Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory line and MGM have released on Blu-ray ROBOCOP 3, a special collector’s edition of Orion Pictures’ final 1993 entry in the ROBOCOP trilogy, co-written by director Fred Dekker and Frank Miller, and starring Robert Burke, Nancy Allen, Rip Torn, John Castle, Jill Hennessy, C.C.H. Pounder, Mako, Robert Do’Qui, Remy Ryan, Bruce Locke, Stanley Anderson, Stephen Root, Felton Perry, Bradley Whitford, and Daniel von Bargen. A big money loser for its bankrupt movie studio (after sitting on the shelf for almost two years), and an absolute disaster with critics, ROBOCOP 3 isn’t fondly remembered by anyone...or at least by anyone who understands what should be the barest minimum pleasures delivered up by a multi-million dollar Hollywood action spectacle. Shout! does give us a tasty Blu transfer here, however, along with more bonuses than a complete misfire like ROBOCOP 3 should ever expect.
Beleaguered OCP’s “Delta City” Detroit renovation project looks increasingly like a goner, what with the company’s stock plunging due to the “Robocop” fiasco, and a growing public resistance to OCP’s gentrification efforts. OCP’s new CEO (Rip Torn, CRAZY JOE, EXTREME PREJUDICE) has just the thing for pacifying the recalcitrant city dwellers: the “Rehabs,” an armed paramilitary organization led by Paul McDaggett (John Castle, BLOWUP, THE LION IN WINTER), chartered to fight crime alongside the besieged Detroit Police Department...but in reality assigned the task of destroying the Resistance through violent means. The CEO is getting it from both ends, with his new boss, Kanemitsu (Mako, THE KILLER ELITE, THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT. O’FARRELL), CEO of the Japanese Kanemitsu Corporation, declaring him too weak and fat and lazy and American to get the job done. Meanwhile, Robocop (Robert Burke) is doing his usual shtick around town, until he loses partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen, BLOW OUT, CARRIE), who is murdered by McDaggett when she tries to defend a church full of resistance members. Robo is soon drawn into the Resistance movement by little hacker Nikko (Remy Ryan, MONKEY TROUBLE), who along with bumbling Three Stooges terrorists Bertha, Coontz, and Moreno (C.C.H. Pounder, Stephen Root, and Daniel von Bargen), decide to use Robocop to fight OCP. But Robocop has to defeat an army of ninja robots (yep) first, led by Otomo (Bruce Locke, RIPPER MAN).
That was painful just typing that synopsis. Back in 1993, the minute I saw ROBOCOP 3’s “PG-13” rating and its trailer with the annoying little hacker brat, I said, “adios” to the ROBOCOP trilogy for good—I go to a ROBOCOP movie for a message and little tots and no bad language and violence suitable for a family of four (that’s how they screwed up the third MAD MAX movie, too)? I caught a few minutes of ROBOCOP 3 years later on cable, but its laughably inept scripting, direction and performances made for a fast switch over to anything else. Watching ROBOCOP 3 now...it’s worse than I thought it could be, excelling only as a high bar for how to get almost every element of a Hollywood action franchise entry wrong.
And whom does one blame for ROBOCOP 3’s failure? According to the writer/director Fred Dekker (helmer of such maladroit cult “favorites” as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE MONSTER SQUAD): no one but himself, as he takes pains to proudly point out time and again on his commentary track. A self-proclaimed “knee jerk liberal,” Dekker’s biggest mistake with ROBOCOP 3 isn’t, however, stated on that track: an obvious, fundamental, deep-rooted contempt for the material. More interested in making a political statement with his social justice warrior characters, rather than delivering a ROBOCOP actioner with the required pyrotechnics, Dekker makes Robo-Murphy the least consequential character in the movie, deballing the futuristic crime fighter to the point where Murphy spends most of the movie laid up and out of commission (inexpressive Burke, lacking the absolute physical control of Weller, is a sad, pale copy). Fans of the original ROBOCOP always seem to feel the need to temper their appreciation of the first movie’s hyper-kinetic violence by saying it’s also a worthwhile satire on Reagan’s America—a justification that’s not only unnecessary but way overstated (the original’s facile, one-sided humor isn’t exactly state-of-the-art sophistication).
ROBOCOP 3’s message is even more calculated and phony—but pitiably without the action—with its little 1970s Disneyesque hacker brat—a truly hateful addition to the franchise—and her fumbling peasant Rainbow Coalition terrorist rebel pals fighting those “corporate scumbags who just want to line their pockets,” (I’m certain that as a matter of political principle, Mr. Dekker didn’t cash his Orion corporation checks for this gig). Of course, Dekker doesn’t have the true artistic nerve to paint a more rounded satirical picture, missing the movie’s biggest comedic target because they’re too close to home: the schmaltzy, plucky little terrorists who represent “the pipple” (how come nobody in these ROBOCOP movies discuss how liberal cities like Detroit originally got into such a state?). So instead we have ridiculous South African-like apartheid paramilitary types (all the “Amazon War” headlines) manhandling the peasants as the badly-dressed rebels run around, falling on their asses and goggling their eyes, before scrambling off to their own “Mystery Machine” for assorted hijinks (the “Rehabs” could have pacified Detroit...if it weren’t for those meddling kids!). Cold, calculating Japanese businessmen call Americans fat and lazy here (before the scared director, astoundingly, makes the head Japanese villain a respectable good guy with a mere head bow to Robocop), while images of idealized 1950s American families (in the opening commercial) are ridiculed as Reagan-era goofs. It’s all so nauseatingly familiar and clichéd and played out from a certain type of Hollywood liberal moviemaker—a classic example, as well, of a limited scripter/director trying to “say something important in-between the bullets”...when he should have just concentrated on the bullets.
And with the emphasis on message and politics, we get no love from ROBOCOP 3’s action elements. It’s bad enough that Dekker doesn’t seem to know how to direct actors in his crappy dramatic interludes. Unless the actor is already a pro (check out how bored Torn and Allen look here), his main fallback seems to be have the painfully mugging actors roll their eyes and yell, gorping into the camera for a full 10 seconds, before they run off somewhere and fall down (can we all just admit that perpetually overrated performers like Pounder and Root and Whitford were never any good?). What’s worse, Dekker can’t seem to execute a coherent, exciting action sequence—the barest minimum requirement for a movie like ROBOCOP 3. When Murphy/Robo does finally swing into action, cheap-looking ROBOCOP 3 begins to resemble DEATH WISH III—and that’s an insult to Michael Winner—with suspect revenge motivation (that “Officer doooooown” crap, with Robo bowing his head over his dead partner, is the movie’s biggest unintentional laugh) and inert, poorly staged combat (when jetpack Murphy hilariously takes flight at the end, ROBOCOP 3 turns into nothing less than SH*TTY SH*TTY BANG BANG). In his commentary track, Dekker asks himself if ROBOCOP 3 is really a ROBOCOP movie. He answers that he doesn’t know. I do. It’s not.
ROBOCOP 3’s 1080p AVC MPEG-4 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen Blu-ray transfer looks quite sharp. Fine image detail is pretty intense (a little heavy over the lip line for Murphy’s lip gloss), grain is filmic and very tight, skin tones are natural, colors are nicely modulated, blacks are deep and absolute, and depth is fairly impressive at times. The DTS-HD Master Audio English 5.1 contains an agreeably discreet mix, although I was expecting a bigger bass sublayer during the action scenes. Crystal clear dialogue (thanks a lot). There’s a 2.0 track for purists. English subtitles are available.
Bonuses include a commentary track with the director Fred Dekker, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt. You might admire, at first, Dekker’s repeated groveling admissions that he screwed up ROBOCOP 3, until you listen more carefully and see that he still blames others (such as Frank Miller, whom he “trusted” too much, or Orion for that “PG-13” rating). After awhile, though, a grudging admiration for a Hollywood moviemaker knowing their own limitations gives way to common sense: why should I give you credit for anything? You screwed up the movie bad (if you think this guy is humble in admitting defeat, just check out lines like, “There is so much in this movie that promises greatness”). Next, those Geordie documentary makers Gary Smart, Chris Griffiths, and Eastwood Allen (ROBODOC) are back from ROBOCOP 2 for another largely incoherent commentary track (who can understand them?). At least they’re enthusiastic, I suppose. Next, "Delta City Shuffle: The Making of RoboCop 3" (38:27), features new interviews with producer Pat Crowley, director/scripter Dekker, actress Nancy Allen, actor Bruce Locke, production designer Hilda Stark, and cinematographer Gary Kibbe (he’s cool...but did they just wake him up from his nap?) discussing ROBOCOP 3’s production (Crowley’s diplomatic...but he states it clear: nobody cared about Robocop in this movie). Next, "Robo-Vision: The FX of RoboCop 3" (12:01), has Phil Tippett summing up the movie nicely (“It kept people employed,”) before Craig Hayes, Peter Kuran, Kevin Kutchaver, and Paul Gantry all basically trying to avoid using the term, “hack work.” "Climbing the Corporate Ladder" (10:48) has actor Felton Perry trying to make some point I couldn’t understand. "Training Otomo" (8:34) has Bruce Locke and trainer Bill Ryusaki discussing the prep work for all the poor kung fu in ROBOCOP 3. "War Machine" (9:17) has funny James Belohovek discussing his role in the production (he’s the only guy in this desultory collection of bonuses that seems to be having a good time discussing this dog). An original trailer and a still gallery round out ROBOCOP 3’s bonuses. (Paul Mavis)
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