Thursday, October 27, 2011

Robocop 2 - Déjà Vu Revue

It's been years since I've seen Robocop 2. The only details I remembered from my childhood is a fight in an arcade, a terrible CG face, and that the main villain is a kid.

So, how did it hold up? Read on!

Robocop 2 is the tale of a man… Scratch that. Robocop 2 is the tale of a city… Robocop 2 is a parable of the perils of… Y'know what? I don't know what Robocop 2 is about. I don't even think Robocop 2 knows what Robocop 2 is about.

The film starts off on territory familiar to viewers of the first film - some heavy handed near-future satire, in which an ad for a car-thief electrocuting anti-theft device leads into the evening news, where pollution and crime are discussed in a blasé manner by the anchors. Here the central conflicts are established: the privatized police force is on strike, and 'Nuke,' "the most addictive narcotic in history" is directly responsible for all manner of violent crimes.

After some heavy-handed foreshadowing "God knows why they want this strike", we get our first look of life on the streets of Detroit. A haggard old lady pushing a cart full of cans is almost knocked down by a speeding car, when a bystander rushes to her side, it's to snatch her purse. As he walks down the street pocketing her belongings, he's set upon by 'ladies of the night', who beat him to a pulp and walk off with his swag past various scenes of other crimes in progress. As they make it to the end of the block, they're engulfed in a sizeable explosion from a gun-store heist in progress. This is the crime that our protagonist intervenes in.

I'm ashamed to admit, but it took another 45 minutes before I realized that this was more of an unintentional parody of the first film than a true sequel. Was anyone paying attention while this was being put together? Characters say the opposite of what they mean: ("When are you going to stop paying the cops so they get back to work?"), lines and grunts are looped in sloppily, and the overall flow of film is so disjointed that even by the time you get to the credits, you're worried that yet another needlessly protracted action scene is going to kick-in. This is likely a consequence of this being a Frank-Miller script - as a comic book series, the ebb and flow might work, but here it's a disjointed mess of poorly-stitched together action sequences.

There's a 15 minute chunk where we see Robocop struggling to shed his former-humanity, stalking his widow and pouting in a fashion unbecoming of a character who killed dozens of people with impunity in the previous scene. When he's finally face to face with his former wife, he lies about not remembering her, and that's the last of it. If Robo is suppressing his humanity, it's kept from the audience too, and the most interesting conflict in the character is ignored. It's a thread from the previous film that probably had to be addressed, but if it was cut for time, it would have resulted in a stronger film.

There are innumerable bits that needed to be edited out of this mess. There's a sequence where Robocop is stripped down, rebuilt, reprogrammed, and fails to stop a electronics shop robbery by a little league team.

I shit you not.

Despite being incapable of even getting his aphorisms straight ("a rolling stone is worth two in the bush") Robo has the presence of mind to run few thousand volts through his body to erase the unwelcome programming additions. Just like that, he's back to work, good as new, except now he's joined on a siege with a load of fleshy cops in tow to soak up bullets for him.

There is so much incongruous about this film, it's hard to know where to begin. Every twitch and flex Robocop makes is accompanied with dramatic whirring and buzzing sounds, every step he takes makes a bassy 'thunk' sound. Despite sounding like a full-dishwasher tumbling down a stairs, he manages to sneak into not one, but two drug-facilities without anyone noticing.

"Shhhhh. I'm being stealthy"
The characterization is similarly preposterous, and the actions of the characters seem motivated only by what set-piece the filmmakers are trying to get to next. Why do the bad guys stop short of destroying Robocop when they have the chance? Why do the police storm the compound with the rebuilt Robocop, even though they previously express their disgust with him for not joining the strike? Why does the lady in charge of the 'Robocop 2' program pick the brain of a drug-addicted serial-murderer to operate a crime-fighting robot?

The mayor character seems to have been written for Eddie Murphy, but since they were unable to get him, they found a Gary Coleman impersonator and got him to do a bad Eddie Murphy impersonation instead.

(That's the mayor on the right)

I don't get what this film is trying to lampoon. Democracy is feeble and corruptible. The free-market is greedy and evil. Everyday heroes are punished for trying to help their fellow man. Humanity is violent and untrustworthy. Technology is dangerous and unreliable. Money is the root of all evil. Money solves everything. Violence solves everything. Representations of liberal and conservative are equally insidious. The world is fucked.


I could go on and on, but I'm just going to rattle off some observations and call it a day. The name of the State Attorney is "Sphincter". The dialogue is atrocious. ("For God's sake, these people are criminals!" - "Why do you have to label people? I hate labels!") It takes 10 cops a great deal of effort to lift Robocop, but a regular motorbike has no trouble supporting him during a high-speed chase. A lady tries to seduce an evil, killer-robot. When OCP (the evil corporation at the heart of everything) are announcing plans to privatize the entire city, the Nazi parallels are just a little too subtle (if you're going to rip off the banners and the uniforms, why not just have everyone goose-stepping around too?). Robocop finds the corpse of Elvis in the gang's lair. After the day has been saved, and picking an appropriate scapegoat, Mr CEO literally steps over the corpse of an innocent bystander on his way to address the media.

Really subtle guys.

So what about my feeble recollections of the film? Yes, the kid briefly serves as the main-villain, but not much is made of it. Yes, we see Robo throwing a fat guy around in an arcade, and yes, the crummy CG face (used to express the emotional state of the evil robot) is not only wholly unnecessary, it's also quite a dumb characterization tool.

It's a bad movie. Scratch that. It's a terrible movie. About halfway through, a character flushes himself out a sewer system to flee from a shootout. I imagine that if I was in the movie-theatre back in 1990, I'd take my chances on a similar escape.

"See you for the sequeeeeelll!"

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