RoboCop 2 (1990) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive violence, drug content, some nudity and language
Running Time: 117 min.
Cast: Peter Weller, Tom Noonan, Nancy Allen, Dan O'Herlihy, Gabriel Damon, Belinda Bauer, Willard E. Pugh, Galyn Gorg, Felton Perry, Leeza Gibbons
Cameo: John Glover, Tzi Ma
Director: Irvin Kirshner
Screenplay: Frank Miller, Walon Green
Review published January 19, 2008
Legendary comic book man Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) takes his first stab at screenwriting with RoboCop 2 to mixed results. Miller does know what made RoboCop popular, with its mix of social satire, action and heavy doses of violence, and keeps this second effort consistent with the tone of the original. However, needless storylines and characters weaken what could have been a solid follow-up, with tedium especially settling in during the climax battle between competing RoboCops that is unsavory and rather ludicrous at the same time. The same post-Reagan era commentary is here -- corporate takeovers, union baiting, rampant drug wars, and political correctness -- it's just not as clever or incisive this time out. Weak villains (and too many, to boot) and sloppy storylines only muddy some already murky waters.
Weller reprises his most famous of roles as RoboCop (now blue, like most police), once known as Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Weller, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days) , and who apparently needs reprogramming now that he has taken to having memories of his former life that has his ex-wife on edge. The corporation that has constructed him, Omni Consumer Products, needs a more reliable model to perpetrate their scheme to privatize the law enforcement throughout the city, as well as other public dominions, but all efforts at a superior RoboCop have ended in failure. New hire, Dr. Juliette Foxx (Bauer, Flashdance), thinks that the problem is that they need a human willing to be the new cyborg, and her scheme is to find someone glad to continue on as RoboCop 2 -- she thinks someone on death row would suffice. While the human cops are on strike and no new working models of RoboCops are on the horizon, Murphy is the only entity that stands between the criminals and good folk of the city, who are especially under threat of terrorism at the hands of drug kingpin Cain (Noonan, Wolfen), whose ultra-addictive drug called Nuke is threatening to make everyone a junkie.
Despite having a veteran director in Irvin Kirshner (Eyes of Laura Mars, The Empire Strikes Back), the stylish wit of Paul Verhoeven is sorely missed, as his ability to mix heavy, gratuitous violence with comedic flair that is second to none. RoboCop 2 is certainly violent, and it is amusing, but Kirshner is rarely able to make them so at the same time the way Verhoeven did. Sometimes the issue is forced, such as when Miller envisions a "politically correct" RoboCop, programmed to be a nice guy to everyone. This certainly has comedic possibilities, but they never quite develop, as we wait for a big payoff to this ridiculous story aside that deflates once RoboCop finally pulls out his gun (shooting at a man for smoking). It also is confusing for Dr. Foxx to want a killer to become the next RoboCop when the public is crying out for a kinder, gentler law enforcement cyborg. If she can just barely control the good one, what makes her yen for putting the worst vermin possible in the suit?
The best moments of the film are ones that remind us of the first film, such as when Murphy struggles with his confrontation with his ex-wife, who is unable to overcome her grief not knowing whether the man that is inhabiting RoboCop's armor is still able to remember her. Such moments were what gave the first film the necessary depth to go from great camp to thoughtful satire, but that aspect is ditched not long after it is introduced. For all of its inability to step out of the shadow of its predecessor, this sequel is adequate much of the way, until it goes into freefall once the RoboCop 2 character is introduced. The final half hour is noisy, sadistic and really shows how weak many of the character actors are in delivering either jokes or menace.
RoboCop 2 isn't far off from the character of Murphy himself, leaving us to wonder whether there is any humanity or original thought going on inside of its artificial surface to redeem it. While certainly delivering bloody action and a few mild laughs, Kirshner isn't quite in tune with Miller's commentary on urban ills, the drug war, or the privatization of our safety net to uncaring corporate entities. Both Kirshner and Miller subsequently claimed that the film's failure had been due to constant studio meddling with the production, and that certainly is evidenced by so many unresolved loose ends in the narrative. Instead of tongue-in-cheek humor we get cartoonish confrontations, and in place of over-the-top style we get relentless amoral displays without irony. The end of the film suggests that the saga will continue, and indeed it does, but at nearly two hours in length, it's hard not to feel cheated that we aren't given a proper end to the struggle when about 70% of the film explores wholly superfluous side plots.
-- Followed by RoboCop 3.
©2008 Vince Leo