“Will you find what you were searching for, Or did you bury the dream?”

robocop

As well-regarded as Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is, it’s amazing people forget how perfect it is. Balancing science fiction, action so violent it could only be 80s, biting satire, and even religious allegory, nothing in the movie is wasted. The death and billion-dollar resurrection of Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) recalls the Jewish myth of the golem as much as it does pulp hero The Lone Ranger, life from death and animate from inanimate. Set amidst the backdrop of a cartoon version of 80s America (the faulty ED-209 robot and an insipid sitcom with the catchphrase “I’d buy that for a dollar!” are running gags), the roboticized Murphy becomes a blunt tool for the military-industrial complex (Dan O’Herlihy’s well-meaning Chairman, blind to cutthroat execs played by Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer). Murphy’s former life–a wife and son, his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) and murder at the hands of villain Clarence Boddicker (the wonderful Kurtwood Smith)–is a haze seen in dreams which blend into his digital video vision. These and certain tics (Murphy’s driving habits and iconic gun twirl) signify his personality endures beyond physical form. It’s dormant beneath programming, but there (similarly, Detroit’s citizens seem conditioned to enjoy the sitcom). While Peter Weller is rightly remembered for various deadpan lines like “Your move, creep” and “Come quietly, or there will be…trouble,” it is his body language which makes his Robocop performance worth repeated viewings. Hidden behind a metal helmet for most the film (like Judge Dredd), Weller communicates Murphy’s awakening with subtle lip quirks and minor deviations from the tunnel vision stride he is programmed for, climaxing in an angry outburst when he goes to his family’s abandoned home. Like Detroit, he’s numbed and broken by self-serving interests, but the person is still there. And a person is beautiful.

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