Directed by Irvin Kershner.
Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen and Tom Noonan.
R, 116 minutes.
RoboCop 2 uses similar clips of news coverage and satirically charged commercials to position us back in the corporate-run, crime-ridden Detroit of the near future, but from the very start something feels off. The original film masterfully towed the line between action film and science fiction-satire. While this sequel does its best to follow in the same mold, the story isn’t tight enough to decide what it really wants to be and it’s not quite funny enough to make up for how mean-spirited it can get.
Picking up immediately after the events of the first film, we find that that cops of Detroit are still on strike due to their battle with the company who owns them, Omni-Consumer Products, for higher wages and better pension plans. Chaos now runs rampant through the streets, represented in the opening by a clever string of petty crimes culminating in a robbery of a high-tech weapons store. The robbers are spooked to hear police sirens descend upon the scene and they must deal with the one cop seemingly not on strike: RoboCop (Peter Weller). The film follows our cyborg officer from here as he takes on a cult centered around a dangerous new drug called Nuke, led by the charismatic yet delusional Cain (Tom Noonan).
Watching the finished product, it comes as no surprise that RoboCop 2 had a troubled history in the script development stages. After the opening action scene, the story takes several detours on its way towards contriving a big action finale between RoboCop and a deranged monstrosity called RoboCop II, a technological improvement over our hero but dangerous because its consciousness comes from the brain of the aforementioned cult leader.
If this all sounds a little convoluted, it most certainly is. While the first RoboCop film took considerable time away from its titular character in stretches, it did so in the service of a clever narrative that never felt like it was padding itself for a longer runtime.
The film attempts to grapple with the titular character’s humanity (something that was satisfactorily cleared up in the first movie). We have the big corporation trying to make sure the city of Detroit remains bankrupt (eerily prescient for today’s state of things) so they can go ahead on the big Delta City project incited in the first movie. This ties in heavily with the drug kingpin Cain, who “dies” halfway through and faces a similar resurrection given to Alex Murphy in the first film, his “consciousness” installed into a cyborg. There’s also another subplot with the drug lord’s foul-mouthed, twelve year-old sidekick (a really tasteless character who should have been cut out of the movie entirely, no offense intended to the child actor who played him) trying to bail out the city with drug money. Nothing really comes to a head at the end in a way that feels at all meaningful, and RoboCop’s “dilemma” of humanity is seemingly solved with a glib one-liner at the end.
There’s a good movie buried under all this, which makes watching it that much harder to swallow. Inspired moments like the company reprogramming RoboCop to be nicer are rendered mundane when treated like diversions from the plot so other elements can get in a row for the film proper to continue.
RoboCop 2 is an underwhelming sequel. It’s an assortment of ideas and over-the-top violence that feels non-essential and, ultimately, forgettable. The worst was yet to come, however, as RoboCop 3 killed the series dead until its resurrection earlier this year in the form of a remake.
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