I could make a pretty long list of reasons why I should hate RoboCop. It has one of the stupidest names of any film in history. It’s ultra-violent. The effects leave something to be desired. It’s got a sort of cynical and shallow grittiness that I often find crass. The acting is less than stellar. It’s directed by Paul Verhoeven, known for making so-bad-they’re-good films like Showgirls and Starship Troopers. And yet, it’s somehow a likable film – not Citizen Kane, but really likable sf.
This is another science fiction film very much concerned with present-day concerns, especially the rising crime rate and Reagan-era privatization. RoboCop takes place in the near future Detroit, which is so overrun with crime that the mega-corporation Omni-Consumer Products (OCP) wants to tear it down and start over. OCP has also recently purchased the Detroit Police Department, and they want to mechanize it to increase its efficiency. Their police robot, ED-209, has a tendency to kill all offenders, so they decide to go with a cyborg instead. Meanwhile, a police officer named Murphy (Peter Weller) transfers into Detroit and gets horribly shot up by the Dad from That 70s Show (Kurtwood Smith, who steals every scene in a film with otherwise mediocre acting). He becomes the perfect subject for OCP and is built into RoboCop.
RoboCop manages to beat down a lot of criminals, but power games in OCP threaten his existence, and an executive hires the Dad from That 70s Show to kill RoboCop again. Meanwhile, Murphy is recognized by his old partner (played by a near future Maggie Gyllenhaal, who must have time travelled back to 1987 to star in this film), and she tries to help him regain his memories.
In many ways, RoboCop is one of the first successful superhero films, and it very much follows the superhero origin story template. You see RoboCop’s creation, you see him successfully fight crime, you see his fall and eventual triumph – it’s very by numbers, but it works. There’s some typical Verhoeven stuff here – there’s gratuitous nudity, most female characters are peripheral sex objects, and the violence is really over-the-top (there are lots of exploding gunshot wounds and one character takes an acid bath – I’m sort of horrified that I watched and loved this movie when I was eleven or twelve). But, it’s not his worst by far.
The best material is the satire, especially in the violent commercials and short news segments, during which chipper newscasters briefly discuss apocalyptic horrors from around the world. Much of it is dead on, and I wished there were more.
I’m not rushing out to buy the blu-ray, but I certainly didn’t mind rewatching it.