Panic in Detroit: Robocop 3

large_531703With all the problems going on in Detroit at the moment it feels slightly mean to have a go and their favourite son (he who deserves a statue apparently). After all Detroit has given us some amazing things. Axel Foley (no statue), a vast motor industry, Bruce Campbell and Motown.  However today we are here to examine something that Detroit will want removed from its history; Robocop 3. In fact if you asked the people of Detroit what they would rather have, crippling debt or Robocop 3, they would take the former every time as that doesn’t have a fucking ridiculous jetpack.

You would think that after the horrible struggle Frank Miller had with Robocop 2, he would want nothing more to do with Alex Murphy. However he was somehow tempted back. Sadly the end result was the same. Miller said in 2005. “Don’t be the writer. The director’s got the power. The screenplay is a fire hydrant, and there’s a row of dogs around the block waiting for it.” (Miller’s time in Los Angeles inspired him to create Sin City) The script eventually was neutered and Miller swore he would never work in Hollywood again (he didn’t until 2005).

Robocop 3 was offered to Fred Dekker to direct. The filmmakers wanted to make Robocop accessible to kids and Dekker had previously created a kid-friendly film (Monster Squad with Shane Black) that also had elements that would appeal to adults.  Dekker jumped at the chance. He later said, ” I was a big fan of the Verhoeven film, I would have been stupid to turn the job down. Obviously the challenge of a franchise is to fulfill the audience’s expectations while at the same time providing something new. Unfortunately, the saga of Alex Murphy, aka RoboCop, was pretty neatly wrapped up in the first movie: a cop is murdered, resurrected as a cyborg, then avenges his own murder. Case closed. The end. Even though there was a waiting audience for more adventures, there was really nowhere to go except to have Robo clank around and shoot more bad guys (the second movie and subsequent TV sequels have proven this point). In other words, the character’s arc was complete, which meant I was pretty much boned from the get-go. Nonetheless, RoboCop 3 was the most enjoyable movie-making experience I’ve had and, for me, the most accomplished work I’ve done as a director. In other words, if the movie blows, there’s nobody to blame but me.”

Unfortunately for Dekker, the omens were not good from the off. For a start the man who played Robocop wasn’t interested in doing it again. Peter Weller had said many, many times that playing Robocop was about as uncomfortable a job as you can get. Not only do you have the lack of movement associated with the suit, but also the heavy weight-loss due to the amount of sweat that comes with wearing it. Weller was not interested in donning it again and went to be in Naked Lunch instead. Robert Burke was cast instead and given the suit that Weller wore in Robocop 2. Burke has since said that he was more uncomfortable as he was taller than Weller. As you can see here:

Nancy Allen (Lewis) only accepted the role if Lewis would be killed off.  Dan O’Herlihy (who played the Old Man in Robo 1 &2) was nowhere to be seen, and Orion pictures (the studio behind Robocop) was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Dekker had grand ideas for Robocop 3. However his budget, and the order to make the film child friendly meant that most of his ideas didn’t make it into the film. His original intention for the Otomo robot was for it to emulate the classic Hong Kong action films of the past and be choreographed with balletic efficiency. In the end he had to make do with it being a bit shit. “I lacked the budget and the tenacity to get a Hong Kong stunt team to bring that style to an American film the way The Matrix did years later“, Dekker later said.

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Robocop 3 starts off with good intentions, however it very quickly unravels and begins to feel like a made for TV special. OCP is clearing out the inhabitants of Old Detroit and relocating them by force. The “Rehabs” are an armed unit who storm in and give these poor folk their marching orders. They are lead by Paul McDaggett (a woefully miscast John Castle), a man who is so evil he calls a young woman a “stupid slag” later on. Meanwhile OCP is also going bankrupt (art imitating life) and attempting to sell to the Japanese Zaibatsu Kanemitsu Corporation, who intend to carry out the long discussed plan for Delta City, which the “rehabs” are making space for by removing folks from their homes. However there is a resistance movement comprised of aggrieved ex-residents who are fighting back against the “rehabs”. Robocop ends up joining this band of idiots and fights Japanese robots, gets a jet-pack and basically flies off while taking giant shits on the people (like me) who paid to go and see this mess.

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It really is a mess. From the first time Robocop speaks things feel wrong. His voice is obviously different, but there also appears to be a different effect on it and it sounds like he is speaking through a toilet roll holder. Actually, make his voice the second thing that is wrong. The first thing that makes you think things are going wrong is the appearance of the “cyber punks” who attack Lewis. Remember when everything was going to be Cyber Punks? They are basically Dick Tracy bad guys and instantly put the film on a pantomime road that it never recovers from. Then there is the kid. Because this the early nineties, the little kid in this is a computer genius. She is able to plug her laptop into anything and reprogram it. You could have probably plugged her into a cancer patient and she would have got him back on a treadmill, or playing table tennis while laughing within the hour. She makes an ED-209 say stupid things, unlocks any door, and hacks into a national TV station. Can you imagine a child appearing in Robocop? The only kids to have appeared beforehand were in Robocop 2, and that one killed people, swore like a coked-up docker, and sold drugs to prostitutes. This one looks like she has got lost from the set of Sky Kids.

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There are elements in Robocop 3 that still work. They are mostly the humour. Some of the bleak, dark adverts that have become part of the Robocop universe are still here and still work. There are some cartoon adverts that also shine, and a wonderful gag featuring a man robbing a donut shop full of policemen that works very well. The excellent Basil Poledouris score returns from the first film, which lifts proceedings slightly out of the mud each time it makes an appearance. However it’s just the actual film that doesn’t work at all. It fails in every direction it goes. It’s too blunt to be a memorable action film and it’s too boring to appeal to kids.

The film was made very quickly after Robocop 2 and should have come out in 1991. However Orion finally went bankrupt and Robocop 3 languished on a shelf for two years until it was finally released in 1993 to universal disdain. It remains now an awkward third part in an unearned trilogy that has even less justification to exist than the previous sequel. It earned $4 million on it’s opening weekend (it’s budget was an estimated $22 million)

Dekker was once asked what Robocop 3 did for his promising career. He said, “Killed it. Dead. Dogs barking. Tumbleweeds. “Fred who?” The movie was not well regarded. I also think it was a no-win situation. The character that Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner created is a really interesting character. The first movie, the Paul Verhoeven movie, is a great movie. But his personal journey is really over at the end of that first movie, and he isn’t the type of character like James Bond that’s going to necessarily benefit from repeated adventures. In retrospect, we were screwed from the get-go“.

He was quite right. If you ever want to see a very boring film about a freedom fighting robot who can fly for a bit, check out Robocop 3.

Originally posted 2013-08-23 22:41:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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