RoboCop (1987)

22 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Robocop” sucks us in almost immediately with a scene that features a giant robot. This robot has been programmed to act immediately to an armed criminal—to shoot him if he doesn’t obey the robot’s orders to drop the gun. A young executive tests the big hunk of metal by aiming a gun at it, the robot acts right away, warns the young man that he has twenty seconds to drop his gun. The man drops his gun, but the robot still warns him, counts down to zero, and ultimately shoots him dead. Now, that scene may be unsettling, but honestly it’s also funny. And it lets us know that “Robocop” is not just going to be a serious thriller. There are many moments like that, but the film keeps us waiting to find out where it’s headed.

A lot of critics are criticizing the look of “Robocop,” which is set in the future. If you think about it, almost every “future” in the movies is bleak, isn’t it? And a lot of critics are pointing fingers at “Robocop” as something no different. But honestly, I don’t see why it should be different. And for the record, I didn’t see any kind of change in the world at all. So why should I complain? The technology looks better; why should the city of Detroit, in which this movie is set (or accordingly, the city of Detroit in the “future”)?

We’re introduced to a rookie cop named Murphy (Peter Weller), who is recruited to join the police force in Detroit. A woman cop named Lewis (Nancy Allen) shows him the ropes, but before long, they run into a band of criminals who mercilessly shoot Murphy dead.

But he’s not entirely dead. Something inside him is still alive and that brings the company that created the killer robot at the beginning of the film to rebuild him as a cyborg. They believe this is a better type of policeman to fight crime downtown. They call him a “robocop,” a half-man, half-machine with little to no memory of Murphy’s human life. Oh, and only his mouth and chin are visible under a heavy amount of metal armor. Robocop does become the next best thing on the force and goes around protecting the innocent and arresting criminals. (There’s one great moment that involves Robocop stopping a rapist, but I won’t give away the outcome.) Lewis, however, recognizes this half-man, half-machine as her old partner and tries to make Robocop remember her.

“Robocop” is a mixture of a thriller, a comedy, and a romance, each one hitting the right notes. There is slapstick and political satire involved, most of the laughs coming from the big robot again. The romance aspect works as well; the idea of having Weller and Allen play with this strange occurrence is cute, despite its silliness. But mostly, the movie wants to thrill us and it works as a thriller. The action scenes are compelling and well-directed by filmmaker Paul Verhoeven. And also, the movie’s bad guys are real bad guys; not just exaggerated morons with guns. They are ruthless, violent, and merciless. For example, when they kill Murphy, they don’t just shoot him and leave him. They do worse.

Through it all is Peter Weller as Robocop. He begins in human form as Murphy with little to no personality as the new man on the force. But once he is in all that circuitry and his voice is electronic monotone, most of his (as Robocop) personality comes from that voice. It’s the voice that computers have had in movies for years and with Robocop, it blends assurance with confusion in the character. This is where the character wins our sympathy and strangely enough, he’s more human as this Robocop than he was as an actual human. He has a heavy amount of appeal with this performance, despite having his face nearly hidden and his voice mechanically altered. Nancy Allen is effective as she tries to find out what really happened to her old partner and what she can do to help him.

Mostly, “Robocop” is entertaining. It’s an action-thriller with a heart but most importantly, with also a brain.

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