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Robocop: The Criterion Collection

Voyager Home Video

Starring Peter Weller and Nancy Allen

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

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Try this on for a fantastic sci-fi scenario: In the near future, Detroit — once a thriving industrial capital — is run down to the ground by rampant crime, drugs, and slums. Not much of a stretch so far. Who's in charge of revitalizing this fallen city? Callous corporate politicians willing to cheat, lie, and kill to gain power. Doesn't sound like much of a fantasy at all, does it?

This is the setting of Robocop, a sophisticated comic book bloodbath that finds much of its effect in the simple, sardonic sci-fi tweaking of reality. The understaffed police force charged with executing the law in "Old Detroit" is under an antagonistic privatized management, the cold corporate heads of OCP. With the lure of scoring a big deal involving multi-billion dollar military contracts, two of OCP's top weasels propose competing technological alternatives to the common cop.

The favored prototype of ED209, a top-heavy, growling robot monster cop designed by Jones (Ronny Cox), gets off to a poor start, errantly gunning down an OCP executive during a mock arrest demo. ED209's failure opens the door for Morton's (Miguel Ferrer) idea: a human/robot synthesis. All he needs is a real cop to robotize.

Murphy (Peter Weller) is that cop. While chasing a violent gang with his partner Lewis (Nancy Allen), Murphy is captured. The gang brutally (and graphically) blows him to pieces. His remains — property of the Detroit Police Department, and therefore property of OCP — are fitted within a new, mechanical framework, and what's left of his brain is erased and integrated with a digital memory, programmable to follow certain supposedly law-based directives.

This new supercop is a success: an unstoppable, unflappable, hi-tech enforcement machine, which earns him the enmity of the weary police he's been designed to replace. There are a couple of other glitches in his programming, however. Like when Murphy's memories begin to resurface, or when he targets the criminals he wasn't meant to track down.

It would be easy to classify Robocop as a comic-like action movie, but rarely does that genre aspire to anything near the social satire and commentary director Paul Verhoeven instills in his movie. Robocop the movie is as efficient as its eponymous hero. It does not belabor the futuristic details of its world, as too many sci-fi films do, nor does it vainly attempt to explain the impossible technology that makes its namesake run. It simply introduces Robocop, establishes the corrupt world in which he operates, and then the bullets fly.

Verhoeven is also careful not overemphasize the corporate and cultural satire in Robocop, which could easily turn heavy-handed (if, say, Oliver Stone had been at the helm). The movie's take on privatized law enforcement, technological progress, and popular media are sly, amusing, and complicated. The benefits and drawbacks of each are explored, even if somewhat shallowly. It's an action film that might actually provoke conversation longer than, "That was a cool explosion," and it could also be fun to watch with Libertarians.

Where Verhoeven does get carried away is with his violence. This version is the original "director's cut" the MPAA was prepared to slap with an X-rating for its scenes of graphic brutality and bloodletting. While the Dutchman insists that the excessive gore in Robocop is intended to unsettle the most desensitized viewer, his R cut still accomplished that plenty. The rest feels like undisciplined editing. Still, when he uses his panache for the revolting creatively, as in the vivid demise of "the melting man," it's possible to appreciate his twisted genius even as your stomach turns.

As usual, Criterion has decked out this edition with some awesome bells and whistles. A good RSDL 1.66 widescreen and Dolby 2.0 presentation are supplemented by one commentary track featuring director Paul Verhoeven, co-writer Edward Neumeier, and executive producer Jon Davison. Extras also include a film-to-storyboard comparison, an illustrated essay on the making of Robocop, plus theatrical and teaser trailers.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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