Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, May 21, 2017

RECENT WATCHES: RoboCop 3 (1993)

Orion Pictures were determined to make “RoboCop” into a franchise. After “RoboCop 2's” box office success, the company went right to work on a second sequel. “RoboCop 3” was filmed in 1991, a year after part two came out. Despite disliking how his script was mangled last time, Frank Miller was lured back to write. Fred Dekker, director of cult hits like “Night of the Creeps” and “The Monster Squad,” was hired to direct. A big budget sci-fi/action sequel could've been a breakthrough for the cult filmmaker. Instead, the producers demanded a family friendly flick. Once again, Miller's script was butchered. Orion went bankrupt and “RoboCop 3” wouldn't come to theaters until 1993. When the sequel was finally released, the reviews were bad and the box office was worst.

OCP has fallen on hard times and is facing a corporate buy-out from the Japanese. The mega-conglomerate needs Delta City, the high-tech metropolis built atop Detroit, ready immediately. OCP sends in the Rehabs, their personal army, to forcibly evict the residents out of the city's slums. An underground rebellion has cropped up, to protect the citizens and oppose the Rehabs. While in the area to fight gang members, RoboCop ends up between the Rehabs and the rebels. After Anne Lewis is shot dead, RoboCop finds himself aligned with the resistence and standing against the corporation that made him.

A subplot in “RoboCop 2” took aim at moral guardians who wanted RoboCop to be less ultra-violent. Orion's producers were less self-aware than they appeared. In the wake of “RoboCop: The Animated Series,” a franchise defined by its gore was retrofitted to be kid friendly. Thus, “RoboCop 3” features few squibs and no graphic violence. The toning down doesn't stop there. The satire is reeled way back. We get one satirical commercial, an attempt by OCP to sell the Rehabs to kids. The movie ratchets up the goofiness. Such as the ridiculous mohawked gang members or a sequence where RoboCop drives an exploding pimp mobile. Most embarrassing of all, RoboCop gets a kid sidekick. She's called Nikko and she can't be older than ten. Yet she's such a genius that she can hack ED-209 with ease. She's the worst kind of overreaching kid sidekick, designed to be too precocious, too brilliant.

Despite a script obviously hassled by meddling executives, “RoboCop 3” does start with an interesting idea. A key scene puts the cyborg once known as Alex Murphy in a tricky scenario. On one side is a church full of innocent homeless people. On the other side is OCP's private army. He's pulled between two of his prime directives. How can he both protect the innocent and uphold the law? It's an interesting idea that “RoboCop 3” quickly scraps. After Anne is killed, RoboCop has his programming rewritten so he can get revenge on OCP and the Rehabs. I suppose, if the franchise was going to continue, RoboCop taking on OCP head-on was inevitable. When “RoboCop 3” has the hero marching into the corporate head-quarters with a flamethrower, it's taken things too far.

“RoboCop 3” was made for 10 million less than “RoboCop 2.” This is evident in a few ways. The special effects aren't as strong. ED-209 is still brought to life by Phil Tippet's brilliant stop-motion work. However, the dim-witted robot only appears in two brief scenes. RoboCop doesn't appear on-screen until ten minutes in. He doesn't actually do anything until the twenty minute mark. By the time RoboCop straps on a jet pack, the limitations of the budget become especially apparent. The action, overall, is forgettable. Fred Dekker wanted to hire a Hong Kong stunt team. However, Orion couldn't afford that. So the action is pretty weak, too often reduced to guns going off and people falling down. One really awkward scene has RoboCop shooting a gun out of a bad guy's hand, to embarrassing effects.

Another serious sin “RoboCop 3” commits is recasting the main role. Peter Weller was unavailable, due to filming “Naked Lunch” at the same time. Robert John Burke, a character actor who had starred in two Hal Hartly movies and “Dust Devil” by then, filled Weller's suit. Burke does a decent job of replicating Weller's robotic movement. However, he doesn't bring the same pathos to the part, his hands shackled by a thin script. There's some other talent in the cast. Nancy Allen agreed to appear only if they killed her character off. Allen, fittingly, seems deeply disinterested in what's happening. Rip Torn gets a few funny moments as the gutless CEO of OCP. Mostly, the talented supporting cast – Jill Hennessy, CCH Pounder, Stephen Root, Mako – are wasted in underwritten parts. Hennessy maybe gets the worst of it, as the scientist who befriends RoboCop and the little girl.

In an interview years after the fact, Fred Dekker took full responsibility for “RoboCop 3,” dismissing the narrative that a young director was steamrolled by pushy producers. If you squint, you can see some of Dekker's trademarks shining through. A shot, devoted to RoboCop carrying Lewis' body through a dimly church, recalls Dekker's work as a horror director. The aforementioned OCP commercial is brought to life with some goofy animation, which seems to fit Dekker's style. A plot point that clearly came from Frank Miller are the robot samurais that OCP's Japanese owners send to Detroit. One cool scene has the katana-wielding android straighten his mechanical jaw after getting whacked with a steel pipe. Sadly, this kooky element is underutilized.

“RoboCop 3” flopped but the franchise would continued. A television series would follow the next year, lasting for one season and earning little attention. Even though there's a sea of mediocre “RoboCop” spin-offs out there, the third entry still gets the most hate from fans. Which isn't totally unfair, as “RoboCop 3” is deeply mediocre. It's certainly less awesome than you'd expect a “RoboCop” movie directed by Fred Dekker and written by a pre-insanity Frank Miller to be. If given more time and money, and fewer family-friendly mandates from Orion, those two might've made something special out of this. Instead, they contribute to “RoboCop's” faltering reputation as a series. [5/10]

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