You don't really hear a lot about Robocop anymore, but this really was one of the biggest films of the 1980s. For a teenager like me, Robocop was the baddest dude in town back in 1987 - and now, twenty plus years later, he's still pretty much the baddest dude in town. The film really hasn't aged much at all, which came as a pleasant surprise to me. Some of the special effects involving the giant Enforcement Droid (ED-209) aren't impressive as they used to be, and that one shot looking down at someone falling to his death looks absolutely awful, but everything else, especially Robocop himself, works like gangbusters. It's still quite a gritty film, with loads of realistic violence (vintage Paul Verhoeven, in other words). In fact, Verhoeven had to edit out some of the film's over-the-top comic violence just to secure an R rating (and the film was absolutely butchered for its foreign release in several countries). Even the political satire and emasculation of an overly exploitative mass media still ring quite true, as we intermittently watch a couple of newscasters smile and laugh their way through one tragic news story after another. And those commercials! The brand new 6000 SUX that gets an impressive 8.2 miles per gallon, all of the stupid "I'd buy that for a dollar!" ads, etc.
In this film's near-future setting, almost everything has been privatized, including hospitals and the entire police department of Detroit (now owned and run by the megacorporation Omni Consumer Products). The Old Man (Dan O'Herlihy) has long dreamed of replacing Old Detroit altogether with his own marketed utopia, but he needs to get crime under control before he can make Delta City a reality. Senior President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) claims to have the answer - a gigantic, fully automated, heavily-armed Enforcement Droid known as ED-209. Unfortunately, ED's debut presentation runs into a pretty bloody "glitch." In steps Bob "It's All About Me" Morton (Miguel Ferrer) with his own idea of a part-human, part-cyborg super-cop. When newly-transferred Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) gets brutally gunned down by the local crime boss and his henchmen, Robocop is born. He's a darn good cop, as many a criminal lowlife in town soon learns, but there's just one problem - he begins to remember his human past, especially his death at the hands of Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang. Whether or not what is left of Murphy ever recovers a measure of his humanity, though, one thing is certain - the bad guys are going to go down and go down hard.
You'll find a few of the most memorable scenes of the 1980s in this film - the unveiling of ED-209, Robocop's highly skilled shooting of a purse-snatcher using his victim as cover, and the big throw down between Robocop and ED-209. It's a great story with a great script, one that combines humor alongside lots of impressive violence and deep human themes (revenge, humanity, etc.). The acting is also quite good up and down the line, with Kurtwood Smith (best known today as the dad on That 70's Show) turning in a particularly strong performance as a bad guy's bad guy. This could have been nothing more than a high-tech shoot-em-up, and that alone would have made it a big summer box office hit, but Robocop is a much more complex film than you would normally expect, and that is why it continues to stand the test of time very well. This is just a darn good movie any way you look at it.