RoboCop 3 (1993) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for strong violence and language
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Robert Burke, Nancy Allen, John Castle, Jill Hennessy, Remy Ryan Hernandez, Rip Torn, CCH Pounder, Mako, Bradley Whitford
Cameo: Jeff Garlin, Shane Black
Director: Fred Dekker

Screenplay: Frank Miller, Fred Dekker
Review published January 19, 2008

Peter Weller sits this one out (conflicts with another film are cited as the reason) as the helmet and robo-suit are handed over to newcomer Robert John Burke (Hide and Seek, Thinner), who does bear a resemblance, enough to buy him in the role of Murphy, though his average voice pales by comparison to that of Weller's stern and rich delivery.  No matter what you think of Burke in the role, even Weller's presence would not have been remotely close to saving this pathetic third effort from sinking to the abyss of bad movie sequels.  Nancy Allen (The Philadelphia Experiment, Dressed to Kill) returns, but only for the first few scenes, and though she plays a significant role in determining how the film plays out, her character is given short shrift in the development department.

This thinly-plotted movie sees a bankrupt OCP taken over by a Japanese corporation, still pushing forward its dream project of turning the slums of Detroit into Delta City, where everyone can live in peace and harmony, so long as they work religiously for the money-grubbing corporation.  A rebellion is brewing in the city streets, concentrated in the most downtrodden of boroughs, Cadillac Heights.  To combat the last vestiges of resistance, the corporation employs their own special brand of Nazi-like cops known as Rehabs, whose loyalty remains only to the corporation.  Even cops are expendable if they get in the way of progress, as Murphy finds out when he mucks up their plans, resulting in the untimely death of his partner, Anne.  The rebels plan to use Murphy to help in the resistance, but the Japanese owners have a few tricks up their own sleeves in the form of super-ninja robots that would make mincemeat out of Murphy if given half the chance.

One thing to keep in mind as to why this film is much lighter (the first in the series to not only be PG-13, but not to push the boundaries of NC-17) i that the character had already been homogenized for TV viewers in the form of an animated kids show, video games, comics, and other forms of entertainment for the younger set.  Rather than just try to build on the base that existed for the first two films, the creative minds behind this third installment try to incorporate this new base of fans in the hope of a resounding success at the box office.  It ended up being a poor gamble, as the film didn't even gross half of its budget.  The film was even shelved for two years after the downfall of Orion Entertainment, which didn't help momentum.  Fans of the films weren't happy that the doses of satire, black humor, and heavy violence were all but completely stripped away, while the kids who liked the cartoon and video games weren't likely to be in tune with the more vulgar and violent big screen version, with one particularly significant death to a main character they might be too young to readily respond to. 

Burke's version of RoboCop seems much more of a placeholder than anything else, without much in the way of the complexity or subtlety that he exhibited in previous films.  Although Murphy had lost most of his body, he retained part of his soul, but here he feels more like a pat Dudley Do-Right who can only be manipulated through programming and computer chip implants.  He even develops somewhat paternal instincts when dealing with the character of the young girl who plays such a prominent role in the feature.

The cinematography doesn't jibe with the previous films, as Detroit is shown in daylight much of the time, and what was once an amoral hell-like existence of drugs, prostitutes and murderers is now given to punk rockers and homeless.  Basil Pouldouris's (The Hunt for Red October, Protocol) score from the first film returns in part, which at least gives us a reminder of how much we enjoyed the first film, which blended all of these elements to perfection.

Although Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps) is new to the series as a director, he also shares screenwriting credit for essentially retooling (or gutting) Frank Miller's original script to give it more of that broad appeal the producers were striving to achieve -- it would be his last theatrical effort.  Unlike Robocop 2, which was a mostly dour affair, part 3 goes more for laughs, with the kind of vibe you might expect from a campy TV series if based on the same characters.  It just goes to show how masterful Verhoeven is at this genre when the first sequel tried to up it on action and the second on laughs, while the original film bests them both on each count by a long shot.

Although RoboCop 3 is largely a forgettable experience in story, it does feature two things that make it somewhat memorable.  One comes late in the film where RoboCop straps on a jet pack and attacks the baddies from the sky.  The other is a showdown with not one, but two ninja cyborgs created by the evil Japanese corporation that has taken over OCP.  Alas, these two aspects wouldn't even make the top 10 best moments of the original RoboCop, showing how much the potential for entertainment in Murphy's saga had fallen when increasingly ludicrous developments are all that can keep us entertained anymore.

-- Followed by a TV series (1994) and a mini-series "RoboCop: Prime Directives" (2000).

Qwipster's rating:

2008 Vince Leo