Image Entertainment // 1990 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // March 7th, 2000
He's back to protect the innocents.
As the sequel to RoboCop, a landmark sci-fi/near-future film with a distinctive socio-political twist, Robocop 2 has a tough act to follow. While it lacks the freshness of the original, the sequel preserves the essential flavor of the RoboCop formula. Sadly, the disc itself leaves far more to be desired.
The impulse to make a sequel to a successful (in at least a financial sense) film is one of the strongest forces in Hollywood. Writers don't have to start from scratch, studio executives figure they can milk another cash cow, and the audience gets more of what it liked in the first place. (Hopefully.) This is both the promise and the curse of the sequel, as it must be more than a pure retread of the original story (lest the audience be bored), yet include enough of the familiar from the original to make it a familiar landscape.
For this very reason, few sequels meet (let alone surpass) the critical and financial success of its progenitor. Movies like Aliens and Toy Story 2 are the exception to the abominable likes of Highlander 2, Speed 2, and Grease 2. Robocop 2 falls somewhere in between, not quite measuring up to the high standard of the original, yet with a sufficient blend of the original and the familiar to please the audience.
After we begin the movie with an ad for "MagnaVolt" (the ultimate in lethal anti-car theft technology) and a "Media Break" news update, we find that all is not well in Detroit. Omni Consumer Products (OCP), contracted to run the Detroit Police Department, has provoked the officers to walk out on strike. In short order, crime spreads like a plague, fueled by a flood of a massively addictive designer narcotic called Nuke. With Detroit paralyzed, the city government is teetering on the brink of defaulting on its financial obligations to OCP, which would in turn trigger a takeover of the entire city by OCP.
Alex Murphy, AKA Robocop (Peter Weller), and his loyal partner, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) are virtually alone on the streets, fighting against the Nuke tide. A firefight with some Nuke-d looters at a gunshop leads the determined Robocop to Detroit's main manufacturing and distribution factory for Nuke, just as it is being graced with the personal attentions of Cain (Tom Noonan), leader of the Nuke cult, and his subordinates. Though Cain escapes, Robocop and Lewis shut the factory down and save innocents from further harm.
Meanwhile, OCP continues to pursue their Robocop 2 development project, seeking to improve upon the success of the original model. Many ideas and many, many dollars have been spent fruitlessly in a vain attempt to find the combination of man and machine that does not collapse into homicidal/suicidal insanity. OCP's "Old Man" CEO (Dan O'Herlihy) is dismayed by this report from Donald Johnson (Felton Perry). The Old Man demands results, which the new head of the project, Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer) is determined to get at any cost. Whether it means using death row inmates for Robocop 2 candidates, or sleeping with the Old Man to secure her position, Dr. Faxx will let no scruple stand in her way.
Alas, when Robocop tracks Cain and his minions to their lair, he is surprised and nearly destroyed. Only the heroic efforts of his OCP caretakers and his police colleagues save him from the scrap heap, but nothing can save him from Dr. Faxx. Determined to maintain Robocop as a sop to public relations, yet not so effective as to upstage the Robocop 2 project, Dr. Faxx programs Robocop with a new set of directives. Long-winded, trivial, and politically correct, the immense list of rules leaves Robocop confused, spouting clichés and utterly ineffective. Enough remains of his mind that Robocop is able to take drastic action to erase the directives and regain his independence.
Thus free to act, Robocop inspires his colleagues to leave the picket line and leads them in a full-out assault on Cain's lair. While his juvenile delinquent protégé, Hob (Gabriel Damon), and his girl Angie (Galyn Görg) escape with a truckload of cash, Cain is severely wounded and captured. Learning of Cain's capture, Dr. Faxx is convinced that his warped, Nuke-addicted psyche would welcome the power and virtual immortality of Robocop 2, and so "harvests" his brain for her project. When Hob and Angie try to cut a deal with Mayor Kuzak (Willard E. Pugh) to pay off the city's debt to OCP with Nuke wealth in return for freedom to make and sell Nuke in Detroit, the Old Man and Dr. Faxx decide to test Robocop 2's ability to eliminate their problem. It passes with high marks.
When Robocop learns of the carnage and Cain's rebirth as Robocop 2, the stage is set for a showdown of robotic proportions. The action is fast, furious, and full of firepower, but in the end...what, you have any doubt about who wins? Meanwhile, the Old Man and Johnson confront the looming public relations nightmare for OCP. Johnson does point out, however, that all one needs is a scapegoat whose name is written all over the Robocop 2 project. Both men peer over at the blissfully ignorant Dr. Faxx...
The video is a mixed bag. Colors are well saturated and surprisingly for a non-anamorphic transfer, digital enhancement artifacts are virtually absent. Sharpness is on the soft side, but blacks are solid. More problematic is a moderate amount of dirt and defects, and perceptible video noise. The most annoying video deficiency is the contrast. Many indoor and night scenes seem excessively dark with limited contrast and significant loss of shadow detail, making it difficult to distinguish between the items and people on-screen.
Sound is an acceptable if uninspiring Dolby Surround mix. The soundstage is generally forward and focused through the center channel, with the front mains providing support but little side-to-side movement. Bass support is decent for a non-5.1 mix, and rear surrounds are sparingly used, with the notable exception of the scene (79:20) where the truck delivering Robocop 2 drives over you from front to back. Quite an impressive feat.
One of the limitations of Robocop 2 compared to its predecessor is that there is less room for the actors to demonstrate their craft. Characters which were introduced in RoboCop with life and motivation (Sgt. Reed, Ann Lewis) are a shadow of their former selves. Sgt. Reed (Robert DoQui) is hardly noticed, and Nancy Allen (RoboCop, 1941, The Last Detail) can only look concerned a lot with Ann Lewis playing much more of a sideline role. Peter Weller does what he can, but it's hard to be a compelling actor when you are playing a mostly robotic character and hidden under a helmet much of the time. On the positive side, Dan O'Herlihy plays the Old Man with much more arrogant capitalist evil that he was able in RoboCop, and Belinda Bauer is a treat as the determined, amoral Dr. Faxx.
Story-wise, Robocop 2 holds up reasonably well to the original, albeit with a far darker tone. I did like the greater depth of OCP's sneaky plans for Detroit, and in particular OCP's scheme to create a wholly private, capitalist government, which does not seem as far-fetched as it might once have seemed. However, the short sub-plot about Robocop and his "former" wife, while interesting, seems like it was thrown in for no good purpose. Cain is too mellow in his evil to reach the compelling level of Clarence Boddicker in RoboCop, substituting simple homicidal cruelty for style and ebullient arrogance.
I do give bonus points to the film for setting up an amusing in-joke, where unmistakably MS-DOS Robocop fights a plainly Macintosh Robocop 2. It makes me snicker every time I watch Robocop 2.
Even the worst sort of movie deserves a minimum set of extras. Otherwise, why bother putting out a disc? Some movie-themed menus, a trailer or two, some production notes, and the like would have been nice. While this was put out some time ago when DVD was still in its infancy, I still don't accept that as a valid excuse to have released an inferior product. Here, you get absolutely nothing.
Another problem with the movie is that the effects budget seems to have been at rock bottom during the sequence where Robocop is in critical condition after Cain and Co. dismember him. Either that's not Peter Weller, or the makeup is horribly wrong, and the end result looks so odd that it takes me right out of the story for several minutes.
Also, maybe it's just me, but does Robocop 2 have a magic system for unlimited ammunition storage? The way it hoses Gatling gun fire around, you'd think it would need a couple of railroad cars towed behind it for resupply. Must be those special Hollywood guns again!
If you liked RoboCop, then you should give it a look -- chances are you will be reasonably entertained by Robocop 2. Given its lesser stature and deficient disc, weigh a purchase ($30) very carefully. If you hated the original, then don't even bother with a rental.
The film is acquitted, but the disc is guilty of being a disappointment.
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R