1990 - R - Mins.
|Director: Irvin Kershner
|Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Daniel O'Herlihy, Tom Noonan, Gabriel Damon
|Review by: John Ulmer
"RoboCop" is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures, the type of rare action movie that takes no prisoners and never lets up for a single moment until the ride is over, and when the credits start to fill the screen you just let out a big sigh of relief--not because it was a bad film, but because you survived the ride.
"RoboCop 2" is a bit different. Gone is Paul Verhoeven at the helm of the film and filling in for his absence is Irvin Kershner ("The Empire Strikes Back"). The film is violent, perhaps a bit more so than the first in certain areas overall, but it lacks the hard, almost unexplainable solid edge the first film had--the sharpness that pierces you as you watch the film like a knife blade. "RoboCop 2" has a dull blade. The first has a great effect. This does not. There's violence without reason, reason without explanation, and explanation without effect.
Detroit is worse off than it was in the last film--men bash little old ladies with cars and steal their loot; hookers stab men in the eye to steal cash; stores are blown up and rampages by little league players and the captain of the team even occur. Police are on strike because they claim the city is screwing them over--only RoboCop (Peter Weller), Lewis (Nancy Allen), and a few other policemen/women remain.
There's a new drug on the rise called "Nuke," manufactured and sold to the public by Cain (Tom Noonan) and his young apprentice (Gabriel Damon), who looks about 11 or 12 but talks with the language of a Quentin Tarantino character and kills innocent human beings mercilessly. Oh, but when he dies we're supposed to feel sorry for him because then he's a cute little mortally-wounded boy.
RoboCop chases down Cain and, after what seems two hours into the film, finally catches him. But Omni Corp, the corporation we saw in the first film, wants a new RoboCop, so they shut down life support on the dying Cain, take his brain and stuff it into a new RoboCop, referenced to so originally as "RoboCop 2," hence the title of the film. (My suggestion is that in "RoboCop 4," they should create a cyborg called RoboCop XP, and he can have lightning-fast reflexes and a built-in wireless broadband modem so he can check his e-mails and surf the 'Net while he's on the go.)
Funny how Alex J. Murphy, a.k.a. RoboCop, never looked too scary when stuffed into his metal suit. He looked friendly and almost approachable. But RoboCop 2, when finally shown to us, is a big, hulking beast with massive mounted weapons and ugly characteristics. In short, he looks evil--a problem, if you think about it, since the intention of the cyborg is, in the first place, to bring peace and harmony to the streets. Not to scare away everyone and get involved in land wars.
And putting a homicidal drug dealer's brain inside a giant-sized robot law enforcer with machine gun capabilities and weapons of mass destruction probably isn't a very good idea, but the thought never crosses the minds of Omni Corp. The chairman of Omni Corp (Daniel O'Herlihy) produces RoboCop 2 to the public, but RoboCop already realizes RoboCop 2 is dangerous and so he appears at the unveiling armed with a huge gun.
RoboCop 2 goes haywire and kills everyone. The entire sequence is done in cheesy Godzilla animation but, to be quite honest, it didn't look all that bad. He and RoboCop duke it out on top of buildings and in elevator shafts and on the ground outside Omni Corp, where an uncountable number of police officers (hey, weren't they on strike?) are left firing at this indestructible--and very bulletproof--machine that unfortunately does not have an OFF switch in sight. ("Turn it off!" he says. "I can't!" she says. "You idiots!" I say.)
So many loose threads are left dangling in "RoboCop 2," and so many subject matters that I wanted sorting out after seeing the first film. But there isn't any hope in sight. After a brief moment that hints towards the central idea that RoboCop may still be human after all (wasn't that sorta established in the original?), everything is dropped for the action set pieces to move in, such as a car chase with RoboCop and Cain, or the end finale that goes on too long. But RoboCop is seen spying on his wife in the beginning, and we find out that she has gone through serious trauma over this whole thing. She confronts him at the police station and out of decency he insists her husband is dead. But we see the look of remembrance and remorse in his eyes.
That's the storyline I would like to follow. I'd like to follow RoboCop's journey to find himself again, to recover lost memories floating around in that big brain of his. To confront his wife and tell her that he remembers her, to add a human element to the story that was so clearly demonstrated in the original but completely lost here. Kershner obviously wants to mimic Verhoeven. But Verhoeven knows how to equally balance action and excessive gore with social satire and the ongoing human battles, relevant to the action battles. Remember in the first film when RoboCop went through his house and his eyes started to flood with past images and faded memories? Nothing like that is done here. We simply get some cheesy flashback in the beginning when Alex (pre-RoboCop) is laughing with his wife in a very non-candid and dubious sort of way. As I saw this sequence, I just sat in my seat waiting for the word "Hallmark" to appear in gold font across the screen.
"RoboCop 2" isn't an entirely bad motion picture, in fact it's OK to a certain extent, but so much of what could and truly should have been taken into consideration here isn't. Paul Verhoeven's film not only had the human elements I previously discussed but also a wicked sense of humor. "RoboCop 2" tries to duplicate all this with its slightly humorous TV ads, but it lacks the heart of the original. I suppose they thought that future sequels would sort out loose threads, but no film can leave so many shoelaces untied. (Was that a good analogy?)
"RoboCop" left open the possibility that the machine might be hiding in the man. "RoboCop 2" tells us that there's a man hiding inside the machine. Which is it? I'm not interested in excessive violence--yes, it gave the first film its edge, but Verhoeven knew how to combine elements and make a full-out action movie while keeping true to the fact that RoboCop was, after all, very human, and he had emotions. This film may be more dark and violent, but Verhoeven made his version seem even more so, because a character getting cut open with surgical tools isn’t too gruesome if we are yawning. When we are on the edge of our seat and someone is cut open from the neck down, then we're puking. Verhoeven knows this. Verhoeven played to this in the first film. These sequels should have been touched by no one but him, not even an accomplished director such as Kershner.
As for all the loose threads left open in this film and supposedly not touched in the third movie...let's all hope that when Paul Verhoeven said he wishes to return to the series he wasn't lying. I'd love to see this franchise closed in a more honorable fashion. "RoboCop 2" is an OK movie for a Friday night crowd, but in comparison with the original, it's about as cold as RoboCop's facial tissue and as cloudy as RoboCop's memory.
Other notes for fans: The theme song has been radically altered from its original version, and has nowhere near the same effect as the original soundtrack for "RoboCop" (1987) supervised by Verhoeven. Also, RoboCop (Peter Weller) now walks much more stiffly than in the first film and he looks almost goofy--Weller did a great job in the first, and though he still has the robot move down pat, his walking motions are too comical. And the gray RoboCop armor is now blue and very round, making RoboCop look like an obese blueberry rather than the super sleek machine he did in the original.