Judge Clark Douglas is part man, part machine. He accidentally swallowed his iPod shuffle.
Our reviews of Robocop: Criterion Collection (published September 16th, 1999), Robocop 2 (published March 7th, 2000), Robocop 2 (Blu-ray) (published October 5th, 2011), Robocop (Blu-ray) (published November 1st, 2007), and The Robocop Trilogy (published August 24th, 2004) are also available.
Part man. Part machine. All cop. The future of law enforcement. Even in the future of law enforcement there is room for improvement. He's back to lay down the law.
"Let me make something clear to you. He doesn't have a name. He has a program. He's product."
Facts of the Case
In the not-too-distant future of Robocop, the city of Detroit is increasingly overrun with crime. Cops and citizens alike are dying at an alarming rate. Things have gotten so out of hand that members of the local police department are contemplating going on strike. One of Detroit's finest is Alex Murphy (Peter Weller, Naked Lunch), whose sense of duty and commitment to doing the right thing makes him a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, even a cop like Murphy can only last so long. In the middle of a raid, Murphy is gunned down by a group of thugs led by crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, That '70s Show). However, that's only the beginning of the story.
Thanks to the innovation of a man named Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer, Bionic Woman) and the financial resources of Omni Consumer Products, Murphy's brain and pieces of his body are salvaged and fused to high-tech machinery. For some time, OCP had been trying and failing to create a robotic police officer that could patrol the streets without having to fear for its life. Unfortunately, all of their experiments had suffered some form of defect or malfunction. Adding a human element into the mix proves to be the solution. In no time at all, Murphy is back on the streets as "Robocop," a highly advanced creation capable of doing far more than the average police officer. Alas, things get complicated when some of Murphy's memories of his former life as an ordinary human being start to return.
In Robocop 2, a new drug known simply as "nuke" is becoming a widespread problem—it is the single most addictive substance in human history. The man responsible for the production of the drug is Cain (Tom Noonan, Mystery Train), a local crime lord whose power over the city is growing every day. As the police department shuts down and OCP attempts a legal takeover of Detroit's government, Robocop (Weller again) attempts to take down Cain and his organization.
In Robocop 3, OCP is foreclosing on homes and rebuilding Detroit as a corporate-run mini-society. After being falsely accused of a murder he didn't commit, Robocop (Robert John Burke, Rescue Me) finds himself taking the side of the common people. Together with a band of bold revolutionaries, Robocop vows to help the people take their city back.
Given the severe drop in quality over the course of the series, it's almost painful to consider the words Robocop Trilogy. Nonetheless, all three Robocop films have now been preserved in hi-def and are offered in this underwhelming-but-affordable box set.
Paul Verhoeven's Robocop is the best of the bunch by a wide margin; a violent satire with a surprisingly moving undercurrent. It's certainly not a subtle movie (subtlety is rarely listed among Verhoeven's numerous virtues), but it's an effective one. The central story of Peter Weller's cyborg cop getting back in touch with the emotions of his past life is an affecting one, and the film's exploration of humanity's complicated relationship with technology is right on the money. Humanity's knowledge has unfortunately eclipsed our wisdom, and Robocop follows that unfortunate fact to its logical conclusion in darkly entertaining fashion. Verhoeven and writers Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner see a world where right and wrong don't matter nearly as much as profitable and unprofitable, delivering a lacerating portrait of capitalism taken to darkly absurd extremes. Also, stuff blows up real good. The cast is superb across the board, with Weller and Nancy Allen (Carrie) playing the film's emotionally-driven scenes to good effect and a whole host of terrific character actors (Kurtwood Smith, Ray Wise, Miguel Ferrer, Daniel O'Herlihy, Ronny Cox) adding vigorous color to Robocop's gleefully corrupt supporting players.
Things get problematic in Robocop 2, a film which suffered a tumultuous production from start to finish. Verhoeven dropped out when he was informed he wouldn't be able to make the film he wanted, screenwriter Frank Miller had much of his original draft replaced, Weller and Allen reportedly disliked the film. The film received a critical drubbing upon its release, with many (including Roger Ebert) taking the film to task for its inclusion of a 12-year-old child dealing drugs, swearing and engaging in all sorts of violent behavior. While the kid's presence is a little odd and off-putting (particularly considering that it's the same kid who voiced Little-Foot in The Land Before Time), he's hardly the film's biggest problem. The main issue is that Robocop 2 is a clumsy film which does a poor job in its attempt at recapturing the satirical tone of its predecessor (though the franchise's trademark TV commercials are admittedly pretty funny) and proves far less satisfying on a surface level (the final 20 minutes or so is a painfully unimaginative metal-on-metal clank-fest fueled by the need to show off some special effects rather than good storytelling). Worst of all, Robocop vanishes for an alarming amount of the film's running time (Nancy Allen appears even less), leaving us stranded to watch the banal power struggle between thin, unsympathetic characters.
As frustrating as Robocop 2 is, it's Casablanca in contrast to the wretched Robocop 3. After the hard-R adventures of the first two films, someone came up with the brilliant idea to make Robocop 3 a pleasant, kid-friendly PG-13 affair in which killer robots are frequently disarmed by a cute little girl. The remarkably tame tone is jarring, but Fred Dekker's direction and Frank Miller's script are just flat-out terrible. Interestingly, it was the last feature film Dekker would ever helm, just as Robocop 2 was the last film ever directed by Irvin Kershner. Let that be a warning to directors looking to reboot the franchise, I guess. Robert John Burke is a good actor in general, but he doesn't seem to know what to do with the title role in this film. Peter Weller was always capable of capturing the emotional nuance beneath the robotic monotone, but Burke never seems to have anything going on underneath the surface. Nancy Allen returns to participate in a stupid death scene, while Rip Torn, Bradley Whitford, CCH Pounder, Stephen Root and Jeff Garlin among the many talented supporting players the film completely wastes. The film's final moment, in which Burke informs a bad guy, "My friends call me Murphy…(dramatic pause)…but you can call me…(another dramatic pause)…ROBOCOP!" is an agonizingly awful conclusion to a series that started out in such a promising manner.
The transfers on display range from acceptable to disappointing. Sadly, the best of the films gets the weakest image, as the Robocop transfer is the same underwhelming presentation we received on the single-disc release a while back. In fact, it's actually just a repackage of that very disc. There are a lot of moments that are supposed to look crummy for artistic reasons (everything seen through the eyes of Robocop, for instance), but the scenes that should look sharp tend to be rather flat and underwhelming. It's not much of an upgrade from the handsome 20th Anniversary DVD release. Robocop 2 fares considerably better, offering exceptional detail and depth for a film made two decades ago. There are a few scratches and flecks here and there, but in general the image is quite strong. The same applies to Robocop 3, though with even fewer scratches and flecks to be found.
Audio is sturdy on all three films, with action scenes that pack a punch, clean dialogue and robust musical scores. While I wouldn't label any of the tracks a real knockout, they get the job done nicely considering the age of the films. The terrific Basil Poledouris score written for the first film is easily the best of the bunch in the soundtrack department, perfectly capturing the blend of surface-level fun and satirical bombast of Verhoeven's film. The second film suffers from a rather mediocre, semi-atonal effort from the talented Leonard Rosenman, whose effort just feels half-hearted. Poledouris returns for the third installment, but the music lacks the inspiration of his first effort (one can't really blame him when considering just how bad the film is).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite the fact that Robocop received a lavish DVD release loaded with special features a few years ago, this set is nearly bare-bones. Aside from theatrical trailers for all three films, there are no special features. Meh.
The Robocop Trilogy box set offers a very good film, an interesting-but-frustrating film and a flat-out bad film. If you're a fan of the movies and don't care about extras, the price is just about right.
The films receive varying verdicts, but the box set is guilty of failing to
deliver in the supplemental department.
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