February 10, 2014

Movie Review: RoboCop (1987)

While the horror lover in me sees the 1980's as the golden era of the slasher, giving us so many movies starring the likes of Michael, Jason, Freddy, Pinhead, among others, the movie lover in me sees a bigger picture. In addition to horror, it was a great era for action movies, think about the movies that came out during the decade. Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Predator, Aliens, Rambo, Beverly Hills Cop, Terminator, Raiders of the Lost Arc, The Road Warrior, the list goes on and on. With so many great action flicks, it is impossible to pick a favorite, and I am not sure I ever could. However, I have picked one to focus on with this review, and if you read the title, you know which one, none other than RoboCop.

The 1987 movie is one that I did not see in theaters, as a matter of fact, I do not know when it was that I first saw it, but I guess it ultimately doesn't matter. RoboCop is a movie that is over the top in its violence, yet grounded in its story of humanity and revenge, while also dipping its toe in the waters of satire. It is a movie that covers a lot of ground and does it well. It is a movie that can be enjoyed in a number of ways that are all correct. Any number of things could be pointed at for why the movie has attained its legendary status, but I think it comes down to one thing, heart. This is an action movie that does nor shy away from the bloody side of violent, nor from humor, but it also has characters you love, those you hate, and you want to be there watching what happens.

RoboCop, written by first timers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, made the rounds in Hollywood and was turned down by a number of directors (so I have read, I have not actually seen any names) before it landed on the desk of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. He was already an accomplished director, but this was the movie that would launch his US career, but almost wasn't. It is said he only read a few pages and did not care for the typical action movie feel, it was his wife who read it in its entirety and convinced him to take it on.

The production was somewhat troubled, mostly hampered, it seems, by restrictions of the suit and who was going to be wearing the suit, designed by effects wizard Rob Bottin (The Thing). There were a number of actors approached about playing the title character, including Michael Ironside, Rutger Hauer, and Tom Berenger. There was even a time after shooting began with Peter Weller that the role was offered to Lance Henriksen, but scheduling did not allow it to happen. In any case, the suit proved to be difficult to maneuver in and caused a number of delays and budgetary issues. It also had problems when it came to the MPAA, being sent back 11 times before obtaining an R rating.

In addition to Peter Weller, the movie also stars Nancy Allen in a role that was decidedly different than those we had seen her in before, such as Carrie, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out. This movie saw her kicking ass and taking names as a cop out working the streets. The cast also included Kurtwood Smith inexplicably cast as a big bad guy named Clarence. The man who would become Red Forman on That 70's Show was one really nasty dude. Add in Miguel Ferrer, Ronny Cox, Ray Wise, and Dan O'Herihy (who just a few years earlier played the alien Grig in The Last Starfighter) and you have one solid cast.

I am sure that most of you are familiar with the plot of RoboCop. It follows a cop, Alex Murphy (Weller), who, very early in the film, is brutally shot to death by a maniacal crime boss, Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), and his cronies. The body, well, remains of Murphy are used by the all encompassing company OCP (think Umbrella of the 80's), who coincidentally run the police for the city of Detroit, to create a new man/machine hybrid. They make Robocop and send him out on the streets to help regain order.

Of course, things never go smoothly. The movie is filled with corporate in-fighting as Miguel Ferrer and Ronny Cox jockey for position and power within OCP. Meanwhile, Robocop is not quite as mind-wiped as the scientists thought. He has flashes of his life before becoming this machine, including a vision of the man who killed him. Everything culminates in a big shootout as Robocop seeks revenge, which leads him too OCP, who just so happen to be involved with Clarence and his gang. Interesting how things come together like that, isn't it?

The movie is deceptively simply. You have the flashy violence of the high concept title character, a familiar revenge plot, and in between loads of ultra violence. RoboCop is a movie where all of the pieces combine to make something much much more.

RoboCop is a film that has aged very well. The revenge tale is timeless, but it is also interesting to see how other pieces have aged. The anti-corporation thread still holds up as relevant and viable in a modern time. The look still feels right, the design of the title character is absolutely iconic, fitting in with the gritty, raw feel of the crime ridden Detroit. Add in the previously mentioned heart, RoboCop remembering his family, seeing something familiar in the face of his former partner, Lewis (Nancy Allen), it all comes together in a concoction that defies being locked in time and defies the expectations to become something much more.

This is a movie that has stood the test of time and right to be considered one of the best action, not to mention science fiction, films of the era. It is a movie that comments on humanity and individuality, not to mention corporations and the commercialization of society. There is a lot to like here. Robocop is one of the best.

I am not sure what else I can say about this movie. I believe time and my repeated viewings may have colored my perception, but what can I say? The great ones rise to the top for a reason and this one brings everything together in one solid package. This was America's introduction to Paul Verhoeven and he shows what he can do, how he can spin familiar elements into an absolute spectacle.

If you haven't seen it, do so. Immediately. If you have seen it, you know what I am talking about. Go watch it again.

Highly Recommended.

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Vic Lana said...

Great review, Chris. There are too many favorite scenes here (though the one where the bad guy goes "toxic" is still memorable). Always like the way Murphy gets back his humanity as the humans around him lose theirs. Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith make great villains. It's definitely a must see for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

Dell said...

Great review and a great movie. My only small disagreement is that RoboCop doesn't "dip it's toe in the waters of satire," it fully submerges itself. In fact, I'd argue it is also among the very best satires of that decade. I wonder if the remake is going for the same thing or will it just be a stripped down action flick like the remake of "Total Recall."

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