By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Robert John Burke, Maria Machado, Remy Ryan, Rip Torn, Mako, Jill Hennessy, and Nancy Allen
I have never understood the tendency for studios to take an established R-rated franchise and make a PG-13 rated sequel. Reason being, if teenagers and pre-teens see the film and enjoy it, won’t they want to make their very next stop the video store so they can rent the previous, R-Rated predecessors? Nonetheless, with Orion Studios flat on their heels and drowning in bankruptcy, they decided to take the baffling step of making one of their only successful franchise players into kid friendly fare. And from the outset, when we see young girl Nikko (Ryan) driven from her home by greedy land developers (aided by a wrecking ball in the first, but certainly not last, bad special effects set piece), we know exactly what we are in for. What is that, you ask? Truth is, I do not believe Robocop 3 to be the put upon pariah most fans make it out to be. I think there are some pretty decent concepts here. The at the time timely sub plot involving Japanese/American relations melds in a not entirely cohesive, yet somewhat entertaining way. The big problem with Robocop 3 lies in its overall execution, and watching it makes one realize just how important Verhoeven’s vision was to making a man in a metal suit fighting crime seem relevant.
It must be said that given what he is given, I feel that director Fred Dekker (Monster Squad) did what he could. He had to take a script from pre-sequel scribe Frank Miller, narrow it down to a teen friendly audience, and make a film that is entertaining for all ages. That is a tough task, and one that I do not wish on anyone. Miller, in essence, completely disowned this film. And while he is FAR from one of my favorite people, I can see bits and pieces as to reasons why he feels this way. When Nikko makes a (very small looking) Ed-209 be her ‘puppy,’ it is readily apparent that this is not going to be your father’s Robocop film.
Now, Dekker tries his damnedest to create memories of what we loved so much in the first film. He withholds Robocop’s entrance until about fifteen minutes in. He shows some flashbacks to the first film, including when Murphy was first killed, to try to up his own story. He includes a cameo of the much remembered ‘I’ll buy that for a dollar’ commercial. He even takes a bit from Verhoeven and injects a few Jesus metaphors here, as bright light shines on Lewis (Allen) while Robocop carries her lifeless body through a church. But the problem is the more Dekker reminds us of that film, the more we realize just how unlike the rest of the franchise this film is. In essence, he is making us miss that first film instead of enriching his own story.
Of course, none of these storylines make sense. And this is where Robocop 3 gets into major trouble. Burke, thrown into a role that for two films was inhabited by an actor who didn’t want to be there, is now at the mercy of a story that involves him fighting a ninja. Well, I guess ‘fighting’ is a strong word, as the battle that ensues between Robocop and Mako is perhaps the most slow motion I have seen since a Zack Snyder film. And Snyder’s was intentional.
Are there good things to be found here? As stated earlier, I thought the inclusion of Japanese/American relations was a nice touch. And there is the welcome return of Basil Poledouris as the film’s composer. Even if the themes from the first film are almost absent, at least the heroics of the musical themes aren’t. But let’s be honest. This is a toned down shadow of what used to be. The humor is more slapstick than dark (‘kiss my freckled butt’), and the very badly CGI rendered Robo-jetpacks come off as nothing but toy fodder. Yes, the final action scene is a knock down drag me out battle. But by this time, I was already knocked out.