“Dead or Alive, You’re Coming With Me.”

I’m afraid I have to take a break in recapping my marathon of bad video game adaptations. I have something else to review now, a timeless piece, dealing with weighty issues such as corruption in big name corporations and the complicated ethics involved in the future of robotics. The film?

I kind of loved it.

SUMMARY:

Detroit, Unspecified Near Future. Things aren’t looking too good in the Motor City. Crime has torn the streets apart, and an economic disaster has forced the giant corporation OCP (Omni Consumer Products) to fund the police force . . . and run it as well. But there simply aren’t enough cops to control the crime wave, so the OCP goes with a new plan: take recently murdered officer Alex Murphy and turn him into . . . RoboCop!

NOTES:

1. I feel like I’ve been watching a lot of dystopian movies lately where the crime rate has gotten drastically out of hand, and the police officers involved are generally ineffectual at doing anything about it. The various solutions to this dilemma are always interesting to me. Sometimes, you just turn an entire city into a prison and let the inmates go apeshit. Sometimes, you have cops and gangbangers making a deal on what time of day crime is allowed to occur. And sometimes you turn dead people into robots and let them do the fucking fighting for you. I believe this is what’s called thinking outside the box, people.

2. I work at a hospital, and I’m a member of a union, so I know a little bit about strikes. (Also: I’ve seen Billy Elliot. That totally makes me an expert.) Still, I must say, I’ve never considered what would happen if the police went on strike. It’s kind of a scary concept. I think you appreciate law enforcement a little more if you think about the potential consequences of something like that happening.

3. RoboCop has quite the cast. I kept being delighted by discovering people I knew. “Is that . . . ” Yes, that’s Kurtwood Smith. “And is that . . .” Yes, that’s Miguel Ferrer. And Ray Wise. And Paul McCrane. I knew and liked almost every single bad guy in this movie. (Other than Hyena Man, that is. Death to Hyena Man!) Liking your hero, that’s nice and all, but loving your cast of villains? That’s priceless.

4. I did have to look up Nancy Allen, though. I thought I knew her but couldn’t quite place her, and as it turns out, she’s that chick from Blow Out . . . a mildly depressing film with John Travolta that I might appreciate more now that I’m not twelve. Also, she’s in another movie with Travolta: Carrie. Allen plays Chris, the bitch. Heh. Excellent.

5. Acting-wise, I do think that the weakest link in this film is probably Peter Weller. As RoboCop, he’s fine. As Officer Murphy . . . eh, not so impressive. The way he delivers his dialogue seems awkward and stilted to me, and his screams of pain are not exactly what I’d call convincing. It’s surprising how many actors can do sorrow or anger or happiness okay but can’t quite seem to pull off pain.

6. According to imdb trivia (my source for everything), the director kept telling Nancy Allen to cut her hair shorter and shorter for the role, wanting Officer Anne Lewis to be more androgynous or something. I wouldn’t mind this . . . actually, I allowed myself to be briefly optimistic about the representation of women in this film once I saw more than one female police officer at the station . . . but then Murphy and Lewis start giving each other significant glances and badly flirting with one another and . . .  where was that androgyny again?

7. It doesn’t help that Lewis is a sucky cop. I’ll elaborate on this in further detail in the Spoiler Section, but here’s a hint: you don’t pop your bubblegum while sneaking into a bad guy’s hideout.

8. Despite a shaky introduction to our two main characters, I ended up really enjoying the hell out of RoboCop. I’m having some trouble trying to articulate exactly what I was so impressed with, though. I guess it’s just the attention to detail. Paul Verhoeven doesn’t just focus on the big scenes with the big characters and ignore everything else. There are so many other smaller scenes and smaller things going for RoboCop.

For example: one of my very favorite scenes in this movie is a hilarious conversation between a hostage taker and a police negotiator. Other films might have skipped right over this in favor of RoboCop breaking down walls (that happens too, of course) but this moment and other moments like it are allowed to stand on their own, and they give the film a layered quality that I like.

9. The inserted news segments, advertisements, and commercials also helped round this movie into something more than robot cop kills bad guys. (Which, hey, that’s cool too. But this movie’s smarter than I was expecting it to be, and that’s always sort of a nice surprise.) I suspect that Mr. Verhoeven might be trying to tell us that television is a giant suckfest . . . but I can’t help myself: I kind of want to play the Nukem! game now.

10. I also love the whole montage of transforming dead Murphy into RoboCop. Power hungry, drunk scientists with Christmas hats. More films should have these.

11. An ongoing list—101 Reasons Why Not to Be A Henchman When You Grow Up.

No. 95: “Can you fly, Bobby?”

(Spoiler: Bobby cannot fly.)

12. Along with being smarter, this film is also gorier than I was expecting it to be. Extra violence is also always a nice surprise.

13. Finally, God bless 80’s stop-motion animation. There are a few scenes in here that are the most unintentionally funniest scenes that I’ve seen in weeks. I mean, I’m sure it was cutting edge at the time, but now . . . now it’s hysterical. And I loved it.

There’s still so much I have to cover (like the whole plot of the film) but if you want to read any of that, you’ll have to prepare yourself for spoilers.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

Okay. Officers Murphy and Lewis meet and engage in some bad sexual tension before chasing down Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his merry band of criminals. Boddicker and the gang (sans Bobby, who was unceremoniously shoved out of the back of a moving truck) are all holed up at this rundown hideout place. Backup might not be coming anytime soon, so Lewis makes the call to go in. Bad move #1. I mean, I know there’s a police shortage and all, but there’s also no real evidence that the bad guys are planning on leaving anytime soon. Maybe you could wait for another fifteen before attempting a five on two fight? Come on, they don’t even have hostages!

Anyway, Lewis and Murphy sneak in and split up. Lewis noisily chews and pops her fucking bubblegum. Lewis does not deserve to live. She runs into Joe Cox (the aforementioned Hyena Man) who is currently busy peeing. She tells him to freeze. He asks if he can at least zip up. They stare at each other for a minute before she stupidly looks down at his penis (I can only assume it’s been a while) and he easily uses her distraction to knock her ass out. Way to go, Lewis.

Meanwhile, Murphy’s on his own, and he’s quickly cornered by everyone there. He gets his hand shot off (awesome) and doesn’t scream at all, but then continues to (badly) scream long after the fifteen shots to his chest probably would have killed him. He takes one to the head and is finally actually sort of dead. A trauma staff does try to valiantly revive him, but, ah, lost cause, guys. Dude’s gone.

In the meantime over at the OCP, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) presents his new proposal for improving the police force: the ED-209, a robot that looks like this:

Unfortunately, during a test demonstration, poor board member Kinney is accidentally blown to shit when the ED-209 has a small malfunction. (This scene startled me into laughing really hard. Poor Kinney. This is exactly why you don’t volunteer for demonstrations at work. Or, when someone helpfully volunteers you, you come back with your bad back or small bladder or something to get out of it. Anything, really, because if you don’t, you will find yourself splattered against a wall and, hilariously, no one will give a shit. Not about you, anyway. Maybe the wall. Or the carpet.)

Jones tries to argue that Kinney’s bloody demise is a small problem, but The Old Man who runs the OCP isn’t buying it. (By the way, that’s literally his name in this film: The Old Man.) So young hotshot Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer!) offers his plan instead and gets approval. Jones is not happy.

Bob’s plan, of course, is RoboCop. Murphy is thus transformed from this:

Into this:

It’s a decided improvement.

RoboCop’s memory has been erased, but he still carries some vestiges of Murphy inside of him. He draws his gun the same way as he did when he was alive, for instance, which is how Lewis recognizes him. He also says some of the same lines to criminals, which is how Paul McCrane (one of Boddicker’s men) recognizes him. And as he starts having nightmares, RoboCop comes to learn the truth about his origins . . . and he wants revenge!

Meanwhile, Bob Morton is feeling pretty cocky about how awesome he is, and he stupidly throws his awesomeness into Dick Jones’s face every chance he gets. People warn him that he’s being a moron, but he doesn’t heed them, which is why he’s unprepared to have Boddicker (who secretly works for Dick Jones) pop up at his house and kill him. And to think, all he wanted to do was resurrect dead cops into police officers and snort coke off of blonde women’s breasts. Is that so much to ask?

Another interesting imdb tidbit: supposedly, Bob’s character was supposed to be an arrogant schmo who everyone was supposed to hate, but due to Miguel Ferrer’s charismatic and amiable performance, the role had to be rewritten to make him more sympathetic. I . . . would like to have seen what the previous Bob acted like, because while I think Ferrer’s great, Bob is not what I would call sympathetic or amiable. He is an arrogant schmo, honestly, and I didn’t feel at all sorry for him when he died, not even as he was first shot in the legs and then blown up. (In a side note: Ferrer’s screams of pain? Much more convincing than Weller’s.)

Okay, so back to RoboCop. He goes after Boddicker and his gang in a big shootout. Naturally, the Asian guy gets killed first. You know how black people never survive horror films? (There are a few exceptions, but admittedly not very many.) Well, Asians don’t usually last long either, in horror movies or in action movies. Poor Asian dude. He has an awesome, “Oh, fuck you,” to RoboCop that made me laugh pretty hard when I watched it. I’d hoped that he would make it a bit longer. Oh well.

RoboCop beats the shit out of Boddicker and arrests him. Boddicker, who can’t believe this is happening to him, whines that he works for Dick Jones, and you know who else works for Dick Jones? The police! RoboCop is not intimidated by this and immediately goes to arrest Dick Jones too. Unfortunately, Dick Jones has secretly inserted a fourth directive into RoboCop’s programming that will not allow him to arrest or attack OCP employees. Then Jones sets the ED-209 on him. And then he sets the police on him. RoboCop is not having a good day.

Thankfully, he’s saved by his previously useless partner, Lewis, and they go hole up in the same place where Murphy was killed. Cheery. Lewis tells Murphy about his wife and children, who have moved on without him, and Murphy reveals what he looks like under the mask. Namely this:

. . . you know, I’d put the mask back on, if I were you. Modified Borg is really only a good look on Jeri Ryan.

Boddicker gets released from prison, and the gang tracks down Murphy and Lewis. Fighting ensues. Thankfully, Hyena Man dies quickly . . . he’s lived far too long as it is. If I had to listen to that awful laugh one more time, I would have jumped through the television screen and kicked him to death.

Paul McCrane (aka Romano from ER) gets the grisliest death. He drives his truck into a huge tank of acid or something and starts to pretty much melt to death. He stumbles around for awhile, shrieking and dropping goo all over the place, and eventually gets hit by a car, leading to his total explosive liquefaction. Awesome.

Lewis kills Ray Wise (thank God she gets to do something worthwhile) before being shot by Boddicker. RoboCop walks on the water like Jesus before killing Boddicker by stabbing him in the neck. Bye, Kurtwood Smith!

RoboCop tells Lewis that she’s going to be fine (they can fix anything these days) and returns to OCP to once again arrest Dick Jones. This time, he has Jones’s recorded confession. (Which is why you never brag about your evil deeds to a robot, no matter how sure you are of your success.) Dick Jones does not want to be arrested, so he gets a gun and takes The Old Guy hostage. RoboCop informs them that he can’t hurt Dick Jones because of his fourth directive to not harm OCP employees. The Old Guy—who’s really very quick on the uptake—promptly fires Dick Jones, and RoboCop is free to shoot his ass out the window. More unintentional comedy? The puppet that’s supposed to be Dick Jones falling to his death. It’s hysterical.

Finally, the Old Guy commends RoboCop and asks his name. RoboCop says, “Murphy,” with a smile. Awwwww. Happily ever after!

CONCLUSIONS:

Lot of fun, this one. Great action, great gore, great ideas. Well-crafted movie all around. Maybe not the best hero and heroine, though.

MVP:

Kurtwood Smith

TENTATIVE GRADE:

A-

MORAL:

You can’t strip someone entirely of their humanity. Even undead robots feel.

Also: TV is bad. And for Christ’s sake, chew your bubblegum quietly.

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9 Responses to “Dead or Alive, You’re Coming With Me.”

  1. Fatpie42 says:

    Um… she intentionally bursts her bubblegum. It’s as if to say “I’ve got a gun trained on you motherf—er”. What’s stupid about this though is that it’s not at all obvious what she’s supposed to do with him. And yes, standing close enough for him to punch her out using a quick distraction is really stupid. Guns are long range weapons so you’re always best off leaving some distance between you and the target. So yeah, she is a bit rubbish, but the bubblegum wasn’t the problem.

    As for the death, I got the impression that Murphy was unable to let out a sound because having his hand blown off hurt so much.

    Also, I don’t understand why you didn’t like him pre-roboticising. Peter Weller is a fantastic actor.

    You should definitely watch Robocop 2. Robocop 3 is rubbish, but Robocop 2 is actually really good.

    • Hmm. Yes, you’re right about the bubblegum. That was my bad. I still kind of despise her for the moment, though. I get that it’s supposed to be sort of badass, but it really doesn’t work. I don’t think Nancy Allen quite has the charisma for it, maybe. And like you said, the gun is a long distance weapon. What the hell, lady.

      I haven’t seen Peter Weller in much. I did like him in an episode of Fringe he guest starred in, but as Officer Murphy? No, I didn’t care for him at all.

  2. Craig says:

    Ok, I’m with you on almost everything. Excellent movie review of a movie that is often dismissed as a silly shoot ’em up.

    But I have to say, Weller DOES give kind of a weak performance as Murphy, but his performance as Robocop is incredible. Now, I’m a movement teacher, so maybe my POV is skewed, but DAMN if he doesn’t do an amazing job moving around in that suit. His isolations and ticks and starts and stops are amazing. It’s brilliant that anybody can move in such a specific, stylized way in that insane suit while churning out a really strong performance.

    I think we lost appreciation for that in a day when we can just CGI goat legs onto James McAvoy and be done with it.

    • Next time I watch it, I’ll pay more attention to how he moves. I certainly liked Weller better as a robot than, well, a person, but I was thinking more in terms of line deliveries. (I do tend to heavily focus on dialogue. It’s sort of my thing.) I can’t say I paid much attention to his movements on the first viewing, but since I’m not a movement teacher (and that sounds cool, by the way) that’s the sort of thing I’m more likely to notice on repeat viewings.

  3. Akrovah says:

    Gray review overall, though re: Lewis I think I agree with Fatpie. She obviously had a definite intention when she popped her gun. It was juvenile and stupid, but not something I got the impression she did just for the hell of it.

    On Robocop 2 though, I disagree with you Fatpie. I mean it is not a terrible film like 3, but it has no where near the depth and heart of the original.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I watched the scene again and realized that i had remembered it wrong. Still not crazy about the scene, though. I think someone thought the bubblegum would make Lewis seem all badass and hardcore—maybe they were thinking They Live or something—but it’s more reminiscent of a junior high school bully or something. And there is simply no excuse for standing that close and dropping eye contact. Arg.

  4. Teacups says:

    “I am Robocop. Anything you say can and will be held against you in the court of Robocop.”

    I should really see this sometime. It is an action classic, I really liked the “remake,” in Be Kind Rewind, and I kind of suspect Kickpuncher from Community was based on it. I need to see the original so I can appreciate the affectionate cheapo spoofs properly.

    • Kickpuncher!!!!!!

      Well, for my money, I’d recommend Robocop. It had much more going for it than I was expecting. Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting much, but still. I liked it.

      I haven’t seen Be Kind, Rewind yet. I’ve heard so many mixed reviews for that film. Worth it?

      • Teacups says:

        His punches have the power of kicks, and the only thing beyond the reach of his fists is humanity.

        I guess it’s worth seeing, but it really is a mixed bag. I loved the $5 amatuer remakes and Mia Farrow’s sweet-but-slightly-off old lady, and the ending was surprisingly rather poignant. Everything else was just… Not actively objectionable (well, except for Jack Black, he was annoying outside of the remake scenes) but very rarely engaging on any level either.

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