Robocop was released in summer 1987 by Orion Pictures. It was directed by Paul Verhoeven, written by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner.
Peter Weller – Alex Murphy/Robocop
Nancy Allen – Anne Lewis
Kurtwood Smith – Clarence Boddicker
Miguel Ferrer – Bob Morton
Daniel O'Herlihy – The Old Man
Ronny Cox - Dick Jones
Ray Wise - Leon
Paul McCrane - Emil
Before I review the movie proper, I would like to relate two stories concerning the film.
I remember in 1988, I was a little kid who loved comics and monsters and cartoons. I remember seeing the Robocop cartoon before I even knew about the movie. Naturally, having seen the cartoons, I wanted to see the movie. "No," my mom would say, "it's too violent" or "it'll give you nightmares". I wasn't going to be so easily defeated. I remember having to stay home from school one day, can't remember if I was sick or just an out day, but I begged and pleaded with my mom to rent Robocop. She finally broke down, and said she would do it. So we went to the video station, rented it, took it back home and watched it, together. I was almost 7, I'm guessing. I remember rooting for Robo, but I also remember my moms use of the fast forward button during the more violent parts (that's what parental guidance is people) and I remember the toxic waste scene. Let me ruin this part of the movie for those unfortunate few who have not seen it. One of the villains of the film drives his van directly into a tank full of toxic waste. The back doors of the van are blown open, releasing a flood of steaming, vile chemical products, with the unfortunate baddie being carried along by the toxic surge. He stands up, and his body, his face, his fingers, is slowly melting away. He screams and shambles to one of his cohorts, who, upon seeing him, screams and runs. It was here that my mom used that fast forward button again, but the damage had already been done. The scene burned its way into my mind and my mom was right, I did have nightmares.
Fast forward to 2003, New Years Day. Having long ago gotten over my fear of the toxic waste meltdown, I resolve to watch Robocop once a month for the 12 months that year. So far to date it's been the only resolution I've carried out to the letter. During that year it mowed down other competition to become my ALL TIME FAVORITE MOVIE, even beating out classics like Night of the Living Dead and others for the spot. I realized here is a movie with everything that I could want in a movie. The films great, hyper violent action scenes, amazing special effects, funny yet dark satire on money and corporate greed, great acting, and flawless direction combine to make Robocop a film for all time.
Buy that for a dollar.
Detroit. The near future. Crime rules the streets and corporations run the cops.
The corporation in old Detroit is Omni Consumer Products, or OCP. OCP has its hands in everything, from military weapons and technology to city building. We are introduced to the ED-209 Urban Pacification Droid at an OCP board meeting, and let's just say that it won't be replacing the cops of Detroit anytime soon. It goes haywire and kills a young employee in front of a boardroom of terrified yuppies. After the incident, the Old Man (Daniel O'Herlihy), the head of OCP, is disgusted, not just at the death of the employee but mostly at the millions of dollars the company had sunk into the project, supposed to be the "hot" new military item, money as good as gone. It is then that Bob Morton gets in his idea for the Robocop Program, using "volunteers" from the police force to provide the "brain" for a cybernetic organism. He tells the old man he can have reports on his desk the next morning and that the program for a robot cop is already underway.
Speaking of cops, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) was a cop. A damn good one too, devout Irish Catholic family man, nice suburban home, beautiful wife and child, until one day it was taken away from him by the bullets of Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang of ruthless low lifes and cop killers. We learn that Boddicker and his men have allegedly killed some thirty police officers but no arrests have been made. Murphy, shot repeatedly and left for dead, doesn't die until he's on the operating table.
Or so he thinks.
Yes, he's dead, clinically speaking, but his consciousness, his brain has been kept alive in a cybernetic body, a robot.
A Robocop, programmed with four Prime Directives:
1. Serve The Public Trust
2. Protect The Innocent
3. Uphold The Law
So Detroit has a new cop on the scene. He dispatches an armed robbery, brutally halts a rape in progress, throws the ex-mayor out a window, and tries to stop another armed robbery, this time at a gas station, when he starts to remember. The man who is holding up the gas station was one of his killers, and it triggers his memory. Arresting the man, he goes to the police station to search the files of known convicts, ex-cons, etc….when he finds out who he was. He goes to the house he once shared with his family, everything is gone, moved on. Realizing that he has had everything taken from him, he seeks revenge on the thugs who killed him. He finds Boddicker at a cocaine factory and also finds out some startling news: Boddicker works for OCP, the corporation that built him and owns the Detroit Police Force. Robocop records this information, takes Boddicker to the precinct house ("Book him" he says to the sergeant. "What's the charge?" the man replies. Murphy thinks for a second, and says "He's a cop-killer."), and turns his sites to the OCP building and Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), OCP's vice president. He confronts Jones and tells him that he is under arrest for aiding and abetting a known criminal. Jones says that these are serious offenses and that Robo better arrest him.
That's when directive four kicks in. Jones explains that directive four was his little contribution to Robo's programming, that any attempt to arrest an officer or employee of OCP will result in automatic shutdown. To hurry things along, he brings out the ED-209 Enforcement Droid to take care of Robo. It almost does too, but then Robo discovers he can walk down stairs, while the ED-209 cannot. Coming out at the bottom of the OCP skyscraper, Robo is besieged by police officers who have orders to destroy him, but he gets away with the help of his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) and retreats to the same run down chemical factory where Boddicker and his men shot him before. Here we see his face for the first time since his death, as does he.
Dick Jones arranges to have Boddicker and his men released from prison, tells them to find Robo and destroy him, and to also kill Morton for creating Robocop, knowing that if the information that Boddicker told Robocop when he was arrested about working for Jones gets out it would be the end for him. He gives Boddicker a tracking device, new cars, and top of the line military weapons. Boddicker kills Morton (delivering the best line in the movie while doing so), and then him and his men find Robo at the same plant they used to frequent, and Robocop has his revenge in various brutal ways. One man gets shot right at the outset of their supposed search and destroy mission, then we have the toxic waste mishap described above. Oh, did I mention that after being partially dissolved by chemical waste this poor bastard also gets splattered all over the windshield of a car his partner in crime Boddicker is driving? Stunned by the sudden explosion of human gore all over his windshield, Boddicker drives his car into a ditch with Lewis close behind. Boddicker, quick on the draw, shoots Lewis, but drops his big assault rifle in the process. Another member of the gang, Leon (played by Ray Wise, from "Twin Peaks") gets into a crane and manages to drop a huge pile of debris on Murphy, but his victory is short lived, because the down but not out Lewis blows the operators compartment of the crane up, with him in it, with the assault rifle. Boddicker seizes the opportunity and begins battering away at Robo with a lead pipe, even stabbing him in the chest with it. When Boddicker leans down to try to wrench the pipe free, Robo produces the data spike from his fist (the one he used to access the files on his death earlier) and stabs Boddicker in the throat with it. Spraying blood ferociously, he eventually crumples into a heap in the waters of the ditch, dead. (The original screenplay had Robocop punching Boddickers head through a wall…that would've been something to see. It also called for the baddie who gets shot by Robo at the beginning of the siege to have his leg impaled on a spike then attacked and ripped apart by the factories watchdogs.) Robocop manages to get out from underneath the rubble, calling for Lewis. "I'm a mess" she says to him.
"Don't worry, they'll fix you. They fix everything" he says, prying the pipe from his chest.
Battered but still functioning, Robo goes back to the OCP Tower, where he is beset by the ED-209 they have patrolling the entrance. He makes short work of it, destroying it with Boddicker's assault rifle. Interrupting a board meeting, Robo tells the Old Man that he has come to arrest Dick Jones, but that his programming will not allow him to do so because of the failsafe device Jones had implanted. The Old Man asks for proof and Robo has it, stored in his memory, which he plays back for the stunned boardmembers. Jones loses it and holds the old man hostage, demanding a helicopter to escape, when the old man says "Dick! You're Fired!" and struggles free. The fourth directive now meaningless, Robo shoots Jones out of the window to his death on the streets below.
The old man straightens himself up, and says "Nice shooting son. What's your name?"
Robocop turns and grins at him.
The screen goes black.
THE FILM ITSELF
So what we have here is a science fiction/action/black comedy about alienation, corporate power and greed and crime, all rolled into one 103 minute package. I say its about alienation because when Murphy realizes that all he's has in his past life is gone, he also realizes that he is one of a kind, the first cybernetic/human tissue composed being ever, and this loss is shown in scenes like his visit to his old house, finding burnt pictures, a "world's best father" coffee mug and becoming visibly shaken when the automated house seller keeps rattling on and on, and shown during his death scene in a haunting pull away shot of his wife and son waving goodbye to him that morning. The action in it is non stop when it needs to be, but it is very violent. The film had to have cuts to avoid getting the dreaded X rating, but these scenes are restored on the Robocop Trilogy DVD box set unrated version of the film. The violence is unnerving sometimes, from the carnage of the ED-209 going berserk in the board meeting at the beginning, to Murphy's death (director Verhoeven states in the commentary on the DVD that he "had to make this the most violent scene in the film", because "you cannot have the resurrection without the crucifixion") and the above mentioned toxic waste meltdown and subsequent splattering by car. The acting in this film is top notch. Peter Weller's performance of Robocop ranks as one of the best performances ever. The robo-suit was a bulky thing, and wearing it filming in the hot Dallas summer of '86 had to be physically exerting in ways I don't care to think about, and in a perfect world he would have received best actor Oscars for his performance. Ronny Cox, before this known for playing good wholesome types, delivers a towering performance as Dick Jones, the greedy VP. Kurtwood Smith as Boddicker is the very personification of villain, plus he delivers the best line in the whole damn movie. Miguel Ferrer is great as the young, brash yuppie Bob Morton, head of the Security Concepts team who plan, build, and program Robo, and who ultimately gets killed by Boddicker. The production design is beautiful, shot entirely in Dallas Texas, but supposed to be set in Detroit, Michigan, you never doubt that this is what the future will look like, and in 20 years since Robocop came out our cities are looking more and more like Old Detroit all the time. The script is razor sharp, the dialogue witty and essential, and little tidbits of the culture of this not so far away future are dropped liberally throughout the script (the car of the future, the 6000SUX; the "I'll buy that for a dollar!!" guy, the star wars laser defense platform going haywire and killing some ex-prez's), the sound of a crying, whining baby made by the ED-209 when it discovers it can't walk down stairs, the one line Boddicker says to the hookers Morton has hanging around when he comes to kill him (the immortal "Bitches Leave", done so seriously and so sudden I cant help but laugh) and tons more. The effects work is also beyond reproach. Robo's suit, designed by Rob Bottin, is a triumph, and the stop motion ED-209 effects, done by Phil Tippett are also jaw dropping. The soundtrack, composed by Basil Poledouris combines traditional instruments with synthesizers to make a perfect score, and some of the most memorable theme music ever.
A lot of people have asked me why Robocop is my favorite movie ever. Truly, I cannot explain it. It's just a movie that somehow makes me feel nostalgic (I grew up in Reagan's America, I remember it well), gets my pulse going, and exhilarates me every time I see it. It still has not lost its punch after all this time, and I doubt it ever will.
On a closing note, I would like to take this opportunity to plead the movie making powers that be into NEVER EVER remaking this movie. This is a movie that needs no remake, no bigger budget or flashier effects to "make it better".
In true 80's fashion, please, Just Say No.
You can't better perfection.