RoboCop throws a lot at the viewer. It’s amped-up, gritty pulp with large, splashy satirical and thematic ambitions that are for the most part well-executed, in Paul Verhoeven’s trademark style. It’s hard to think of much today that works so unashamedly to be both trash and art. And its supporting cast is blessed with two separate Twin Peaks stars, Miguel Ferrer and Ray Wise, which would make any movie worth watching.
But the key to its success is arguably its intensity. This is a film that moves almost viciously, starring characters who play for impossibly high stakes and have to make life-or-death decisions on the fly. The corporate end of RoboCop‘s plot, dealing with the inner machinations and power struggles of Omni Consumer Products, is as gripping as its streetside action–and almost hilariously far away from a prestige drama world of subtle politicking and nuanced conversations. Nothing happens in the world of the OCP without escalating to bizarre, murderous levels. Demonstrate your pet project at a board meeting? It’s going to go haywire and brutally murder your “volunteer from the audience.” Make a snide comment about your boss, not realizing he can hear you? He’ll get up close and personal to demonstrate his dominance–and then hire someone to kill you. It’s no surprise that this culture’s central meme–“I’d buy that for a dollar!”–is one that’s simultaneously greedy, objectifying, low-balling, and frenetic.
RoboCop is all about combining the human with the heightened in a way that’s either illuminating, entertainingly destructive, or (ideally) both. It’s too cynical to have any solutions to offer–the best Murphy (Peter Weller) can do is murder his way up the ladder to take out conspiracy leader Dick Jones (a magnificent Ronny Cox)–but it’s too energetic for that cynicism to ever be truly downbeat. It’s not hard to see why it continues to be a cultural landmark. And its frustrations about capitalism make it perfect Black Friday viewing for those of us in America.
RoboCop is available streaming on HBOGo/HBONow.