Imagine a reality where the government is totally corrupt, the city of Detroit is desperately trying to get back on its feet, police forces have become overly militarized with weekly reports of unjustified authoritative violence, and the overwhelmingly negative news coverage is only cut by condescending ads for ridiculous products. Now put down your phone and settle in for a review of RoboCop.

(Welcome back to Jalopnik Movie Club, where we take a look at cars in movies and movies about cars, and you write in with all of your hot takes. This week, we’re reviewing RoboCop, a movie about the horrors of capitalism, corruption and the militarization of the police force—fun for the whole family!) 

RoboCop is the sort of 1980s action movie with biting social commentary that makes you realize we may have spent too much time mocking our dystopian future instead of preventing it, because everything this movie thinks is a ridiculous and over-the-top projection of the troubles of American capitalism and authority has pretty much become the standard by now.

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The movie focuses on the life, death and cyborg rebirth of Detroit cop Alex Murphy, who is killed by the crime leader of “Old Detroit” with connections to Omni Corp, the company that’s been contracted to take over the city police force and reduce the crime rate, and who ultimately manufactures Murphy into RoboCop after he’s brutally dismembered and shot up.

It’s a moderately budgeted R-rated action movie in a similar vein to the first and second Alien movies, and is said to have been inspired as a basic reversal of the plot of Blade Runner, which was a cop hunting down a dystopian corporation’s worker robots. It’s fairly gory, foul mouthed and cynically humorous, featuring many cold-blooded murders from humans, robots and cyborgs alike.

Some may ask how RoboCop is considered a car movie worthy of review by the Jalopnik Movie Club. To that I say, geeze, relax, not to mention this movie features an incredibly lazy and satirical look at what were considered to be cars of the future at the time. It’s a nice lens for analyzing what RoboCop unfortunately nailed about the future we’re all living in.

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The movie’s fleet of Detroit police cars all being black Fords is extremely accurate when you compare it to how Ford markets its current lineup of pursuit vehicle offerings, which includes... all-black Tauruses. That’s not so damning on Ford’s part, but it’s an interesting parallel.

The advertisement for the highly-sought 6000 SUX model, which was based on an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme for production, echoes the idea that we’d all be clamoring for large, bloated wagons is fairly accurate in comparison to our slightly raised wagons marketed as crossovers.

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I love how much this movie didn’t really bother to try to develop convincing future technology. All of the cars are clearly just 1980s models in thin makeup, as are the hairdos and wardrobes of the cast. It somehow avoids distracting from the themes of the movie, instead enhancing it.

It’s all just a cynical reflection that focuses on the negatives of our society, with a family trying to out-nuke each other in an advertised board game, a company considering its automated product killing someone simply a glitch that can be worked out (we’re all thinking of the same ride-sharing company right now), the government’s indifference to environmental issues with the space laser starting a California wildfire, and the corporation’s self-assurance in basically being as powerful as the U.S. military.

Of course the movie is a little dated by today’s standards, and even by the standards of the time. The stop motion animation of the ED209 looks laughably bad in comparison to the effects of Blade Runner or Aliens, but the way the movie toys with the robot, like it falling down the stairs, is played for humor, so it’s not too distracting. The acting is all over the top but executed well, and it’s nice to finally see Red from That 70’s Show getting the end he deserves.

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It’s just bittersweet to realize this movie hardly plays as satire today. We’re all just biding time for a RoboCop to come along and save us, I guess.

That’s all from me, now let’s hear from those of you that emailed with your thoughts, opinions and hot takes about RoboCop:

R:

Well, my perennial suggestion of classic UK movie “Genevieve” aside, I gotta give it to the guys who designed the cop car suspensions in Robocop. They handled having a several ton cyborg driving them just fine. Although I do question whoever designed the ramps in the police garage, seeing as how all the cars seemed to leave sparks everytime they went up and down a ramp there.

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Alex N.:

Oh man, where to start?

I saw this movie at what was probably too young an age; maybe around 10? I remember that when I was about that age we summered at a really small town on Lake Erie in Ontario and the local general store had maybe two dozen movies to rent; about half a dozen of that porn.

I would ride my bike down there and rent the same three or four movies over and over and over again, and Robocop was definitely one of them. I remember being amazed by the explosive gore, the run-down city-scape (we were in Detroit with the grandparents when not at the cabin) and the coolest duty-issue handgun I’d ever seen.

As you get older, the more throw-away parts of the movie take on greater significance; the commercial for the game “Nuke ‘Em”, the repeat banter about the 6000SUX and everyone’s seeming obsession with having to catch the “I’d Buy That For A Dollar” show.

When that store rotated its inventory and sold off the old movies, I bought that tape. Still have it stashed away, somewhere. I watched it so much that for the first several years of “That 70s Show” my parents could only identify Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker.

I still can barely watch the Alex Murphy death scene. I think the first time I watched it I was scarred for life.

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Raphael O.:

1. the part where the guy gets trashed with acid rules

2. Of all things, it is the profound sadness of the movie that stands out so well. We see that the hero of the movie has been destroyed by that which he is assigned to uphold, that there are no winners

3. I’ll buy that for a dollar

Dodd H.:

I’ve had occasion to spend a little time with Peter Weller (a couple of dinners and a plane flight) we’re mutual friends with a writer and fellow cigar aficionado.

Anywho, an interesting story about Robcop was the issue they had regarding the modified Taurus’ (Taurii?) It seems that between all the effects and costumes, sets and futuristic gizmos they were under tremendous pressure regarding the cars and the need for a fleet of customized Robocop-mobiles. The main hurdle was that a standard ’80s action star (Stallone, Ahhnold or anyone else) was that they were so burly that once buttoned into the Robocop costume they would have required an extensively reconstructed car to accommodate the bulk and movement of the suit. The idea of putting 500K (at least) into custom cars with wider doors, set back seats and steering controls was overwhelming to the budget.

So they looked to find the skinniest leading man who could pull it off. Weller was a marathoner with very slight proportions. He also had good acting chops and was trained to move and present as a mechanical being. His strong jaw and eyes helped sell the effect as well.

Basically he got the same way Greg Brady became Johnny Bravo in the old Brady Bunch episode: He could fit into the costume that could fit the standard ’80s Taurus.

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Paulo A.:

A cyborg policed society roaming around in Fords is right now

Watching Robocop, I couldn’t help but make parallels to present day. Robots, cyborgs, and even Fords are here and now.

ED 209 was meant to be the robotic police officer that took the human out of the equation. Policing robots are definitely here. Go ahead and look up “Knightscope” which currently deploys more than a dozen robots around the Bay Area, mostly in shopping malls, providing data collection and security monitoring for local police. Just like ED 209, it’s far from perfect, is mostly known in the news for injuring small children and being pushed into fountains. But yes, humanless policing is a thing.

Then there’s Robocop himself, a shell of a man augmented by superior defenses, capabilities, and weaponry. Today, our police force is aided by Kevlar vests, body cameras, enhanced eyesight thanks to smart glasses and drones, among other advances. Just this week the Army is already testing exoskeletons made to lighten combat loads which I can only assume has a chance to trickle down to local law enforcement in more ways than just “carrying loads.”

And Fords. 31 years later, Ford is chugging along, still supplying our nation’s police force with pursuit-rated vehicles. The Taurus, AKA Police Interceptor, is still here for the foreseeable future.

2018 isn’t exactly like Robocop, far from it. But the rudimentary technologies are certainly here.

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Sid B.:

So glad you are covering Robocop as a car movie! It’s one of the first movies we reviewed on Reels & Wheels (Link here).

Besides the 2000SUX predicting the rise of the SUV, Paul Verhoeven (who I believe is actually from the future) predicted that the Ford Taurus would become a police car years before anyone dreamed that a front-drive Taurus could do police duty. Granted, the Taurus had some big issues – for one, the Robocop suit didn’t fit in the car. Every time you see Robocop driving it, he doesn’t have his Robo pants on. Also, the molded plastic headlights didn’t provide for a dramatic “headlights on” scene, so you’ll notice there’s a scene where they awkwardly grafted old school quad headlights onto the Taurus.

Robocop actually walks on water at the end because of course he’s Jesus. Maybe that means Ford will resurrect its car line at some point?

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Scouting For Zen:

I first watched the 1987 RoboCop when the 2014 remake first came out on DVD. I remembered the biggest thing that stood out to me back then was that toxic waste scene. Ick.

Coming back to it now, I was startled how...not prescient, exactly, but forward-reflecting the original film was. The news-breaks in the movie, complete with those infomercials—the sensationalization, the commercialization—it’s all still just as relevant today as it was in the mid-to-late 80s.

That bit with the artificial heart, where the doctor rattles off the different brands available—Jarvic, Yamaha, the Jensen ‘sport’ heart—while discussing warranties? The South African ‘ruling white class’ armed with a neutron bomb? Or the laser cannon causing wildfires in Santa Barbara, resulting in civilian deaths (not least of which were two former US Presidents)?

Update the technological sophistication and some political developments, and the emotions and style are straight off a modern news channel. Naming a school after Lee Iacocca is a neat touch, in a similar vein. Dick Jones also feels like a logical hyperbole of a modern, high-level businessman. The notion of a soul-less corporation, taking advantage—even if they’re “giving back to the community”, as The Old Man claims—of “shifts in the tax structure” to gain corporate dominance and growth is quite contemporary.

Speaking of technology, I still don’t get the need to have data transfer via giant metal spike. Then again, it’s a tongue-in-cheek critique of 80s excess—it fits perfectly.

That same satirical style is in place with the vehicles. Weirdly, I feel like ED 209 has to be mentioned here. 209 is branded as a “twenty-four-seven cop”, with better than human reflexes and capabilities...replace ‘cop’ with ‘car’, and this could EASILY be a self-driving car presentation. As could that malfunction in the
boardroom where Mr. Kinney kicks the bucket. “He didn’t hear the gun drop?!” No, and that Uber AI car’s custom software didn’t intervene.

I find it amusing that, although OCP’s vans and most of the police vehicles’ are made to be as generic as possible—no badging, and the cop cars are all matte black—RoboCop’s car still prominently displays “TAURUS LX” on the side. Even when you’re not supposed to, you gotta have Dat Branding.

The 6000 SUX, ‘an American tradition’ getting 8.2 MPG? Also, remember when reclining leather seats and cruise control were luxury items? I’d almost forgotten—but one Ron Miller reminded me. Mr. Miller is himself another example of the kind of yuppie, consumerist-culture, self-centered a**hole that this movie critiques—while at the same time embracing it.

That duality is also present visually. Compare the dingy, cracking-at-the-seams, over-worked police station to the shiny, modern, airy OCP headquarters.

Detroit itself is a great backdrop—the first chase scene with Clarence’s gang, with the futuristic-looking Reunion Tower in the background and what looked like pre-rennovation Renaissance Center in the distance...and yet, no one else on the road.

If the remake was about the increasing presence of robotic technology in human society, the original is both a celebration and a chastisement of consumerism and big corporations. It may be wrapped in an 80s action-movie wrapper, but this film definitely still has something to say today.

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And that wraps it up for this week’s Jalopnik Movie Club review! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with their takes, which I encourage you all to do for next week!

Speaking of next week, we’ll be reviewing Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so be sure to get it watched and collect your thoughts, and write in with your opinions and hot takes to justin at jalopnik dot com.

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In the meantime, sound off below about the good and bad of RoboCop, and all of its stark realism, and see you all next week!

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