RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven / U.S., 1987):

"Now the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine," behold the Mecha-Messiah. The steroidal capitalism of the Reagan Eighties is the satirical thrust, the police force is but an arm of a corporation that promises a streamlined Metropolis over the ruins of "old Detroit." A man’s demise is the birth of a product, the gallant cop (Peter Weller) declared dead by the end of his first shift is the "poor schmuck" plugged into the new cyborg program. His Calvary is a limb-pulverizing fusillade, with frantic views of his torso in flayed close-up yielding to a reverse tracking shot of memories vanishing into the ether. ("I can feel them but I cannot remember them," he later says of his family, a Resnaisian lament.) The resurrected pillar of titanium clumps through the streets, from the sadistic gang leader in the rusty dungeon (Kurtwood Smith) to the crooked honcho atop the skyscraper (Ronny Cox), "that’s life in the big city." Paul Verhoeven on blockbuster explosions like Douglas Sirk on lachrymose households, an outsider’s immersion and critique. The commoditized vigilantism of the conglomerate state, the glazed smirk of network news and the idiotic leer of sitcomedy as mass palliatives, a tremendously virile style blasts bloody chunks out of them all. Tashlin’s Madison Avenue is updated most riotously, right down to the Jack Benny-style facepalm adopted by the elderly CEO (Dan O’Herlihy) after an unlucky yes-man is torn apart by a monstrous automaton’s glitchy cannons. (Like the delirious nod to The Incredible Melting Man in the midst of the climactic shootout, wonky stop-motion animation smears artisanal grindhouse mischief on the genre’s metallic patina.) The future for Verhoeven is already at hand, the deranged instant when Hollywood’s testosterone fixation morphs macho flesh into a literal armor. The motorcycles in Spetters laid the groundwork, Tsukamoto in the Tetsuo series runs the splatter-poetry to its logical conclusion. Cinematography by Jost Vacano. Music by Basil Poledouris. With Nancy Allen, Miguel Ferrer, Robert DoQui, Ray Wise, Felton Perry, and Paul McCrane.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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