Robocop (1987)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #568


Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: July 17, 1987
Genre: Cyberpunk/Action
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $13,000,000
Box Office: $53,400,000
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Producer: Arne Schmidt
Screenplay: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Special Effects: Rob Bottin
Cinematography: Jost Vacano
Score: Basil Poledouris
Editing: Frank J. Urioste
Studio: Orion Pictures
Distributor: Orion Pictures
Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Robert DoQui, Ray Wise, Felton Perry, Paul McCrane, Jesse D. Goins, Del Zamora, Calvin Jung, Rick Lieberman, Lee de Broux, Mark Carlton, Edward Edwards, Michael Gregory, Freddie Hice, Neil Summers


Suggested Audio WD40

[1] Kraftwerk “The Robots”

[2] Basil Poledouris “Soundtrack Suite”

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Skin ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Granted, it does a reasonably sound job of holding us together, but there are plenty of downsides to an epidermis. Flaky scalp, eczema, a tendency to bruise – the list of potential ailments is extensive. Then you’ve got the whole tanning issue. Whether spending hours worshiping the sun in an attempt to bronze or slapping on the fake tan and ending up more orange than brown, it’s a wasteful pursuit when there are so many things we could be doing instead. Let’s not get it twisted, I’m not about to break about the potato peeler and remove the troublesome pelt I have been provided. But, should it be suggested, that I could replace said skin with alloy, then it would certainly be worth consideration. No more sunbeds, just a quick respray in any number of shades available. Tattoos may no longer be an option but, who needs body paint, when you’ve got go faster stripes? Being a robot must be somewhat awesome.


That said, it’s not all metallic gloss and reinforced nut baskets. You see, corrosion is also a very real threat and, should water find a way into your circuitry, then you could be back to factory settings in a picosecond. Never again will you be able to enjoy farting in the tub and hovering rain clouds suddenly become your very worst enemy. Granted, hot wax is an option, but so is the scrap heap and, while I’m happy to fill out an organ donor card and donate all my body parts to medical science, the idea of being melted down into AAA batteries once I croak is not one that appeals terribly. I think it would require a fair degree of consideration, possibly listing both the pros and the cons and flipping a coin if it’s a close-run thing.



Alas, for Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), the decision has been taken out of his hands. How’s this for a first day in a new precinct? First he is teamed up with a rookie. That said, said newbie is Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), the kind of law enforcement officer that we all dream of slapping on the cuffs and reading our rights, whilst biting her bottom lip suggestively. But the fact still remains that Murphy hasn’t got years of field experience watching his back. And he could do with that as Detroit, Michigan is in something of a sorry state. Indeed, total capitulation is more fitting as the crime rate is currently through the roof and the city streets far from safe.


However, measures are being taken to combat all this escalated violation. Super power Omni Consumer Products have stepped in with a much-needed master plan and are prepared to run the underfunded Police Department in exchange for the opportunity to transform any less-monied areas into their own independently owned swanky nirvana called “Delta City”. They’re even willing to throw in a state-of-the-art enforcement droid as an additional sweetener, just to ensure that no crime goes unpunished. Granted, it is only a prototype and ED-209 could do with a few tweaks before he hits the mass production line but he’s nothing if not thorough in his procedure.


Okay, so perhaps the drawing board beckons. However, there would be no Nintendo without Sega and, thanks to the super enthusiastic Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), there appears to be another alternative. His experimental cyborg design goes by the name RoboCop and, while Senior President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) isn’t best pleased about having his thunder stolen by a young upstart, the chairman of the board or “The Old Man” (Dan O’Herlihy) if you prefer is more than happy to green light his potential loaded concept. Now all they need is a freshly deceased flatfoot to use as guinea pig and, if the current trend for carnage is anything to go by, they should have one in approximately twelve minutes.


So where does Murphy fit into the equation? Well, if you recall, I was informing you about his lousy day. Let’s just say that it’s about to get a whole lot lousier. In hot pursuit of local criminal kingpin Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his rowdy rabble of degenerates and punks, Murphy and Lewis have managed to track them down to an abandoned steel mill. This would be some coup for their very first patrol together and seems too good to pass up so, with back-up not forthcoming, they make their way inside to bag themselves some meatbags. In the history of ill-thought out plans, this one is right up there with Justin Bieber’s tour of Auschwitz as the rookie does what a rookie does best – fall at the first hurdle – leaving Murphy to slap on a dozen sets of cuffs on his lonesome. These punks aren’t keen on his proposal.


Instead, Boddicker has an entirely different suggestion and it involves donating a ton of shrapnel to his exoskeleton, ending his bright career as a pianist, and sending him directly to the mortuary slab. Needless to say, Murphy isn’t over keen but free will is something he doesn’t have at his disposal. By my estimations, it is seven minutes, which is great news for OCP and the Precinct alike as it saves on the cost of a body bag. Of course, Murphy will be allowed to hold onto his cerebellum and a slither of his digestive system as keepsakes but, other than that, it’s cybernetics all the way. Time for RoboCop to hit the mean streets of Detroit and he’s being eased in with three simple primary directives: Serve the public trust, Protect the innocent, and Uphold the law. There is a fourth but that one’s on a need-to-know basis.


To the delight of freshly appointed vice-president Morton and “The Old Man”, RoboCop is one helluva police officer. Pinpoint accuracy is a given, restroom breaks superfluous to requirements, and crime rates plummeting in no time. Sure, his one-liners are a tad parched, but who needs a GSOH when you can take out the trash in record time? Perhaps the only snag is that he appears to be carrying a dash of emotional baggage and, should RoboCop V.002 be polished for combat, then a motherboard may prove more beneficial than a brain full of memories. Lewis ain’t helping much in that department as show me a man alive that wouldn’t remember her wide eyes gazing at him through his visor and I’ll reveal my third testicle. Murphy is in here somewhere and not entirely content with acting as the Precinct’s alloy puppet.


One recollection he can’t seem to shake is that of being so harshly treated by Boddicker and his goons. This would be all well and good but certain members of OCP aren’t quite as squeaky clean as RoboCop’s chrome dome and appear to be feeding this monkey sly peanuts. While our hero is über-efficient, he’s far too much about the directive to consider turning a bind eye to a dash of corruption and this makes him a threat to both sides. Perhaps ED-209 had the right idea malfunctioning and riddling an executive with bullets after all. I would imagine he weighed up his options and thought “fuck this for a game of air hockey”. Even as a nigh-on indestructible android, Murphy just can’t seem to catch a break. Had I mentioned that his diet now consists of pureed baby sludge? While this alleviates the frustration of queuing at McDonald’s for a Sausage and Egg McMuffin, it’s hardly the cuisine of kings is it?


RoboCop is a rather glorious and exceptionally violent slice of wham, bam, thank you ma’am entertainment that every self-respecting cinephile owes it to themselves to have watched on numerous occasions. However, it almost didn’t make it from the assembly line in the first place. Considered a dud in the making, no director in Tinseltown wished to have their name attached to Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner’s screenplay so it eventually fell into the lap of flying Dutchman Paul Verhoeven instead. While this would provide him with a foot in the door Stateside, even he dismissed it out of hand, believing it to be little more than a mindless action flick. His wife then saved the day by reading between the lines and spotting a trick he had missed. Packed to its gills with satirical subtext and far more than a simple no-brainer, she suggested this was one to discard at his peril and, mercifully, he bought it.


She was bang on as RoboCop has far more to say than “look at my sheeny biceps” and, moreover, is one of precious few blockbusters to emerge around that time that didn’t see fit to pander in exchange for its box-office receipts. Over $50m in returns isn’t bad for a movie of its ilk and inevitably the sequels rolled in soon afterwards. It’s a whole lot of fun, with some ingenious ad break intermissions, oodles of brutality, lashings of dark humor, and enough heart to not feel generic. Moreover, Weller does enough using the precious little tools to emote with at his disposal to make this big deal hunk of metal somewhat sympathetic and Allen is simply sumptuous in uniform. Indeed, everyone plays their part and the result is a movie never anything less than engaging. So are you ready to trade in that skin yet?


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Verhoeven suffered a torrid time trying to convince the MPAA to rethink their original X rating and the satirical commercials were only ever included to help soften the tone some. Meanwhile, much of the violence was neutered and wouldn’t see the light of day until years afterwards. Make no mistake, this is one bloody free-for-all and, with Rob Bottin on effects detail, still holds up decidedly well to this day. Limbs are blown off, bodies absolutely riddled with lead, toxic avengers obliterated by fast moving vehicles, and it’s all done with the bare minimum of taste. Granted, some of the stop motion may be crude by today’s standards but therein lies an unbounded charm.

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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