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Robocop 2 (June 5/04)

Right from the opening minutes of Robocop 2, it's painfully obvious the film is going to fall short of its brilliant predecessor. Aside from the bland visual style proffered by director Irvin Kershner (who actually helmed The Empire Strikes Back!), the movie wallows in a sense of unpleasantness - which is really saying something, given that the first movie was (first and foremost) a comedy.

Picking up shortly after the events of the original, the movie opens with Detroit in chaos. The cops are on strike because OCP (the evil corporation that owns the police) has cut their pay and eliminated their pensions. Robocop (Peter Weller) and his partner, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), are nevertheless fighting crime, though there's only so much they can do. Their biggest target is an crime warlord named Cain (Tom Noonan), the purveyor of a new and highly addictive drug called Nuke.

You almost have to admire Robocop 2 for undermining everything its predecessor stood for with an incredible sense of single-mindedness. The film's screenplay, by Frank Miller and Walon Green, eliminates the very core of what made the original Robocop so great - that being Robocop himself. Aside from the distracting new suit he's been saddled with (which is blue, for crying out loud), poor Peter Weller has been forced to abandon the intriguing human/robot dichotomy in favor of lame jokes involving Robo's softer side. It's no surprise, then, that Weller didn't return for the third film (one can only imagine that he was contractually bound to appear in this installment).

As a villain, Tom Noonan's Cain doesn't even begin to compare to the wonderful trifecta of baddies from the original - Kurtwood Smith's Clarence Boddicker, Miguel Ferrer's Bob Morton, and Ronny Cox's Dick Jones (not to mention periphery scumbags, including Paul McCrane's Emil Antonowsky and Ray Wise's Leon Nash). Even returning characters Johnson (Felton Perry) and the Old Man (Dan O'Herlihy) have been transformed into figures that are drastically different than what they originated in the first film. The sequel's idea of an intriguing evildoer appears in the form of Hob (Gabriel Damon), a 13-year-old punk with a penchant for foul language and attacking Robocop. That the film asks us to swallow a moment late in the story that features Robo taking pity on an injured Hob is heavy-handed and ridiculous (we should probably be thankful the screenwriters didn't have Robocop say something like, "look at what these vile drugs have done to this innocent boy").

There's not much worth recommending about Robocop 2, and it's hard to imagine just the sort of viewer that'll find something here to enjoy. The film's unlikely to appeal to fans of the original, nor will action aficionados walk away satisfied; the third installment, which is rated PG-13 and features Robocop flying around the city (!), is a much better movie (which should give you some indication as to the calibre of this one).

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About the DVD: MGM Home Entertainment presents Robocop 2 with a surprisingly crisp and clean letterboxed transfer, and newly remastered soundtrack. The only bonus feature is the film's theatrical trailer. The disc is available either by itself or as part of the Robocop trilogy (which, obviously, also comes with the first and third installments of the series).
© David Nusair