Directed by Paul Verhoeven
July 17, 1987
A Detroit cop is killed in the line of duty and brought back to life as a cybernetic police officer who goes up against the criminal and corporate forces in the city.
This film is a futuristic dystopian science fiction social commentary classic that came out at the end of the Reagan Era and is seen as a bit of a rebuke of the consumerism that for some personified the times. For a blood squib soaked violent film it also managed to touch on ideas of corporate greed, humanity, and personal identity. That is no easy thing for what are seen as higher-minded projects to do let alone a movie that at a surface glance is yet another entry in the over-the-top violent films that were done so wonderfully during the 80s.
RoboCop is a swipe at consumerism with a heavy dose of Jesus allegory here. All the side commercials about the artificial hearts and the 6000 SUX are definitely aimed at the consumer culture which was so prevalent in the late 80s. The fear of corporatism is embodied by Omni Consumer Products or OCP for short which does not appear to actually make any consumer products.
This is the film that made Peter Weller a household name. He had been active for years, but this put him on the pop culture map. As Alex Murphy he is an affable family man and a good cop. As RoboCop he created a character that should not have been but was vulnerable and complex. He was trapped largely in a costume and yet was able to make a well-rounded individual on the screen.
Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) is a loyal and tough officer. She is Murphy/RoboCop’s link to humanity as well as being the normal person in extraordinary events character that the audience can identify with. Nancy Allen in real life is the daughter of a New York City police officer and it is obvious she used that to create a real person on screen and not some caricature. She is not some cliché but rather a blue collar, grounded person.
OCP at this point is basically the police force in Detroit, Michigan. They run it and treat it as a proving ground for their technology. The first attempt is the ED 209 which fails miserably. Is that a joke? ED is short here for Enforcement Droid but is also shorthand for Erectile Dysfunction. One bad guy got shot in his crotch so maybe another penis bit is not too out of the question.
Ronny Cox is deliciously villainous as the main baddie Senior OCP Vice President Dick Jones. OCP is planning on building Delta City on the decaying structure of Detroit. Jones has been pushing the automated unit called ED-209 to supplement with an eye towards replacing the cops but when it spectacularly malfunctions a young executive named Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) takes the opportunity to get his program started.
Ferrer was a particularly favorite bit of casting for me. When I saw him here for the first time I immediately recognized him as a helmsman on the USS Excelsior in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Ferrer was an amazing actor that was always good and his death was a definite loss to entertainment. Here as Bob Morton, he is all slimy and opportunistic. And he is a spineless weasel. He is the picture of corporate executive greed.
Everything that occurs in RoboCop is occurring against a decaying city that’s facing a possible police strike which is implied to be a situation that has been engineered by OCP in order to take complete control so they can build their glorious Delta City. This was yet another swipe at corporatism and corporate greed and other evils feared during the decade this was made.
RoboCop is a larger-than-life hero but what is a hero without a villain. Jones was a puppeteer of events, but puppeteers need muscle. Enter Clarence Boddicker played iconically by the brilliant Kurtwood Smith. This was my introduction to the actor and I have been a fan ever since. The man played a great villain here. He is just so slimy and icky and over the top insane. Not maniacally insane but evil insane. He does not give two fucks about anything.
One thing that always gets me about this movie, and it has since day one, is the moment early in the film when Officer Lewis and Murphy are chasing Boddicker and his gang to their hideout after they committed a robbery. Lewis and Murphy are wondering through the abandon factory or whatever it is, and Lewis comes across Joe Cox (Jesse D. Goins), the dude with the laugh, and she is distracted by his penis. It is something you could only find in an 80s film but even when I saw it, it did not work for me. Lewis is a professional peace officer that judging from a scene in the beginning of the film probably changes in front of her fellow officers and the possibility of seeing a schlong of a guy that was just whizzing is enough to distract her so she can be disarmed? But in an overall near perfect film, I can look past this.
And this is a near perfect film. Paul Verhoeven was at the top of his game here. He not only gave us a fantastic action film but a fantastic action film that was satirical and extremely violent. People die left and right. Like I mentioned earlier a guy gets shot in the crotch. THE CROTCH! The number of blood squids in this movie is ridiculous.
It is my understanding that the Jesus metaphor is purposeful here. Murphy dies and is resurrected and at one point he even walks on water though the water is fairly shallow. This movie is more sophisticated at times than people are willing to give it credit for.
The acting is pretty impressive for a film that you would not think would have such a good acting. And the stakes are raised fairly high for the characters in their world. And the resolution is just great. Murphy has three directives in his programming that guide him as a police officer with a fourth that guides him only at certain moments and he is unaware of. How this is worked around at the end is one of the more clever resolutions to an action film that I’ve ever seen.
This movie asks what makes us who we are? Is it flesh? Is it memories? Is it something in our lives? All this is taken from Murphy. What he does have does not feel real to him. He knows he is incomplete but exactly how eludes him.
This film is one of those movies that almost had a very different cast. Possible Alex Murphys were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Ironside, Rutger Hauer, Tom Berenger, Armand Assante, Keith Carradine, and James Remar. Schwarzenegger was the favorite of Orion since he had been in The Terminator but there was a fear he would look ridiculous in the costume based on his physique. Weller won the part because he was cheap and he wanted to be in it.
Stephanie Zimbalist of Remington Steele fame was the original casting of Anne Lewis but was forced out because even though the show was canceled it was revived by NBC and she could not get out of it. I do not think she would have been as effective as Nancy Allen.
Michael Ironside was also offered the role of Clarence Boddicker but passed and it was eventually won by Kurtwood Smith who also tried out for Dick Jones with the appearance of Boddicker being modeled on Heinrich Himmler. None of those other possibilities would have worked as well. The film would have been enjoyable but not memorable. Ronny Cox had been playing mostly nice guys until this and was cast against type as Dick Jones. We got a great film.
RoboCop is amazing 80s satirical action classic. It is a good story with great characters and tons of memorable moments. Watch it!