Picks and Pans Review: Robocop 2

updated 07/02/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/02/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Peter Weller, Dan O'Herlihy

Severe disappointment is in store for those who were hoping that after the original RoboCop, the metal-mechanical police officer played by Weller would retire to pursue a career as a waffle iron or microwave oven.

Instead he's back to fight Detroit's nastiest, most unscrupulous villain—no, it isn't Bill Laimbeer. It's a nut case who's peddling an addictive drug called nuke. Weller, as the murdered cop whose brain inhabits a super-robot chassis, also must cope with his bosses at the company, headed by O'Herlihy, which contracted to become Detroit's law enforcement agency in the first film. They want to reprogram him .

RoboCop (and Total Recall) director Paul Verhoeven left this sequel to Irvin (The Empire Strikes Back) Kershner. His apparent plan: When in doubt, do a shoot-out.

Weller still shows a Karloffian ability to act under all the armor and makeup, but he's around to devastate, not emote. The violence quotient is way up from the original. Weller blasts away with a handgun that never shows a sign of recoil, even though it's as big as a bread truck. The gross-out quotient has soared too. The top of a corpse's head is sawed off in close-up. There's a vivisection torture sequence. Then there's the Little League team that, in uniform, robs a store and beats the elderly proprietors with bats; to top it off, one little player uses an F phrase, and it isn't "fielder's choice."

(Aside to special effects editors: We of the audience will acknowledge that any villain shot at close range with a high-powered weapon will bleed. You do not need to show every shot's impact in bloody close-up. Anyway, avoiding this tendency would allow more time to show exploding cars.)

The movie is also a vile insult to Detroit. The character of the city's black mayor, played by Willard Pugh, borders on racist: He's so inarticulate, panicky and given to running away that you half expect him to say, "Feets, do yo' stuff."

Nancy Allen again plays Weller's all-human partner. She's so all-human, in fact, that she seems to regard Weller as a hunk-given his metallic content, maybe that should be ingot. In any case Allen is given little time to pursue romantic possibilities, and one intriguing scene where Weller confronts his wife-widow leads nowhere.

Written by comic-book creator Frank Miller and Walon (The Wild Bunch) Green, the script keeps some of the original's peripheral humor, such as the running series of TV newscasts—with commercials. One shows an anti-car theft device that instead of sounding an alarm allows a thief to start the engine, then electrocutes him.

True, that isn't exactly lighthearted wit. But this whole project suggests Inspector Gadget undergoing a psychotic break. A clever idea is going downhill fast, and this sequel's ending is purposively vague. Does this foretell a RoboCop 3? Any more dumb questions? (R)

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