Review: RoboCop 3 (1993)

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ROBOCOP 3
Rated PG-13 / Color / 104 minutes
Directed by Fred Dekker
Also Known as: RoboCop 3 – Fora da Lei
Purchase it: Amazon.com (DVD) | Amazon.com (Blu-ray)

After earning a profit of about nine-million dollars with the release of ROBOCOP 2, Orion Pictures went ahead and began production of ROBOCOP 3 the following year. It was shot in 1991, with the intention of a release in ’92, but the film didn’t come out until ’93. The delay this time wasn’t caused by a writer’s strike, as was the case with the previous movie.

Instead it was the bankruptcy of Orion Pictures that caused ROBOCOP 3 to get shelved until its eventual theatrical release. When it finally did see the light of day, ROBOCOP 3 tanked at the box office, and only managed to make back half of its budet. The film was critically panned, and to this day, is blamed for the death of the franchise. But is it really all that bad?

Kicking off some time after the events of ROBOCOP 2, OCP is in the process of conquering Detroit. Utilizing a small army of mercenaries referred to as “Urban Rehabilitators“ (henceforth known as “Rehabs”), the financially troubled mega-corporation is ousting citizens to make room for the development of DELTA CITY.

But all is not going according to plan because a group of rebels has formed and is intent on fighting for their homes. Led by Bertha Washington (C.C.H. Pounder), the rebels plan on halting OCP’s demolition of Cadillac Heights until the corporation’s loans are called in. If they can hold out for three more days (from the start of the film), OCP will have to back off, and fall into complete financial ruin.

But the rebels will not have an easy time of it. Desperate to get things back on track, OCP’s new owners, the Katemitsu Corporation (headed by Mako!), send the mysterious Otomo (a.k.a. Super samurai cyborg) to track down and deal with the pesky rebels. But wait, isn’t this a Robocop movie? What the hell is Murphy up to during all of this? Well he battles violent street gangs (e.g. The Splatter Punks), nearly has his emotions blocked by a computer chip (after he ignores orders and saves Anne Lewis from murderous gang members), and ends up joining the local freedom fighters.

robocop 3 review02

“I joined this rebellion because OCP took my stapler, and repeatedly moved my desk!”

Robo sides with the rebels when evil Rehab leader Paul McDaggett (John Castle), tries to oust some unarmed folks from a church. Murphy and Lewis refuse to budge from the doorway, so McDaggett and his men open fire on them. Lewis dies in Murphy’s arms (“Get them for me. Promise me.”), and the sullen cyborg takes a grenade to the chest, causing critical damage to his system.

Robocop manages to escape with his newly discovered allies, but he is mostly useless. As his robotic body begins to shut down, Murphy tells an orphaned girl/ridiculously talented computer hacker named Nikko, to retrieve Dr. Lazarus (Jill Hennessy).

Nikko comes through for Murphy, and after receiving a new robotic heart (and getting a little body work done) he is as good as new. Shortly after his surgery, Robocop remembers the promise he made to Anne, and wages war against the Rehabs. After burning down their headquarters, Murphy goes after McDaggett and finds him in a seedy hotel room, buying information from a rebel named Coontz (Stephen Root).

McDaggett flees with Robo in hot pursuit, but he manages to escape. Robo’s failure to capture (or kill) McDaggett allows the villain to perform a raid on the rebel’s base, where many of the insurgents are either captured or killed. Not long after that, Robocop returns to the rebellion’s empty headquarters and squares off against Otomo. The more advanced Japanese cyborg outclasses Robocop, but fails to finish off its target. Just as Otomo is about to deliver the coup de gras to Murphy, our hero fires a rocket from his multi-weapon hand attachment, and blows off Otomo’s head.

Suffering from low power after his duel with the samurai-bot, Robocop crawls across the concrete floor towards his salvation: A prototype jetpack designed to fly him around Detroit AND serve as a recharging station! (Good thing the rebels snagged it from a police armory earlier in the film!)

"My super gun arm and jetpack only exist to sell action figures to bratty American kids!"

“My super gun arm and jetpack only exist to sell action figures to bratty American kids!”

In the meantime, Johnson (now the Vice President of OCP, mainly because he has outlived everyone else) attempts to recruit the police to help the Rehabs finish clearing Cadillac Heights. Sgt. Reed (Robert DoQui) refuses, and walks off the job, taking dozens of officers with him.

Unperturbed, Paul McDaggett enlists the aid of local gangs to help him finish clearing the city for OCP. He supplies the punk rocker criminals with guns and body armor, then marches on Cadillac Heights. The combined forces of the gangs and Rehabs prove to be too much for the defecting police and rebels to deal with.

But just as all hope is lost, a sonic boom hits the street and Robocop flies in to save the day. The airborne cyborg crimefighter makes short work of the invading mercenaries, then flies off to OCP headquarters, where he has his final showdown with McDaggett, and a pair of Otomo robots.

In the end, Murphy saves the day (with a little help from Nikko’s hacking skills), avenges Lewis, and escapes from OCP tower just before it blows up. (Note to future villains: If you plan on having two sword-wielding robots battle your foes, make sure the nuclear bombs inside of them are turned off, or at least have the off switch within easy reaching distance, you know, just in case all of your evil machinations fail.)

As the film closes, Robocop delivers a really bad one-liner (“My friends call me Murphy. You call me, Robocop!”), and drives a final nail into this franchise’s coffin.

Robocop realizing that he's not Peter Weller.

Robocop realizing that he’s not Peter Weller.

Growing up, ROBOCOP 3 was my Robo-film of choice. Since it was PG-13, it lacked the over the top violence of its predecessors, which made it cool in my parents’ book. I watched the everliving shit out of this movie, and looking back, that’s probably why I look at it with kinder eyes than most. As bad as it is, I still find it to be enjoyable. It’s really easy to bring up all the negative things about ROBOCOP 3, so allow me to discuss the positives first.

Rob Bottin (and his crew) created the Robocop armor and did some effects work, Phil Tippet did the stop-motion f/x for ED-209 (plus his studio handled some of the computer graphics in the film as well), and Rocco Gioffre’s matte painting skills were once again utilized. On top of that, composer Basil Poledouris made his triumphant return to the franchise and orchestrated the film’s score, resurrecting his classic “Robocop Theme.”

Noticeably absent from the proceedings is actor Peter Weller, who couldn’t do the film because he was shooting NAKED LUNCH at the time. His departure was a huge loss for the seemingly doomed production, but surprisingly Robert John Burke isn’t a terrible replacement. He kind of resembles Peter Weller, and does a serviceable job mimicking the movements for the character that Weller had perfected. This is doubly impressive considering that the RoboCop suit was not tailored for Robert Burke, meaning he was in frequent discomfort during the shoot.

Still, the suit wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as when Robert John Burke was forced to put on blackface and sing about his "Robo-Mammy."

Still, the suit wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as when Robert John Burke was forced to put on blackface and sing about his “Robo-Mammy.”

This probably also explains why this ROBOCOP 3 is not very RoboCop-centric. It made sense not to see Robocop at the beginning of the original, but not so much here. He’s the title character and he doesn’t show up until almost a quarter of the way through the movie! Even after Robocop finally gets in on all the action, he’s still not seen on the screen as often as he should be. He’s nearly relegated to being a supporting character!

Despite the lack of Peter Weller, several other supporting and minor characters that we all loved in the previous films, have returned. Nancy Allen is back as Anne Lewis, and only because she wanted to be killed off in the film. Robert DoQui returns as Sgt. Warren Reed, though it seems his character has calmed down a lot since his introduction in the 1987 film.

I liked that his role was beefed up in this movie, and that he was given more to do than just yell at people in the precinct all day. I always felt that he was an underutilized character in this franchise, and it’s good to see that some attention was given to him.

Felton Perry reprises his role of Johnson, who is now Vice President of OCP. Sadly, his role has been chopped down significantly to the point where it feels like an extended cameo. Another actor I was happy to see in this movie was S.D. Nemeth, who portrays Detroit TV comedy sensation Bixby Snyder. (a.k.a. The “I’d buy that for a dollar!” guy.) He was noticeably absent from the previous film, and though his presence here isn’t necessary, it is appreciated!

The film was helmed by Fred Dekker, who is best known for the cult hits NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE MONSTER SQUAD. Though his earlier films are beloved now, they apparently didn’t do much to further his career as a director. Doing a ROBOCOP movie probably seemed like a definite step in the right direction when he landed the gig, but in the end, all it did was make his filmmaking career deader than the RoboCop franchise.

I actually got to meet Fred Dekker (and Tom Atkins) at a small event in Rochester, NY years ago, and told him that I actually liked ROBOCOP 3. His response? “Well thanks, that makes you and some Asian kid I met a few weeks ago.”

Pictured: "Some Asian kid" .... with lockjaw.

Pictured: “Some Asian kid” …. with lockjaw.

With all the returning cast and crew, a genuinely talented director in charge of the production, and a decent replacement for the lead actor, one has to wonder where it all went wrong. What exactly caused this production to fall apart and become the most hated Robocop film of all time? I think a good chunk of the blame can fall on the screenplay, which seems to take some inspiration from 1983’s ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX. (Better known to all of you MST3K fans as ESCAPE 2000!)

Originally penned by Frank Miller, who was still looking to make a name for himself in Hollywood (which wouldn’t happen until the release of SIN CITY in 2005), the script went through several rewrites. I’m not quite sure if anyone else tampered with it (other than director Fred Dekker) but there are some truly awful one-liners and a lot of clunky dialogue in this movie. Here’s an example:

Anne: “Are you ok Robo?”

Murphy: “I’m fine. And call me Murphy.”

What?! She’s the only person that called him Murphy from the get go. Why the hell would she call him Robo?! This is awful dialogue written by someone who clearly didn’t understand the characters, or their relationship. And speaking of which, the bit of chemistry that Anne and RoboCop had in the two previous films is non-existent here. Now I can totally understand why Nancy Allen didn’t sign on to be in the film until she was assured that her character was going to die.

And truthfully, Lewis’ death is one of the things the film does right, because it keeps the revenge motif from the previous films going. It also gives Robocop an actual motivation to fight against OCP and the Rehabs, since there really is no other reason to jump in and help the violently rebellious locals. His conscience aside, he does still have to uphold the law.

Nancy Allen is BRIDE OF ROBOCOP!

Nancy Allen is BRIDE OF ROBOCOP!

As far as villains go, Paul McDaggett, the leader of OCP’s Rehabs (played by John Castle) is acceptable. While he is a far cry from the highly volatile Clarence Bodikker, or the sadistic, yet mellow Cain, he provides a decent adversary for RoboCop to battle. McDaggett’s chief motivation is greed (he is a mercenary after all), and he proves to be a rather cold-hearted bastard that doesn’t mind shooting someone to get his point across.

I also like that he prefers a front-row seat to all of the action, and even trades gunfire, mano y mano with RoboCop during a car chase. You’d think he’d drive the getaway vehicle, or at least sit in the passenger seat and yell commands at his lackeys, but you’d be wrong! He puts on a helmet and body armor, then blasts RoboCop’s commandeered pimp-mobile to pieces!

The secondary villain in this film is Otomo, a Japanese-made cyborg (played by Oregon-born Bruce Locke) that looks human and moves far quicker than the outdated man-tank known as RoboCop. Seeing as how Robo faced a cyborg in the previous film, it comes as no surprise that they’d have him fight another here. However, Otomo is not utilized properly and never feels like a legitimate threat.

In fact, he ends up eliciting more laughs than thrills when he’s on the screen. I crack up every time I watch the scene where Otomo’s jaw is dislocated with a lead pipe by a rebel, or when his face becomes a jigsaw puzzle after RoboCop blasts him with a machine gun.

Not quite suicidal cyborg funny, but close!

Not quite suicidal cyborg funny, but close!

ROBOCOP 3 is easily the weakest of the original trilogy, but it shouldn’t be written off entirely. It was a rushed production with a weak script, that was forced to cater to a wider (i.e. younger) demographic. The biggest problem with it, is that the film takes a lot of the focus away from the central character.

The series has always been about Murphy’s trials and tribulations as he dealt with his new second life as a cyborg. This movie ignores all of that, and actually kind of robs Murphy of his personality. Instead of being a modern age Frankenstein Monster, he’s now just a generic robot hero with lots of cool gadgets.

Instead, the cause of Detroit’s rebels is the focal point of the film. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the bulk of the cast wasn’t so damned forgettable! Aside from the main villains, very few people actually stand out. Surprisingly, Dr. Lazarus, played by Jill Hennessy, is one of the best characters in this film! She is cute, feisty, smart, and has more personality than the majority of the cast. In fact, if this weren’t a Robocop movie, she would probably be the real hero, with Murphy as her sidekick.

Despite all the missteps this film takes, I can’t help but like it. Yes, you read that correctly, I LIKE ROBOCOP 3! I will agree that it is severely flawed, but it’s not without its merits. There’s a lot of intended humor in ROBOCOP 3, and some if it actually works. Plus, the special effects in this aren’t too shabby. Even the sequences where Robo is flying around look pretty good!

Toss in some fake commercials and newscasts, a bunch of familiar faces, and a new, yet familiar score, and you have the recipe for a watchable (and relatively kid-friendly) RoboCop sequel.

FRED DEKKER'S THE ELIMINATORS!

FRED DEKKER’S THE ELIMINATORS!

Maybe it’s purely nostalgia, but I can’t hate this movie as most RoboCop fans typically do. Had it been a stand alone film, and not part of a franchise, I think it would have had a better reception from critics and the general public. But as it stands, it is Orion’s (and sadly, Fred Dekker’s) biggest blunder. Though I know many will disagree with this, I hereby award the much-maligned ROBOCOP 3: