When you first saw this one you knew it was the beginning of a franchise. I caught it on HBO close to 30 years ago and found it again this week on Hulu. Three cheers for their “Classics” collection. It’s RoboCop, from 1987, and starring Peter Weller as Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (RoboCop). It’s from MGM. Disregard what Wikipedia says about Orion. This flick starts with a lion’s roar.
Lest Eddie Murphy reminded you just three years prior in Beverly Hills Cop, Detroit is a down and dirty place to be from, far from. And this is not 1987 Detroit. This the future of Detroit, where big business has come to rescue society from matters society hasn’t been able to resolve in over 3000 years.
Criminals run the streets, and Omni Consumer Products (OCP) runs the police force. OCP makes a profit, and several cops die on the streets each week. The situation is prime for corruption at the highest levels without even a whiff of politics. One improvement the future brings is that now the patrol unit’s locker room has gone coed.
Meanwhile, at the corporate offices of OCP, new technology looms above the horizon in the form of the ED-209 enforcement droid. It’s massive. It’s omnipotent. Its obedience is blind and relentless. OCP Senior President Richard “Dick” Jones (Ronny Cox) demonstrates these qualities when he introduces the semi-working prototype at a board meeting. ED-209 is directed to arrest an unfortunate “volunteer,” but then forgets how to respond to the “desist” order. Its relentlessness is demonstrated as it hunts down the “perp” and dissolves him in a hail of large-caliber rounds. This is most embarrassing.
Meanwhile, OCP’s answer to Sammy Glick is up and coming corporate executive Robert “Bob” Morton (Miguel Ferrer), who sees the failure of ED-209 as his opportunity to leapfrog the ladder to the top. His own project is RoboCop, and all he needs is a “volunteer.”
Just in time, Patrolman Murphy and his partner, Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) get the drop on a gang of hardened criminals. It goes badly, and the gang drills Murphy through and through before leader Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) puts a bullet in his head.
The failure to save Murphy’s life is preordained, and specific instructions at the operating table determine which body parts to salvage. After he “dies,” the next thing Murphy sees is a view inside a development laboratory, where RoboCop is being constructed.
Autumn passes, and a new year comes around. RoboCop is ready for action and is introduced to Murphy’s old squad room. After demonstrating his deadly abilities with an automatic pistol, he sets out on his first patrol, quickly proving effective and often deadly to the city’s bottom feeders. Here he breaks up an armed robbery in a quick stop grocery.
Eventually the human brain that’s inside RoboCop starts to experience flashbacks, and he tracks down the gang that killed him. At a coke lab he demolishes the entire staff, saving only Boddicker for arrest.
Boddicker is booked and promptly released, since he works for OCP. His job includes generating more crime, which generates more business for OCP. It’s how privatization works.
Meanwhile, Senior President Dick Jones has had his fill of Sammy Glick, and he sends Boddicker around to tell him he’s fired. Boddicker does this with a cute video along with a hand grenade, which proves to be much more effective.
Meanwhile, RoboCop has figured out the whole setup. He finishes off the Boddicker gang and drives to OCP headquarters to settle with Jones.
Readers, tell me that is not Detroit in the screen shot. Three chances to win Donald Trump’s money go to the first person to name that city. An additional three chances go to the person who can name that building in the left of the picture.
RoboCop easily defeats ED-209 with a rocket gun (I’ve got to get me one of these), and he stomps into the OCP board room to put the kibosh on Mr. Jones. There is a small hiccup, however. Built into RoboCop is a directive that prevents taking action against OCP. No problem. OCP Chairman (Dan O’Herlihy) tells Jones, “You’re fired!” and RoboCop perforates him to the delight of all.
This production awards for editing, special effects, music, and more. This does not succeed in painting over some of the hokeyness, however. For example, a Boddicker ganger attempts to escape in a van and winds up crashing it directly into the side of a tank clearly labeled “DANGER TOXIC WASTE.” Yeah, right. Tanks filled with toxic waste in real life are generally labeled “Production Overflow” or something equally innocuous.
The “killing” of Alex Murphy early in the film leaves little doubt he had to be dead at the scene. Benny Hinn could not have resurrected those remains. It’s for sure the director felt the need for excessive and graphic violence to put viewers on edge about this time.
The malfunction of ED-209 at the board meeting would come off as contrived in any other venue. However, this is science fiction, and a spectacular failure of technology was needed to set the tone for the rest of the movie.
I resisted reviewing RoboCop 2 and such, knowing the original was sure to pop up eventually. Patience has its rewards. For those interested in switching from cable TV to Internet TV, this should be a heads up. I subscribe to Amazon Prime Video and Hulu Plus. Both offer non-real-time content without commercials. A drawback is, while some content is perennially available, other offerings are on for limited engagements. The classics, movies and TV programming from decades ago, tend to be always available. Especially, recent movie releases are on for short runs (a few weeks) and then disappear, likely to reappear months later. It’s likely possible to record from the Internet feed, but I don’t have the technology. I watch on the big screen upstairs, then move to my computer room to pull screen shots for the review. Open a dialog if you are interested in following up.