In 2001, three years after the previous ROBOCOP tv show (the cartoon ROBOCOP: ALPHA COMMANDO) and 14 years after the original movie, the Canadian company that made the LA FEMME NIKITA tv series and MUTANT X owned the tv rights to ROBOCOP and wanted to squirt something out before they expired. Instead of a traditional tv series they decided on a mini-series of four feature length, but not feature quality movies. Or prime directives, if you will.
I watched the first one, DARK JUSTICE, which has RoboCop (Page Fletcher, who I guess played the title character in the early ’90s tv series The Hitchhiker) returning to action on his tenth birthday.
This one actually starts out promising enough that at first I thought I would want to watch the whole series. The Media Breaks are done really well, and now called Media Net because they’re upgraded for the internet age. There are often news scrolls at the top and bottom of the screen, and pop ups inviting you to click to purchase movie tributes to fallen heroes, action figures of murderers, crime scene collectibles, etc. In a segment later in the movie a story about terrorists blowing up the Alamo tries to sell you a DVD called “Remembering the Alamo.”
We also hear from a radical named Malcolm X-Plosion (Rogue Johnston, TALONS OF THE EAGLE, TC 2000). His lawyer isn’t happy about what he says, but the Media Net graphics department is ready for it.
Those type of jokes are easily the best things in the movie, but the re-introduction to RoboCop got my attention too. This part is shot much more cinematic and dynamic than the last ROBOCOP tv show, so it seems to have potential. Robo’s been around the block, he has a big scratch across his helmet, giving him some character, like a scar. He’s at the Chelsea Clinton Savings and Loan trying to rescue hostages from fame-starved terrorists wanting the world to “see the awesome TNT power of Da Bomzz,” but he gets attacked by a guy called “Bonemachine” who wears a skeleton mask and has giant guns for hands.
And there’s a handy pie chart showing that most of the violence in Delta City is “Bonemachine Related Violence.”
Right off the bat there are questionable themes and confusing story elements. Delta City has been peaceful for ten years, and we’re obviously supposed to think the OCP people are idiots for having “suspended all lethal ammunition,” only giving the police pepper spray and rubber bullets and stuff. Commander John T. Cable, Delta City Security (Maurice Dean Wint from CUBE, who played a different character in one episode of the previous RoboCop tv series) is on the scene, and he tries to shame them for it. BUT IT HAS WORKED FOR TEN YEARS, PAL. I’m not normally one to side with corporations, especially Omni Consumer Products, but if they have created peace by not shooting anybody maybe you’re not really that awesome for wanting to shoot everybody. Anyway, RoboCop uses real weapons, “a gross violation of OCP policy.” It seems like this movie is serious about the ’80s cop movie bullshit that Verhoeven’s movie was joking about.
I’m pretty unclear about how the Bonemachine Related Violence squares with the idea of ten years of peace, and also why RoboCop has been gone and why he’s back, and why he’s not programmed with their current policies, and why Cable is unfamiliar with the way things are done here, when he seems to work here also. There’s a comment about how it’s not the same as in L.A., but we later see that Cable is not from L.A., because half of the movie is flashbacks about his partnership with Murphy when he was still HumanCop. And unless L.A. has a serial killer called the “Motor City Mangler” and a paper called “Detroit News” I’m pretty sure these scenes take place in Detroit.
The story, if you consider there to be one, is about the relationship between Murphy and Cable. The flashbacks have the two on the trail of the killer, which involves exactly one good part:
But then they end up in that cliche dilemma where the killer has Cable hostage and Cable is begging Murphy to “TAKE THE SHOT!” but he just can’t do it and Cable is disgusted with him. Also the other cliche where Cable could take the killer in alive but instead executes him and Murphy thinks it’s wrong but won’t rat on him because all cops are brothers and they become estranged.
I had trouble taking this Cable guy seriously because to distinguish the older version from the younger version they gave him this mustache:
Also he spends the entire movie practicing making his mouth into a cartoonish scowl. I thought maybe he was jealous of the other guy for getting to be RoboCop and was trying to prove that he would be really good acting with his mouth. Then at the end it becomes clear he’ll get to wear a helmet in the next one. So maybe he’s just distracted thinking about what the hell he’s gonna do in the upcoming episodes and keeps practicing during the shots.
It’s interesting to see them now using low budget CG to do what was matte paintings in the old series. Both are fake looking, but you know which one I prefer.
OCP is involved in a very boring way. First of all, they’ve got a guy proposing a super computer thing like NeuroBrain in the previous series, but now called S.A.I.N.T. This will come to a fruition in a later episode I guess. Also Murphy’s son Jimmy (Anthony Lemke, AMERICAN PSYCHO, WHITE HOUSE DOWN) now works at OCP. We don’t really know yet if he’s a total slimeball or a naive innocent, but I suspect more of this shit where OCP wouldn’t necessarily be evil if not for the scheming of some bad apples, such as Sarah Cable (Maria del Mar, THE SKULLS III). She’s the ex-wife of John Cable, but at least in this one that’s not relevant to anything other than making it weird when she’s on TV talking about him as an OCP spokeswoman and not acknowledging that she not only knows him but still has his last name.
The way these people backstab each other is pretty ridiculous. In one scene Sarah Cable’s rival tries to get her in trouble by cleverly hacking her email:
For the most part the OCP scenes drag the movie to a halt. They don’t have that incensed satirical accuracy of the movie, they’re just people in suits standing around in dark rooms talking. One minor exception is the scene in the bathroom. It’s not a great scene but I like that the filmatists remembered the importance of corporate peeing in the world of ROBOCOP. I always liked the stock tickers above the urinals in the movie, and as you can see here they believably update that concept to modern technology.
I guarantee they would have these everywhere by now if people didn’t know how to pee while holding a smart phone. This world doesn’t have smart phones, but in this scene there’s a guy who pulls out a fancy pen and starts talking into it.
But check this shit out. You ever seen this? Walking to the urinal, giving the other guys a many pat on the shoulder while they’re pissing! I bet that’s totally accurate for this world. Fuckin OCP guys, man.
By the way, there is a guy who uses a fancy pen ass a cell phone.
Anyway, “the privatization of Delta City is over $700 billion over budget” so they got various shenanigans going on and then they reprogram Robo to think that “Terminate John Cable” is the 4th prime directive and he struggles with memories of their past together and fights against the programming.
In this one nobody knows RoboCop is Murphy except for the doctor/tech lady who repairs him at night. They attempt some melodrama with Robo coming face to face with his son but not knowing how to reveal himself to him. And his son just acts like a douche.
The doctor tries to tell him he should do it. He doesn’t have Lewis anymore, so she’s the only one he can really talk to about human stuff. There is a kind of sweet moment where she’s calling it a night and she has to leave him in his chair to recharge and she asks “Light on or off?” He chooses off, because he’s part man.
Fletcher isn’t bad. He looks kinda like Rutger Hauer. It’s noticeable that he’s shorter than everybody around him, but that’s okay. I guess cyborgs don’t gotta be tall, they just gotta have robot parts. He has different herky jerky movements than Weller, which is also fine. He gets into it, and looks good in the suit. Somehow RoboCop being cool looking makes it much easier to get through the movie.
I just wish they gave him more to do. I didn’t need another unimaginative reprogrammed RoboCop plot, and the drawn out story about Murphy’s disagreements with Cable is really lame. They even have a thing about them playing chess against each other. It’s a poorly thought out collection of cop show cliches presented as if it’s something really thought provoking. And as far as I could tell there was nothing that made sense about the climax where RoboCop, a heavily armed machine with sophisticated targeting systems, felt he had no choice but to shoot Cable in the chest because Bonemachine was holding him. I pictured them on the set going over the script repeatedly, saying “Are you sure? That doesn’t seem right,” and the director saying “Just stick with the script. We’ll figure it out in editing.”
To be fair, there are obviously things in this movie that they’re setting up to be paid off in the later ones. So in that sense I can’t completely judge it based on just watching the first movie. This was pretty cool, to end the movie James Bond style:
They’re playing the long game, which is logical since they’ve chosen the medium of the mini-series. So maybe it gets better, but at least within the context of DARK JUSTICE it seems like most of this should actually be cut down to a half hour episode, not stretched out Hobbit style. I’m glad there are some moments in there, but this is not good.
I don’t normally use a grading system, but I will make an exception in order to give ROBOCOP: PRIME DIRECTIVES: DARK JUSTICE a rating of 1 (one) RoboCop tear.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.