The film's use of humor and exaggeration to ridicule contemporary politics is not uncontroversial, either.
To wit, RoboCop is set in a future in which Big Business has finally had its way with the rest of us.
The police force has been privatized.
A corporate media announces to the world the news that its overlords want disseminated, true or not.
And raiders in the board room are just as dangerous -- and criminal -- as the thugs prowling the streets by night.
On the last front, the film makes a clever association. Robocop very explicitly connects two forms of “crook” or criminal. Both an OCP executive Dick Jones (Ronnie Cox) and drug-dealing, gun-toting murderer Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) recite an identical line of dialogue in the film, thus forging an indelible link between them.
“Good business is where you find it.”
Human life becomes cheap, and everything in society is about selling a product, and about making money.
Verhoeven creates an intriguing and effective tension in the film in order to effectively deliver his satirical points. Now-and-again, he cuts to funny TV commercials that are emblematic of the film’s corporate culture and media, and to TV programs that reveal how the masses are distracted by bread and circuses.
One of those programs involves a well-dressed white man surrounded by beautiful, scantily-clad models quipping “I’d buy that for a dollar!”
The insipid joke is itself an indictment of the culture. Everything and everyone is but a product, or for sale.
Everyone has his or her price.
In other words, what RoboCop truly concerns is a machine trying to be a human being in a culture that is inhumane, and unbelievably violent.
In RoboCop’s world, human life is disposable -- bought and sold for a dollar -- and so the film's violence is extreme enough (and oddly, funny enough too…) to make that point.
Life is cheap, baby! (Unless you're rich and powerful...).
In advance of a major initiative to re-boot Detroit as ultra-modern Delta City, OCP (Omni Consumer Products) prepares to unroll its new product line: an urban pacification system called ED-209, created by Senior V.P. Richard Jones (Cox).
Indeed, RoboCop accurately and comedically predicted two important facets of our contemporary American life: the corporatization of American culture and the coarsening of the mainstream media.
This equipment, specifically, involves a giant droid called ED-209. The only problem is that ED-209 has been already bought and sold...and yet it doesn’t work at all. As Dick Jones points out. “Who cares if it works or not?” because he’s already got a contract for it. The idea underlining all this is that unregulated business, committed to laissez-faire principles, can’t and won't effectively police itself.
Later, he murders his rival, Bob (Ferrer), because Bob dared to attempt to be successful himself, at Dick’s expense.
And finally, Jones sees himself as above the law, reprogramming a police officer (RoboCop), and announcing that he is (“practically”) an extension of the U.S. military.
The conjunction of the words “wars” and “peace” in one title goes unremarked upon. And really, how could it be missed? Quite simply, these aren't journalists, but news readers, reciting talking points to support the agenda of their employers.
The game’s motto: “Get them before they get you!”
As you can see in the commercial, every foreign policy challenge is met with the threat of absolute over-kill, a tribute to the blood-thirstiness of the populace, and an example, as noted above, of this future’s society’s inhumanity.
And again, RoboCop must be considered prescient for making this point. Today, many localities literally have war machines patrolling the streets.
Contrasted with this cruel, heartless, money-obsessed society is the human and personal journey of Alex Murphy. He is transformed from a person into a product by OCP, but still possesses the feelings and memories of a person.
At least in this case, humanity has beaten the corporate culture. The "heart" of RoboCop rests in Weller's performance, and in the character's development. He re-discovers his humanity after losing it, and ekes out a victory over OCP, at least temporarily.
RoboCop is a splendidly shot, acted, and designed film. Critic Michael Wilmington noted in his review that RoboCop has been "assembled with ferocious, gleeful expertise, crammed with human cynicism and jolts of energy. In many ways it's the best action movie of the year."
As I’ve written before, science fiction films can lean left or right, and get their points across effectively. I’ve reviewed films positively that espouse each world view if they do so consistently and with wisdom. RoboCop absolutely leans left, and worries about what could happen to a decent, moral culture that allows a money-making organization to become more important than the community itself.
And that, quite simply, SUX.