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Robocop Return Offers Action, Social and Political Messages

By Garrett A. Price iii.

Robocop 2

Starring Peter Weller

Directed by Irvin Kershner

At the Harvard Square Cinema

Like it or not, the most influential actors in today's movie-making business are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. The monster these two movie hulks are responsible for creating is by now very familiar to every American man, woman, and child. It is the technoblitz motion picture.

This particular genre of filmmaking--sadly enough, it has indeed become a genre--is characterized by a ridiculous propensity to spend tens of millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and explosions, in the hope that no one will notice that there is no script to speak of.

That is not to say that there is nothing entertaining about the occassional smash-em-up-and-feel-good-about-it-movie. It's just that such pictures are quite rightly not the stuff of which Oscar legends are made.

Right now, however, as Hollywood box office receipts continue to skyrocket--last year was a record year--it does not seem likely that the film industry will produce much else.

But Robocop II--surprisingly--is a refreshing twist on this otherwise mindless genre. Like the original Robocop, its sequel is a dark, satirical commentary on contemporary society, artfully disguised as a Schwarzenegger technoblitz movie, of course.

Picking up where Robocop left off, Peter Weller returns as Alex Murphy, a former Detroit supercop killed in the line of duty and brought back to life as a crime-fighting cyborg ("half man, half machine--all cop") by Omni Consumer Products (OCP), an intensely profit-driven private conglomerate which runs the police department.

OCP, in a plot to force Detroit to default on its payments in order to foreclose on the city, have engineered a police strike. As a result, futuristic Detroit, already mired in urban blight, falls prey to a powerful new drug called Nuke, and the increase in crime.

To make a long story short, OCP's plan begins to fall apart, and in an effort to salvage it, they construct a new, more powerful cyborg, which quickly goes berzerk.

Enter our hero, Robocop, whose job it is to stop this menace to society.

To this end, there is plenty of high-tech destruction and gratuitous violence. But it is violence of a slightly different sort; darkly comical, Robocop II's well engineered mayhem bears more of a resemblence to the black satire of death orchestrated by the Joker in Batman than to the senseless slaughter in Total Recall or the recent series of Rambo movies.

Even on this level, Robocop II's resemblence to a run-of-the-mill technoblitz show remains on the surface, a sugar coating on the film's more substantial social commentary.

Robocop II is about the individual, in this case Alex Murphy, and his battle with the forces of society which threaten to destroy his already fragile humanity. The film parodies--rather darkly--how both advances in technology and the rise of huge corporations have their menacing sides.

OCP's plot to "take the city private" and regulate everyone to "individual living units," along with its casual references to law enforcement as "urban pacification," may appear at first glance to be absurd and cartoonish.

Yet their social relevance becomes clear in an era of spectacular insider trading, leveraged buyouts, factory closings and Leona Helmsley's belief that "only the little people pay taxes."

OCP's ruthless desire to undermine Detroit's municipal government also caricatures the feeling in contemporary society that government is inherently incompetent and is the source of all of society's ills.

Most poignant of all, however, is Robocop II's exaggerated portrayal of the desperate straits America's cities are rapidly approaching. The present spectres of crack, increasing urban violence and homelessness make Nuke and warlike futuristic Detroit very tangible images.

Euthanasia, the environment and the question of exactly what makes someone human are just some of the other issues Robocop II effectively tackles in the guise of a technoblitz tour-de-force.

So beneath the millions of dollars worth of special effects is a clever, inventive film which captures the flavor of the original Robocop--that is, it provides us with some food for thought.

In its intelligence and darkly humorous satire, Robocop II has more in common with Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles and Rob Reiners' Spinal Tap than any of this summer's insubstantial blockbuster releases. It's definitely a must see.

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