One of the only things I remember about RoboCop from when I was growing up in the 80’s is the RoboCop arcade game. Those darn giant monster/robots were incredibly hard and the guns you got were totally awesome. I always thought the movie was a shoot em’ up action movie that I only saw snippets of on USA and TNT but fondly remember as a video game. I actually remember seeing RoboCop 2 because it was directed by The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner and not seeing what all the hype was for.
The cash-in sequels and arcade game are a sad irony that undermines the smart and over-the-top message Paul Verhoeven communicates in his Sci-Fi/Action film, RoboCop. Taking place in the not-too-distant future Detroit (which almost seems like a modern day given the sad state of Detroit currently), where the police force is vastly overwhelmed by crime and controlled by Omni Consumer Products (OCP). This giant and sinister corporation has created new projects to automate the police force and in the process control both the police, the criminals, and the city itself.
One project is the RoboCop project, a half man half machine police officer that is essentially a super human cop. The project leader, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), finds someone to be the half-man portion when Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is brutally shot and left for dead by criminal kingpin Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). Murphy’s mangled body is fitted with robotic parts and he transforms into RoboCop. After some initial positive tests of the product, as Morton calls him, the remaining memories of Alex Murphy lead RoboCop on an investigation to bring those who almost murdered him and are causing anarchy in the city to justice. What follows is some of the craziest and goriest action of the 80’s, something Verhoeven would build on in 1990’s Total Recall and 1997’s Starship Troopers.
After seeing this movie from start to finish, instead of in Cable TV pieces, I was absolutely floored by Verhoeven crafting an intelligent, insane social commentary amidst a gory and violent action movie. I shouldn’t have been surprised given the subtle, yet on second viewing so obvious, motifs and messages he has in Total Recall and Starship Troopers; jabs and satires on modern society, corporate greed, law enforcement, and consumerism. From those absolutely crazy commercials and the hilarious TV show playing on every TV in the movie (“I’d buy THAT for a dollar), Verhoeven is casually inserting a message that plays against what you are watching on the screen. Everyone is corrupt in this movie, even the television personalities, and it is up to Murphy, as RoboCop, to bring justice to this corrupt and twisted world.
The acting is really not anything deep or profound, I don’t think the movie wants to read that way, but everyone is just way over the top. The tone of the movie is bordering on dark comedy and if you don’t laugh at the insanity that happens in this movie, you’re bound to be cynical and detest what this movie is doing. Maybe that is Verhoeven’s point? He wants you to laugh or be insanely offended. If you walk away from RoboCop either mocking or rejecting the violence, corruption, and debauchery, perhaps you “got” this movie. Either way, you’ve rejected what this movie is all about and embraced a little bit of your humanity. The people who turned this into a multi-million dollar franchise and arcade game, well…maybe those are the people RoboCop would have the right to circumvent his directives.