell you the truth, that can be said for much of the cast. Samuel L. Jackson is a lot of fun as the aforementioned pundit Pat Novak, who brings a holier-than-thou smugness to the role. I also really enjoyed Jackie Earle Haley, who plays the coordinator of OmniCorp's military drones and RoboCop's "trainer." Haley is great even in terrible movies, and though his character isn't much, he still manages to make a strong contribution.

Not all of the acting is great, though. For all the praise I gave the script, Zetumer didn't give us any worthwhile villains. Clarence Boddicker and Dick Jones were fantastic, charismatic bad guys, but this remake doesn't even come close. Vallon is such a non-factor and has such little screen time that he's barely worth mentioning at all, while Michael Keaton is done no favors either. I like Keaton a lot and often enjoy his work, but he doesn't really feel like the right actor for the part. He puts forth his best effort, I'll give him that, but the mediocre material holds him back.

But then there's Joel Kinnaman as our titular cyborg hero. He's given a bit more to do than the actors who've played RoboCop in the past, and has the benefit of what appears to be a more comfortable, less restrictive costume than the ones his predecessors wore. He also doesn't make the same kind of impression that Peter Weller or even Robert John Burke did with the role. Kinnaman is stiff for a lot of the movie, only really shining in a few moments. He finally loosens up and starts to really own the character during its second half. But there's an inconsistency there that doesn't help him. Kinnaman doesn't quite knock it out of the park like I'd hoped he would, instead taking some swings that never really find their mark.

That can actually sum up this whole movie. It gets awfully close to greatness, but a few things keep it from getting there. I saw a review that compared the remake of RoboCop to the Total Recall remake. Both are do-overs of classic Paul Verhoeven sci-fi/action movies, and while both remakes have their own redeeming qualities, they're ultimately inferior new takes on old gems. To its credit, though, I fully expected to hate this new RoboCop, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was still a solid effort despite its flaws. And that's alright by me.

Final Rating: ***

Sunday, February 16, 2014

RoboCop 3 (1993)

There exists a phenomenon called "sequelitis," a condition that's plagued many long-running media franchises over the years. Franchises stricken with sequelitis often find the quality of each installment drops as it goes along. It can be due to one of a dozen reasons, from casting issues to a lack of creativity to excessive studio interference. Quite a few franchises have been plagued by sequelitis, but I can't think of many that have suffered quite as badly as the RoboCop saga. Paul Verhoeven's original movie from 1987 is a bona fide classic entry into both the sci-fi and action genres, a benchmark of awesome '80s cinema. But as time passed, it became apparent that Verhoeven had managed to catch lightning in a bottle with that first movie. Attempts to duplicate its success have never really been successful, but the one follow-up that gets the most flak is RoboCop 3. And honestly, it's for good reason. Gone was much of what made Verhoeven's original so great, replaced with a PG-13 mess made for teen audiences but accepted by none. Do you want to know why the RoboCop character all but vanished between 1993 and the recent remake? RoboCop 3 is why.

As the film begins, we learn that while OCP's stock has fallen so far into the toilet that a controlling stake of the company has been sold to the Japanese zaibatsu Kanemitsu Corporation. Their idea for "Delta City" still lives, however, and to accomplish this, OCP has created an armed paramilitary force they call the Urban Rehabilitators. While OCP-created propaganda promotes the "Rehabs," as they're called, as an extension of the Detroit Police Department created to help combat the ever-worsening amount of violent crime that plagues the city, their primary function is to forcibly evict people in the ghetto from their homes by any means necessary in order to make way for Delta City's construction.

But there exists an underground rebellion against OCP and the Rehabs, an ersatz militia opposing the violent relocation efforts. RoboCop (Robert John Burke) and Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) find themselves attempting to protect civilians caught in the crossfire of a shootout between the Rehabs and the anti-OCP resistance, but Lewis is fatally shot in cold blood by Rehab commander Paul McDaggett (John Castle). His programming rendering him unable to retaliate against OCP employees, a heavily damaged RoboCop is forced to retreat, only managing to actually escape when he's rescued by members of the militia. But RoboCop's programming also drives him to protect the innocent first and foremost, and he quickly joins the resistance fighters in their fight against the Rehabs and OCP.

While it had its strengths, few as they may have been, RoboCop 2 was a disappointment largely because it felt like an inferior copy of the first movie that simply couldn't escape its progenitor's shadow. RoboCop 3, on the other hand, is a disappointment because it's simply a bad movie all the way around. Everything about it will have unsuspecting viewers rolling their eyes at just how goofy everything is. Everything that made the first movie a classic is gone. Hell, even the stuff that made the second movie even remotely watchable is gone too. All we're left with is just a watered-down action movie that is more goofy than fun.

RoboCop 3 was the third (and thus far, final) movie directed by Fred Dekker, who had previously helmed the horror-comedies The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps during the '80s. But while those two movies have deservedly built reputations as cult classics over the years, this one has similarly built its own reputation as being so bad that it practically killed Dekker's career. His first two movies were creative and unique, but none of what made them special is to be found here. RoboCop 3 looks and feels like a typical, dime-a-dozen PG-13 action movie from the first half of the '90s. It's like watching Double Dragon all over again, only with RoboCop instead of karate. It's a weak mess that is often more dull than exciting, more disappointing than entertaining.

But I could have at least gotten over that had the movie at least boasted a solid script. But nope, we don't even get that. Much like RoboCop 2 the script was originally written by Frank Miller, but was drastically rewritten before production began. The final product, credited to Miller and Dekker, is an absolute mess. For starters, the original's social nature is turned into a "rich vs. poor" class warfare angle that has all the subtlety of a flashing neon sign. There's no subtext here; everything is laid out on the table for all to see. It's just so weak that it really makes me bother why anybody bothered at all.

And because the movie had to be tone down to get a PG-13, the humor isn't quite as witty or outrageously over the top. It's all dumb gags and watered-down flotsam meant to keep teenagers out of their parents' hair for 105 minutes. The whole thing comes off like they wanted to make it kid-friendly because they knew they had an audience younger than an R-rating would allow. But doing that robs the franchise of everything that made it cool to begin with. I mean, did we need the precocious kid? Was this Dekker's way of making up for the vile and repellant kid from RoboCop 2? And giving Robocop a jetpack and interchangeable attachments for his arm? Why not make it more obvious you're trying to sell toys, guys?

The cast, meanwhile, is hit or miss. Among the misses is John Castle, who plays his role like he was a cut-rate Malcolm McDowell. Much like the movie itself, Castle's character is the weakest villain in the trilogy, and Castle just seems kinda there. I also wasn't too fond of Remy Ryan, who plays a little girl who's adopted by the anti-OCP militia after her parents are killed during the Rehabs' initial relocation effort. Ryan isn't really bad, but the character is so poor that it hinders her performance.

But there is some good among the cast, though. I liked CCH Pounder as the militia's leader and Rip Torn as OCP's new chairman, while Bruce Locke was really cool in his role. Locke plays an android ninja sent by the Kanemitsu Corporation to assist the Rehabs in eliminating RoboCop, and he uses the opportunity to give off a serious "samurai Terminator" vibe. The whole idea's kinda goofy, but Locke pulls it off well.

And last but not least is Robert John Burke, who replaces Peter Weller in the title role. Burke's no Peter Weller, but he still does a fine job regardless. He brings a warmth and humanity that balances RoboCop's robotic side, letting him actually be Murphy for a change. Burke is good in the role, and while Weller will forever be the man behind the character in the eyes of many, myself included, Burke's contributions are worth noting.

When it comes to so-called "franchise killers," RoboCop 3 is particularly bad. The series had already been on a slippery slope after the train wreck that was the second movie, but this one sealed the deal. It completely jettisoned everything that made the original movie great and dumbs it down in an effort to make a few more dollars. RoboCop 3 is one of those sequels that makes you resent the original for having spawned it. And say what you will about the RoboCop remake, but at least it's better than this.

Final Rating:

Friday, February 14, 2014

RoboCop 2 (1990)

When it was released in the summer of 1987, RoboCop was warmly received by both audiences and critics. The movie still holds up nearly thirty years after its release, a testament to just how good it is. And because of its success, it's natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize on it. While the movie inspired a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon in 1988 and some comic books and video games, there was no true successor until MGM released RoboCop 2 in 1990. You'd think the movie would turn out relatively okay, since it has some talented names attached as writer and director. But I guess the original's shoes were too big to fill because this sequel didn't come anywhere near matching its success.

Things haven't exactly gotten any better since we last left Detroit. The city is dangerously close to going bankrupt thanks to the continued machinations of the unscrupulous mega-corporation OCP. A full economic collapse would allow OCP to foreclose upon the city and thus control Detroit's government, allowing them to further pursue the "Delta City" plans they'd proposed in the first movie. To help accomplish this, OCP forces the police to strike by drastically cutting their salaries and pensions. And a police strike means that the streets of Detroit have quickly descended into pure lawless anarchy.

Very few cops are still on regular duty, the most notable one being RoboCop (Peter Weller), who continues his war against crime with the assistance of his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). But the growing opinion within OCP is that RoboCop is becoming obsolete, and that a more advanced model should be patrolling the streets of Detroit. Their attempts at creating a "RoboCop 2," however, are continually met with disaster when each candidate freaks out and commits suicide upon their activation. Things quickly change when Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer), an amoral psychologist under OCP's employ, takes over the program and gets the idea that they'd gotten lucky with Alex Murphy's transformation into RoboCop. If turning another police officer into RoboCop 2 won't work, then maybe someone with megalomaniacal tendencies could.

And much like with Murphy's death in the first movie, an opportunity quickly presents itself. RoboCop has been investigating the source of a new designer narcotic called "Nuke," following a trail of clues to a factory owned by Cain (Tom Noonan), a drug lord with a messianic complex. His first attempt at apprehending Cain is less than fruitful, as RoboCop is quickly outnumbered, defeated, and literally torn to pieces. OCP rebuilds him, and being quite the obtrusive bureaucrat, Dr. Faxx neuters him by adding over three hundred conflicting orders to his programming, making him more family friendly and politically correct, thus rendering him completely incapable of combating Detroit's violent criminals.

But a distraught RoboCop manages to reset his programming to its original settings, allowing him to go after Cain a second time arrest him, significantly injuring him in the process. Seizing the opportunity, Dr. Faxx switches off Cain's life support and claims his body for the RoboCop 2 program. The end result is a hulking mechanical monstrosity that's more ED-209 than RoboCop, fueled by Nuke and controlled by the mind of a psychopath. So of course, "RoboCain" ends up running amok and it's up to the original RoboCop to bring him down.

RoboCop 2 is the kind of sequel that makes you think the producers had only read the Cliff's Notes of the original movie. You get the feeling that the producers were given a list of all the things people liked about the first movie and decided they would just copy them without thinking what made them so good in the first place. The whole thing is one of the purest examples of a sequel that was made to cash in on its progenitor's success without caring about the quality of their own movie. It was a cash grab, pure and simple. There wasn't any desire to continue the story or further develop the Murphy/RoboCop dichotomy, just some studio executives wanting to make a little money with a name people recognized and liked.

The movie was the final film directed by the late Irvin Kershner, who had previously found success with The Empire Strikes Back and the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again. Part of why the first movie worked was because of Paul Verhoeven's over-the-top sensibilities adding to the movie's dark sense of humor, but because he was off making Total Recall at the time, he was unable to direct RoboCop 2 and as such it lacks the sarcastic tone he brought to the first movie. Kershner creates some fine moments here, but it's tonally inconsistent. The movie tries doing a hundred different things at once in an attempt to replicate the original's formula for success, with Kershner being stuck trying to put it all together into something that makes sense. But the end result is a movie that's all over the place. It veers wildly from clichéd early-‘90s action movie to dumb comedy, stopping once in a while to throw in a brief amount of poorly-handled moody existentialism and the occasional dig at politics. Kershner could only do so much with what he was given, though I will say that he at least tried his hardest. Sometimes, you have to take what you can get.

Even the special effects have their ups and downs. The sequel follows in the original's footsteps by using stop-motion miniatures to represent Cain's new robotic body, but something about it feels off. The stop-motion effects never really blend in with the rest of the scenes they appear in. They never feel like they really co-exist with the actors, a situation that ranges from mildly bothersome to painfully obvious to the point of being distracting depending on what scenes you're watching. Could times have changed so much in the three years between RoboCop and RoboCop 2 that the special effects could look outdated? How do you take such a step backwards in such a short amount of time? Was it a budget problem? Was it some kind of hiccup in the creative process?

The movie also suffers from a lackluster script as well. Comic book legend Frank Miller had originally been hired to write the movie following the success of his now-classic Batman tale The Dark Knight Returns, but his script quickly went through numerous rewrites after studio executives decided they weren't happy with it. The final result, credited to Miller and Walon Green, ends up being a jumbled mess of undercooked ideas and half-hearted attempts at catching lighting in a bottle a second time.

For starters, the script introduces some interesting subplots only to resolve them almost immediately without developing them like they could have been. One sees RoboCop apparently return to his existential "man vs. machine" crisis from the early parts of the first movie, practically stalking Alex Murphy's widow and son, longing to reconnect with them. The subplot is admittedly an intriguing one, one that I was actually happy to see revisited in the new RoboCop remake, but I've got some problems with it. Part of it seems like RoboCop is back to the way he was when he was first introduced in the first movie, using a monotone voice and a more stiff demeanor. By the end of Verhoeven's originalm RoboCop had reclaimed his humanity and his "Alex Murphy" identity had come shining through his programming, so why this step backwards? And why bring up the whole "RoboCop stalks the Murphys" thing at all if you were going to wrap it up as quickly as possible and not do anything worthwhile with it?

The same goes for the other subplot where Dr. Faxx reprograms RoboCop with all those nonsensical directives. The idea doesn't go anywhere or contribute anything to the movie (to the point that I could have easily left it out of the earlier plot synopsis and not missed it at all), and it is resolved so quickly I wondered why they even brought it up at all. RoboCop being turned into an ultra-PC goody-two-shoes by focus groups and meddling corporate executives could have made for a fantastic satire of Hollywood action movies if there had been stronger writing.

And while I'm here, I might as well talk about what some consider the movie's most controversial aspect, its depiction of children. Every child you see in this movie is just as evil as the adult criminals you see. Had it been constrained to just the one scene where the Little League team robs an electronics store, it could have been passed off as a joke and would have been actually pretty funny. But instead we also have the character Hob, who serves as Cain's second-in-command. He's trigger-happy, swears like a sailor, is as vicious as a rabid pit bull, and is also twelve years old. The fact that they had a child play this ruthless would-be drug kingpin is amazing enough, but add on top of it the movie's expectation that we're supposed to feel sympathy for this pint-sized monster when he gets his final comeuppance just because he's a kid is ludicrous. He spends the whole movie trying to kill RoboCop and Lewis, and is a general all-around asshole with no redeeming qualities that I could find, and we're supposed to feel sorry for him at the end? Yeah, no, RoboCop 2. Not gonna happen. You don't want me to pity the adult villains, so why should I pity the child villains?

Even the movie's acting is a bit of a step down from the original movie. I will confess to enjoying Willard E. Pugh's goofy performance as the beleaguered mayor of Detroit, and I thought Peter Weller once again did a fine job as RoboCop. Weller is actually pretty funny in the scenes following RoboCop's psychological neutering, but I wish he'd been given more moments where he's allowed to show that Alex Murphy still exists within that cybernetic body. There's a scene early in the movie where he realizes just how much pain he's causing his widow upon being confronted by her, and gives up on trying to reconnect with his family. While the whole subplot could have been done better, Weller plays it with a level of subtle pathos that shows that there's a human being in that suit. I wanted to see where Weller could go with that because I thought he was fantastic in these moments, but alas, it wasn't to be.

The rest of the cast is inconsistent, though. Many of them are just plain dull, to tell you the truth. RoboCop 2's villains are nowhere near as charismatic or intimidating as the originals, with Tom Noonan especially seeming disinterested in the whole thing. I also can't say I was particularly a fan of Gabriel Damon, who I felt was more annoying than anything else (though much of it has to do with his lousy character). Belinda Bauer is the worst offender though, the only member of the cast that I thought was outright awful. Damon's character might have been annoying, but at least he was watchable. Bauer, on the other hand, is absolutely dreadful in every scene she's in. After a while, I just started fast-forwarding every time she's on the screen just because I couldn't bear to watch her anymore.

RoboCop 2 was a movie I remember thinking was really cool back when I was a kid. But watching it now for the first time in several years, I can't help but notice just how flawed it is. There are moments I will say I liked, but the whole thing feels like someone singing a really bad cover song. The music might be there, but it sounds off-key. It misses everything that made the original RoboCop great, only trying to follow it on the most superficial of levels. Even when you don't compare it to the first movie, RoboCop 2 is still only mediocre at best. But as big a letdown as this one might be, there are far worse RoboCop movies out there...

Final Rating: **

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

RoboCop (1987)

When I was a kid, I loved going in the local mom-and-pop video store. You'd find me in there at some point every Friday or Saturday night, and most of the time I'd be either in the horror section or going through whatever old-school pro wrestling videos they had in stock at the time. But because those two collections were in the back of the store, it gave me plenty of opportunities to see what else was available as I passed by them. And this allowed a number of movies to catch my eye, movies that I would fall in love with over the course of numerous repeat viewings.

One of those movies was the action/sci-fi classic RoboCop. The cover of the VHS tape and the movie's tagline ― "Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop: The Future of Law Enforcement" ― were themselves enough to sell me on it, and between the video store's copy, airings of the movie on television, and my own copy of the movie that I got on one particular birthday, I must have seen the movie dozens of times during my adolescent years. RoboCop is one of those movies that very much deserves its accolades and popularity, as it still holds up as a damn good movie even over two and a half decades since its first release. So allow me, if I may, to look back on RoboCop and explain just why I enjoy it so much.

Welcome to Detroit in the near future. The city is falling apart thanks to the double-whammy of financial woes and rampant, unchecked crime. Desperate to combat this, the local government sells the Detroit Police Department to the mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products, who plan to demolish the slums of "Old Detroit" and redevelop the area into a swanky utopia known as Delta City.

With the number of police officers killed in the line of duty escalating every day, OCP begins experimenting with robotic law enforcement. OCP senior president Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) suggests utilizing ED-209, a cumbersome tank-like droid originally prepped for military use. Jones, however, quickly finds himself embarrassed and his project ruined after ED-209 malfunctions during its initial demonstration and kills a board member. Ambitious executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) immediately seizes the opportunity and suggests his new "RoboCop" program, which would implant the brain of a recently deceased police officer into a robotic body. All it needs is a test subject.

One quickly presents itself in the form of Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who we meet as he's transferring to a new precinct in the heart of Old Detroit. But what he and his new partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) initially believe will be a boring patrol takes a turn for the worst when they get involved in a car chase with notorious crime lord Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). The chase leads them to an abandoned steel mill, where Murphy is brutally executed by Boddicker and his gang.

OCP claims what's left of Murphy's body and harvests bits and pieces for the RoboCop program, transforming the slain policeman into an amalgam of man and machine. RoboCop makes an immediate impact against violent crime and becomes a huge media sensation. But while Murphy's memory was believed to be erased during RoboCop's creation, elements of his life and death haunt him. He dreams of happy moments with his wife and son, has terrible nightmares about his death. As his humanity begins reasserting itself, RoboCop's existential crisis sends him on a mission to bring Alex Murphy's murderers to justice, a quest that through many twists and turns will lead him not only to Boddicker, but to OCP's board of directors as well.

RoboCop is one of those rare genre movies that succeeds on so many levels that nearly everyone who sees it can come away having enjoyed something about it. Do you want an exciting action movie chock full of violence? You've got it. How about a thought-provoking science-fiction movie? That's there too. Are you looking for a dark comedy satirizing Reagan-era America? Then you're in luck! RoboCop is all of those things in one lean, mean package. And that's part of the big reason the movie has managed to withstand the test of time. It's such a fantastically-made movie from practically every aspect that no matter how many times you watch it over any length of time, it never gets old. I've seen RoboCop dozens of times since the early part of the 1990s, and it feels brand new every time. That's how great it is.

The movie was directed by Paul Verhoeven, a filmmaker who knows no bounds when it comes to excess. He is the man who brought us Showgirls, after all. Subtlety and nuance aren't exactly his strong suits, and honestly, with RoboCop, he seems less interested in developing Murphy as a character before and after his transformation into RoboCop, and more interested in delivering fast-paced action and graphic violence. That's exactly what you get from Verhoeven here, but that's not a bad thing because it actually helps to make the movie pretty awesome. The movie's action sequences are exciting and intense, some of the best I've seen in any action flick past or present, thanks in part to the cinematography from frequent Verhoeven collaborator Jost Vocano and the absolutely amazing music composed by the late, great Basil Poledouris.

And in watching the movie, I'm amazed at just how well all the practical effects are. I've never been completely opposed to CGI use, but loving movies like I do, I'm a big proponent of practical effects and RoboCop is one reason why. They just make things seem more realistic, especially in the case of the stop-motion animation used for the ED-209 sequences. These moments are a lot more effective because ED-209 is an actual existing prop, as opposed to something some random person inserted into the movie with their computer weeks or even months after the scene was filmed.

I can also say the same for the movie's bloodshed. The movie is absolutely swimming in gore, especially if you're watching the extended edition rather than the theatrical cut. The MPAA gave RoboCop an X rating eleven times before finally giving it an R, and for good reason. It's respectable, though, because Verhoeven and the effects team working on the movie used practical effects when building the violence. Nowadays, filmmakers and studios would probably insist upon using CGI to do it all, not trusting makeup creators and stunt coordinators with making things look authentic.

And yes, the movie is perhaps excessively violent (like I said, Verhoeven is the kind of filmmaker who has no problem taking things too far), but it's also so consistently over the top that it veers into the realm of black comedy. Take the scene where ED-209 opens fire on the OCP executive, for example. The fact that the poor guy is basically being shot at with cannons and heavy machine guns is one thing (and the fact that it was actually loaded with live ammunition for some ungodly reason is another), but the fact that ED-209 just keeps shooting long after he's dead and reduced to a puddle of red goo is so ludicrous that it's hard to take it and scenes like it seriously. The only scene where it actually feels serious is when Boddicker's gang executes Murphy. The scene is the hardest to watch because it isn't played for the sake of laughs or entertainment. There's a certain emotional weight lifted by the outrageousness of it all and the knowledge that the bad guys all have it coming to them, but this scene doesn't have any of that. That absence just makes Murphy's death feel that much more brutal. It's, in my eyes, the one scene that lingers the most because it hits the hardest.

But if you've seen and enjoyed the movie, you know it has more going for it than just Verhoeven's ultraviolent style. There's also the intelligent script written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Drawing inspiration from British comic book 2000 AD's authoritarian supercop Judge Dredd for their main character, Neumeier and Miner use the opportunity to create a movie lampooning much of American society during the 1980s. While not everything has aged well, with references to Lee Iacocca and the Cold War particularly standing out, much of it is still relevant in some form or fashion today. The city of Detroit is being strangled to death by both its high crime rates and financial instability, mega-corporations have way too much financial and political influence within the government, television numbs us with crappy shows and incessant advertising for terrible products, and ratings-driven news programs only cover the important topics for a few seconds at a time while spending what seems like forever talking about unimportant claptrap. It's weird watching a movie made about things relevant in 1987 and realizing that it could still apply now.

It also helps that RoboCop has some truly awesome characters. While much of what makes them so great is the collaboration of Verhoeven and the actors, the movie's characters are as much a memorable part of the movie as anything else. Action movies from the '80s always needed good villains as much as they needed good heroes, and RoboCop has them in spades. They're some of the absolute meanest snakes I've seen, an utterly despicable group of bad guys that makes it all the more satisfying when RoboCop takes them out.

There is a slight negative to this, though. The problem I had is that I didn't feel we spent enough time getting to really know Alex Murphy before he became RoboCop. We do see RoboCop struggle with Murphy's memories at times, the machine struggling to accept that it was once a man and vice versa. But I thought these scenes would have been much more effective had Murphy not been killed off so soon into the movie. Maybe we could have had a scene or two with his family or something to establish what kind of guy Murphy is? Knowing what kind of filmmaker Verhoeven is, I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to hurry up and get to all the action and violence and RoboCop stuff, but come on now.

But two and a half decades later, it's a little late to change that now. The character, just like the rest, still works, and the great acting helps as well. Peter Weller was at the time best known as the star of another '80s cult classic, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, but it's RoboCop that people recognize him for now. And honestly, the character might not have been a dream role for him. Weller was stuck in a heavy, uncomfortable, and unbearably hot costume for hours at a time, so I'm sure that would hamper his performance to a degree. But Weller still does as fine a job as he can, playing RoboCop as cold and robotic yet with traces of his past humanity shining through. He counters this during his scenes as the still-human Murphy by playing him with a warmth and slyness. I noted earlier I would have enjoyed more scenes with Murphy before he became RoboCop, and with Weller in the role, those scenes could have been great.

I also thought Nancy Allen did a fine job as Murphy's partner Anne Lewis, but she doesn't really get a whole lot to do during the movie. Where the really enjoyable acting comes from are the movie's bad guys. While he isn't actually playing a villain per se, Miguel Ferrer is a lot of fun in his role. The character of Bob Morton is cocky, brash, ambitious, and a total sleazeball, and Ferrer plays it perfectly. He might not be playing a very likable guy, but Ferrer's great performance makes Morton a douchebag worth watching.

Getting to the movie's true bad guys, Ronny Cox provides some quality acting as the vicious Dick Jones. He takes the idea of a corrupt corporate executive and cranks the "corrupt" part up to eleven, playing Jones as utterly heartless and self-serving. He doesn't care if his products have flaws that could be fatal as long as clients buy them, and he has no problem intimidating people or having them killed outright if they make him look bad or disrespect him. It's this maliciousness that Cox brings to the part that makes it work.

While Cox is good, though, I'd be willing to say that he's outshined by Kurtwood Smith. Smith's appearance here is one of his two most famous roles, the other being Red Forman from That '70s Show, and for good reason. He turns Clarence Boddicker into one of the coolest movie villains I've ever seen, playing him with an air of ruthlessness and unpredictability, and a cold, calculating demeanor that makes you want RoboCop to get his hands on him as soon as possible. And Smith does it with a flair that makes it seem like Boddicker's having the time of his life in every scene (except for the ones where things don't go his way, anyway), which makes him so fascinating and downright entertaining to watch.

And if RoboCop is anything at all, it's certainly entertaining. That's probably the biggest reason it's held up so well for so many years. The violence is too much for some, I understand, but lovers of sci-fi and action movies continue to sing RoboCop's praises to this day because it's quite simply one of the most fun entries in either of those genres. Some critics initially dismissed the movie when it was released in 1987 based on the title and concept alone, since it's most assuredly the kind of thing you'd expect out of some wacky B-movie. But it's more than just that, and at the end of the day, RoboCop is a movie that certainly should be seen if you haven't had the chance yet. Sequels and remake be damned, RoboCop has earned its status as a classic and I'll proudly recommend it to anyone.

Final Rating: ****