Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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RoboCop

Film #327

THE PLOT

In a dystopic and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally-wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg with submerged memories haunting him.

Year 1, Day 329

BEFORE: With less of a supernatural spin and more of a futuristic science-fiction approach, RoboCop is next on the list. This was recommended to me a while ago and I’m now just getting around to watching it. At least I’m getting to see it before the remake is released next year, although depending on how much I like this film might make me more or less excited for the remake.

AFTER: You’ve all heard the expression, “it’s so bad, it’s good”. Well there’s a fine line between that and just being outright horrible. RoboCop is without a doubt fully on the bad side of that line. It misses the mark on so much and baffles me at how and what people liked about it.

Watching the film I noticed a few things: (1) an extreme commentary on American society (through multiple news broadcasts); (2) excessive amounts of violence and gore; and (3) stunted dialogue and delivery of lines. These could be looked at individually but they are all so present throughout the film, it is as if they are one big problem to address. The commentary (what is apparently satire - more on that later) is the worst offender of them all. Science fiction as a genre, as I believe I’ve stated before on this site, is one that lends itself to social evaluations. By placing things in the future, or some other “universe” than our own, it allows us to look at ourselves in a new perspective; enhance or diminish certain qualities to see what we are truly like. RoboCop however just extracts our war-like, “nuke-em” mentalities and our addiction to commercialization and transplants them to the film without any further work. The result is akin to propaganda. I’m not watching this film to be reminded that we are constantly at war (and like being so) and have commercials constantly rammed down our throats. I already know this; we’re subjected to it everyday through our own televisions. If you want to include these issues, do more than just present them: argue or discuss them. The way these news broadcasts currently are, it’s the most obvious filler and meaningless garbage I’ve seen. Take these out and not even the smallest of details about the RoboCop story are altered.

On top of all this is the violence and the writing. Violence isn’t something that perturbs me. I’ve seen much worse in other films before and seeing people shot to pieces and blood spurting everywhere no longer affects me as much as it should (but our desensitization to violence is a whole other discussion). So when I say the violence in RoboCop is in poor taste, it’s not that I think it’s too excessive. It’s that it’s unnecessarily excessive that it makes it unbelievable. For example, the scene where Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is shot by Clarence Boddicker’s (Kurtwood Smith) gang. There are four or five people with very powerful weapons, that open fire and dispense all their ammunition on Murphy. His hand is blown off his arm and the rest of his body is riddled with gaping holes where the bullets hit. Yet he is still alive and breathing until Boddicker takes a puny little handgun and shoots him once in the head. What this shows is the rest of the gunfire (that should have killed Murphy) was just for “entertainment” but all it really does is show how meaningless it all is. And as for the writing, it is cringe-inducing. The lines the characters speak sound like they are written by children who have learned a few swears and other colloquial phrases. It sounds completely out of place and restricted; like they held back on purpose.

So why do people like this film? The why still confuses me but the what is more clear. Ebert admired the comedy, satire, and philosophy of the film. The Rotten Tomatoes summary seems to concur saying RoboCop is, “a surprisingly smart sci-fi flick that uses ultraviolence to disguise its satire of American culture”. Let me cover just one of these points and why I think these positive words are wrong. Earlier I talked about how the film’s “commentary” was akin to propaganda and I even refrained from calling it the “satire” the critics loved so much. To me, satire involves work. A satirist takes a topic or an issue - our war-driven society for example - analyzes that, and then delivers their own pointed take on the topic/issue to show how stupid or pointless it is. RoboCop however doesn’t do that. It just lifts ideas and puts them in the film; there’s no work being done. It’s one thing to put mentions of war and nuclear bombs in the film, but it’s another thing completely to say something about it. This film doesn’t say anything, and that’s its problem.

One of the more famous lines in RoboCop is, “Dead or alive, you are coming with me.” Watching this film is like being forced to do something against your will. It was painful to sit through this nonsense and in many ways it’s a shame. The idea of a future society with cyborg law enforcement is one ripe with possibilities (just look at The Terminator). While many others seem to have enjoyed this film, I don’t see RoboCop deserving anything more than one star out of five. Joining the prestigious group where Trumbo and Sleeping Beauty are the only other members, RoboCop is a film I regret seeing and will never watch again. It’s going to take a lot to get me to watch the remake next year.

RATING: 1 out of 5