Original ‘RoboCop’ still dispensing justice 25 years later

Hollywood Soapbox logoPaul Verhoeven’s RoboCop is not exactly a sci-fi classic, but as a 1980s action film with a strong central performance, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Peter Weller plays the title character, a police officer who is changed into a robotic superhuman He becomes the poster child for how police departments will protect the population. The setting is the grim, crime-laden streets of futuristic Detroit. RoboCop, with his impenetrable armor and cool-looking helmet, is the answer to many of the problems plaguing the local neighborhood.

There are many obvious influences circulating throughout the movie. Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner’s script takes from the sci-fi repertoire, but their end result still feels fresh and original. Most of the movie plays like a big-budget action film. The subtlety and main story arc comes from having RoboCop begin to remember his former life as a police officer. These stored memories, playing out much like a Philip K. Dick novel, give RoboCop some semblance of humanity. But when faced with the challenges of the violent society around him, will he lean on his mechanistic habits or find his deep personal side? Is he a killing machine or an officer of the law?

RoboCop deals with many societal issues, from crime to politics to camaraderie among police officers. The superhuman’s former partner is played by Nancy Allen, an actress who never stood out in the 1980s but always seemed to play her parts well. As officer Anne Lewis, Allen seems somewhat miscast. It’s difficult to believe in her friendship with Weller’s character or her penchant for saving the day. The character is underwritten, and few scenes allow Allen to show her acting chops.

Weller fares much better in the title role. He’s a good police officer willing to take risks, and as RoboCop, he’s emotion-less and calm, even when dispensing bloodied justice. There are times when the audience will be reminded of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator role.

Verhoeven, who has had one of the strangest careers of any Hollywood director, adds some of his typical, cheesy signatures to the film. And the visuals and soundtrack will remind audience members of the glorious 1980s. The resulting package is fun but never deep enough to make the audience think about the lessons behind RoboCop’s emergence. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, which was released a couple years before RoboCop, was able to tell a strange tale of a dystopian future, but there was never sacrificing any part of the movie for cheap action tricks.

Also, there’s no denying that when a pivotal character has very little emotion, it’s difficult to care about his actions. There’s no great yearning for RoboCop to find out about his police officer background. Sure, one wants the bad guys to face justice, but everything in the movie feels somewhat simplistic, as if this were a moving comic book with archetype characters. Nothing much sticks except the visual of RoboCop’s armored suit. But … it’s a pretty cool suit.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • RoboCop

  • 1987

  • Directed by Paul Verhoeven

  • Written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner

  • Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen and Kurtwood Smith

  • Running time: 102 minutes

  • Rated R

  • Rating: ★★½☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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