The Soul of a Blue Machine ROBOCOP

  • Send this man of steel out to terminate the Terminator. He's clean and lean, with the soul of a blue machine -- an incorruptible, indestructible cop. Shoot him and he barely gets dented; bribe him and he turns you in. With a gait as clangorous as "Duke" Wayne's, he walks down the mean streets of tomorrow's Detroit, scaring felons with the cool metallic whisper: "Your move, creep." Who is this electronic enforcer? Flint Beastwood? Not quite. Because somewhere inside his mind's computer circuitry, images linger: of a smiling wife, of an adoring son, of the too human policeman he once might have been. Before he became . . . RoboCop.

    This movie is a handsome machine too, but with a dark, cynical streak. / RoboCop means business -- Big Business. Its plot describes a marriage of venality between psycho punks and white-collar killers, to rule a city in the near nightmare future. One exec (Ronny Cox) has devised a robot, ED 209, to patrol the streets, but ED is too slow in the brain and too fatally quick on the draw. So another schemer (Miguel Ferrer) assembles the spare parts of a mangled policeman (Peter Weller), fuses them with some state-of-the-art plumbing and creates a bionic bobby. For a while, RoboCop works much better. Can't be trusted, though. Has feelings and, maybe, a mind of its own.

    For just $13 million, Executive Producer Jon Davison (Airplane!) has put together a sci-fi fantasy with sleek, high-powered drive. And Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director (Soldier of Orange) making his Hollywood debut, has polished the look of the film until it is seamless and pretty near soulless. Hubcaps slice off a speeding car like saw-toothed Frisbees, and gruesome death is just another way of saying "That's life." No wonder the film was almost rated X for violence; it is crazy in love with the imagination of disaster. It wants to caress the special effect of one man whose hand has been blown off, and send another crashing in loving slo-mo through the window of a 95th-floor executive suite. RoboCop blows up real good.

    And the performances match the tone. Cox and Ferrer are two sides of the same counterfeit corporate coin, and Kurtwood Smith (the most prominent punk) is one baaad malefactor. Weller, as the one good gunslinger in town, manages to convey emotion through the merest slit in his helmet. But the film is less an actors' showcase than a smart, grim satire. The only TV program to be seen is a slapstick variety show. Commercials peddle the 6000 SUX, the car of the future that brags about getting only 8.2 m.p.g., and a holocaust home-video game called Nukem. Giggly anchors read news flashes about, say, a Star Wars misfire that totaled Santa Barbara and killed two ex-Presidents.

    Nobody wants every adventure picture to be as tame as a Spielberg cuddly toy. But RoboCop's pleasures are cold comfort. The thrills it elicits could have been generated by a very bright computer. The laughter it provokes catches in the throat like a nettle from the bottom of a popcorn box.