*. More creepy surveillance of things that go bump in the night.
*. More people who can’t be bothered turning the lights on when they hear strange noises in their house. This is swiftly turning into my most-hated horror film cliché.
*. Daniel seems to be doing better than Micah because he owns a Burger King franchise and Micah is only a day trader. That’s why Daniel has a bigger house with lots more cameras. Though for some reason, which is left unclear, Daniel doesn’t seem very interested in watching the tape from any of those cameras to see what’s going on. Like Micah in Paranormal Activity, he isn’t buying any of this crazy poltergeist shit, and so will suffer a similar fate.
*. Is there any point wondering why the demon is bothering to do all the things it does? If it wants to take Hunter why doesn’t it just take him? It has plenty of opportunities. Instead it plays around with the pool vacuum, opens and shuts doors, rattles the pots in the kitchen, and drags people into the basement. In Paranormal Activity 3 we’re told that some demons “feed off of your fear,” but I don’t see any point to all of this aside from it being a horror movie.
*. I mentioned in my notes on the first film how Katie and Micah had no recourse to traditional Christian rituals or symbols to fight the demon. In this film the Mexican maid seems to be the only one who knows what’s going on. God loves minorities. They’re the only ones keeping the faith. and have a natural dog-like (literally, in this case) sensitivity to evil spirits. I mean, is it meant to be funny that when Daniel finally accepts that his family is being threatened by a demon the only thing he can think to do is to call the cleaning lady? Because I thought that was hilarious.
*. Ah, the old night vision climax again. Was The Silence of the Lambs the first movie to do this? It was certainly the most memorable. I thought Rec probably did it best. Here it seems like a cheap thrill. Why the hell are they in the basement anyway?
*. Basically this film is more of the same from the first, dressed up in much the same way. The return on investment was similarly huge (a $3 million budget turned into over $170 million in box office). The only twist is that much of the horror revolves around a toddler being threatened, which I found to be a bit icky. The only real scare was the scene when all the kitchen cupboards slam open. That’s probably enough to tell you that this is a movie that misses a lot of easy tricks.
*. That an idea so simple could make so much money suggests that they were doing a good job pressing the right buttons. In the first movie I thought it might have had something to do with the gender conflict. To add to the messages that I took from the first film: Guys, if you’re girlfriend is messed-up, her sister probably is too. The fruit never falls far from the tree. Girls, don’t let your boyfriends mess with your sister.
*. A budget of $15,000 doesn’t give you a lot of margin for error. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
*. Take a little thing like staging. If you’re stuck shooting the whole movie in the same house (which was in fact writer-director Oren Peli’s home) you have to make the most out of that space.
*. So look at that fixed camera set-up in the bedroom. Pretty much everything scary in the movie is going to be framed in this shot so it has to look right. Dominating the left side of the screen, which is the side your eye is naturally drawn to in any visual composition, is the black void of the open door. And in fact beyond the darkness is further mystery, as the stairway drops off so even if there was any light we wouldn’t be able to see what was going on, or coming up from below.
*. Does it bother you that Katie and Micah never try shutting the door? For an immaterial being who “can go wherever it wants” and “do whatever it wants,” it seems to need a physical passage from A to B. And would it have made more sense to change sides in bed, for Katie to sleep furthest from the door? Sure. But I’ll give Peli some leeway.
*. The “found footage” form requires giving a director more latitude than this anyway. As always in such films it strains credulity that the protagonists are continuing to film the events long after such filming serves any real purpose.
*. I did find, however, that I wanted to draw the line on the suspension of my disbelief in a couple of places. For starters: why don’t Katie and Micah turn the lights on when they’re going around investigating at night? Wouldn’t that be the first thing anyone would do? I think that goes back to evolutionary psychology. When threatened, the first thing humans want to do is see the danger.
*. Even more problematic is Micah’s response to what’s going on. The story begins with Katie bringing in a (cowardly) psychic who tells them what he thinks is happening. Micah mocks him, but seems cool with talking to him. Then, when everything goes spectacularly to hell, he digs his heels in and absolutely forbids Katie to get in touch with the demonologist the psychic had recommended. Huh? How consistent is that? And aren’t they both awfully nonchalant about the stuff that’s happening? Wouldn’t the footsteps in the baby powder be good enough evidence that it would be wise to adopt tougher measures?
*. I had always assumed the name Micah was pronounced “My-cah” but here they say “Mee-cah.” Since the actors are using their own first names (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) I guess they should know. Though there are at least a couple of times late in the film when Katie clearly screams out “My-cah!”
*. The movie had a bunch of different endings. I don’t usually care for this. As I’ve said before, if you have two or three alternative endings it means you don’t really have an ending. That’s all the more so in the case of a film where everything is building up to the ending.
*. As I understand it, there was one ending (suggested by Steven Spielberg) for the theatrical release, another “original” or “festival” version (which ran before Paramount acquired the film), and a third “unrated” ending. Personally, I like the one where Katie cuts her throat. The festival ending has a neat kind of Night of the Living Dead kink in its tail. The Spielberg ending — surprise! — seems the dullest and most conventional. It did, however, allow the producers to extend the story, which was imperative.
*. Ah, to be able to sleep all night, not just undisturbed by demons but without ever feeling the need to go to the bathroom. Youth. It’s the little things you miss as you get older.
*. Micah’s “research” into the subject of possession consists of “reading” a picture book (it might almost be a colouring book) of demons and Googling stuff online. That’s what we’ve come to, folks.
*. Another indication of what we’ve come to: Despite the fact that they’re clearly fighting a demon, Micah doesn’t even consider any kind of divine prophylactic. After the final attack on her we see Katie mysteriously clutching a crucifix, but Micah quickly tosses it away and it’s never mentioned again (at least until Paranormal Activity 2). It seems the devil is still with us but God left the building a while ago. Even the exorcist they try and call is out of town and unavailable.
*. It’s a good little movie that builds nicely and doesn’t make any major mistakes. I can’t think of why anyone would want to watch it twice, but as a novelty flick it works. A novelty flick that took in nearly $200 million.
*. Katie is the sensitive, artistic, emotional type. Micah is a boy who likes toys. The gender message helped make it a hit as a date movie. The takeaways were clear. For guys: if your girlfriend is acting like a psycho bitch from hell, she may just be one (or possessed by one). For girls: if your boyfriend isn’t relating to you, is betraying your trust, is acting like a control freak when really he’s just a slacker who likes to talk big (a day trader in Micah’s case, naturally), then it may be time to unleash your inner weird woman and give him a blast from the pit.
*. The rebus (or puzzle) film was a form dependent on a particular context that no longer exists. Imagined and directed by Paul Leni, these were a series of short films that came in two parts, the first presenting a crossword puzzle introduced by a cartoon Mr. Rebus figure and the second (only shown after the feature) providing the solution.
*. We don’t watch movies like this any more. Indeed, I’m not sure if there many theatres that still show shorts before the main feature, though I can still remember when some of them did. That’s prime trailer time. And what audience would sit all the way to the end of the credits just to see the solution of the puzzle? Waiting for post-credit sequences is bad enough.
*. The Rebus films were made in Germany, and I’m guessing that 1925 is the date for the German release version and 1928 for the English-language one. The Kino DVD gives the latter as the date, and it is the English edition.
*. I’ll confess that I don’t care for crossword puzzles. I don’t understand the sort of mind that finds them interesting. A lot of the time the clues, even after explained, make no sense to me at all.
*. With that said, if you’re very proficient at crosswords I think you’ll find Rebus-Film No. 1 very easy. I managed to get four of the six words right away. Two of them I answered wrong, but (and here I will announce a spoiler alert, in case you want to play the game yourself first) I have to register a couple of complaints.
*. The first word is eight letters and the visual clues show various musicians playing their instruments and people dancing. The text clue was that it made a lot of noise. I guessed “jamboree.” Made sense to me, but the correct answer is “jazz band.” I thought the rule was that if the answer was two words you had to say as much?
*. Jamboree didn’t get me into trouble right away because the second letter was the same in both cases, which gave me one of my other clues. When it came to naming the mystery city, however, I knew it was wrong. But I couldn’t think of an alternative.
*. The other word I didn’t get was the last one, which was a number with four letters. As the middle letter was “i” and the last letter “e” I guessed “five.” Five worked. The correct answer, however, was “nine.” Even after they revealed it, I couldn’t see how nine was any better an answer than five. They both fit equally well, and while there were various “9”s in the visual clues for that word, there were also other numbers as well.
*. In short, I lost but I thought the whole thing was a cheat.
*. But for the credits (Leni directing, photography by Guido Seeber) I don’t think this one would have any interest today as a film. Its use of montage is unremarkable and the animation only functional. Instead it’s more of an artifact from a now vanished era of movie-going. At the time the idea of a visual crossword puzzle might have seemed a bit daring, but clearly they never caught on and in today’s more fully interactive media environment it’s just a curiosity.
*. I’ve remarked before on how the remakes or re-sets of franchise horror films from the 1970s and ’80s in the twenty-first century were darker affairs. They lost any sense of humour and became grim tales of suffering and endurance.
*. The same could be said for other re-sets, including the transformation of Batman into the The Dark Night, Judge Dredd into Dredd, and RoboCop (1987) into this film. The first Robocop was an in-your-face, over-the-top satire. There are elements of satire here as well, but it’s an altogether nastier, more unpleasant piece of work.
*. You need look no further than the television programming. The light and bubbly infotainment program from the original has been replaced by an angry-looking Samuel L. Jackson berating us for being soft. And there are no funny commercials!
*. This lack of humour upset Paul Verhoeven, who noted the same thing about the 2012 remake of his 1990 film Total Recall. Had pop culture outrun satire?
*. I wonder what else might have caused this shift in sensibility. Are people just more bitter, jaded, or disillusioned than they were twenty or thirty years ago? Were the re-sets targeted at audiences that grew up watching the originals on VHS and who now wanted more “adult” fare?
*. Or perhaps instead of “adult” what was really being sought after was “cool.” Note that when corporate menace Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is preparing to launch his new action-crime fighter he has only one recommendation for the marketing, which is to change the shiny silver armour for something in matte black. That’s black as in the new black.
*. Another shift that I’ve talked a lot about while commenting on other films is the way what may be called a video-game aesthetic has taken over action films. In short, the shooter’s point-of-view and use of CGI has turned nearly every firefight into another level in a first-person shooter video game. This is taken about as far as I’ve ever seen it taken yet in RoboCop, as the RoboVision in his visor even pops up targets and health levels and all the other screen clutter that usually accompanies such games.
*. The politics seem as though they might be interesting. We begin in Tehran, now occupied by American stormtroopers and their mechanized drones, with suicide bombers being presented as heroic freedom fighters. That’s actually pretty bold.
*. But after this intro the idea never gets developed. The whole issue of the morality of drone warfare is raised without ever really being dealt with. In much the same way the matter of free will is brought up for discussion, but without any point being made. Murphy’s will can be made subordinate to his programming if his brain chemistry is adjusted enough, but the idea that he becomes less human because of this seems like a trite conclusion.
*. I like the cast. Joel Kinnaman is slightly alien and intense. Gary Oldman is an actor I never recognize, which is a good thing. Michael Keaton is less obviously slimy than the usual villainous CEO.
*. Speaking of villainous CEOs, they’re the one thing that never seems to change. Over the years they’ve always remained with us. It’s right that Keaton is more likeable, as this is the way such creatures have tried to brand themselves in our day. Not that they’re fooling anyone.
*. Of course RoboCop is made in China. I wonder how long before his movies will be made there too.
*. I didn’t think there was enough here that was new and interesting. Apparently director José Padilha was hoping to push the envelope more but the studio was trying hard for a PG-13 rating because the production was so far over budget. What we’re left with are some teasing hints of a serious political message buried under a very conventional superhero action movie. Or video game. It comes to the same thing.
*. In my notes on Judge Dredd, the first crack at filming this long-lived comic-book series, I said I didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it, not because it was a bad movie but because it was so generic.
*. I’d like to say the same thing here, as Dredd is just as generic, albeit the genre has evolved. We now take comic books much more seriously and the fanboy community doesn’t like it when you mess with the franchise. One thing that means here is that you’re not going to be able to guess it’s Karl Urban under Dredd’s helmet (though we can note how well he does the Dredd sneer). There was a real backlash against showing Stallone’s face in the first film and the producers listened.
*. On the same point about taking comic books seriously we also have a much “darker” movie than the Stallone version. Which is fine, but the original comic books weren’t meant to be taken all that seriously in the first place so I’m not sure how true to the spirit of the original this is.
*. Another change to note is that we use more CGI and have more first-person shooter firefights so that everything looks like a video game. That said, they really do try to put a new spin on things in the first big shootout in Peachtree Towers. I thought this was terrific, all super slow-motion and glittering psychedelic colours. It apparently took them a long time to film this sequence, but it looks amazing.
*. My only problem with this scene is that after it’s over the film has basically shot its bolt effects-wise, with nothing new left to show us.
*. 800 million people live in Mega-City One and everything outside the walls is a wasteland? What do they all eat? Soylent Green? Is that what they mean when they call a meat wagon to take a body to “Resyk”?
*. Once things settle down it turns into a very conventional action film. The set-up is the tried-and-true buddy-cop formula, with the crusty, hard-as-nails vet paired up with the rookie. I wonder where that convention got started? Probably back in the 1930s sometime. And it refuses to die.
*. Another convention is that of the high-rise action film. This movie was often compared to The Raid, and the resemblance is obvious. You could also think of the French zombie movie The Horde. Or Die Hard I suppose.
*. The script, by Alex Garland, strikes me as really uninspired. Aside from the usual set-up, the chief villain, Ma-Ma, has no personality at all. Lena Headey, who knows something about playing the bad guy, is woefully underused. When she’s finally disposed of it’s entirely anticlimactic, and they make it even worse by having Dredd, in an act that seems quite of character, sadistically giving her a shot of her own hallucinogenic poison before he tosses her off the balcony. This allows them to show her death in slow-motion, which by this point in the film is an effect that’s getting stale.
*. It’s also not entirely clear why we’re seeing her in slow-motion since reality should only seem to be moving slower from her point of view. I had the same question about the shootout in the drug den as well. Why should the audience be seeing action as though we’re the ones who are on Slo-Mo? This is just a quibble in a film like this, but still.
*. I also thought a problem with the script was the way they kept dragging Kay around long after it made no sense to be still holding on to him.
*. In her review of Magnum Force Pauline Kael remarked that such a film’s audience “rather likes its fantasies to be uninvolving.” Enter Dredd: faceless, character-less, more a point of view in a video game than then a person. A one-man wrecking crew, he destroys people (and sets) and snarls out one-liners. Having sent Ma-Ma to her final end he merely says “Yeah” and walks away. He’s less ridiculous than Stallone simply by being less.
*. The lesson seems to be that character only gets in the way of such a film. We don’t watch movies like this so much as we rubberneck at them. Kael was on to something: we want to look, but we don’t want to get involved.
*. I’ve written before about the phenomenon of “franchise bloat.” This is the process of inflation whereby each sequel in a franchise gets longer, more expensive, and so cluttered with characters and other material from the earlier films that has to keep being carried over that the whole enterprise starts to sink under its own weight.
*. A good example are the MarvelCrap superhero movies (see my notes on The Avengers) or the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (see my notes on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End). An even earlier instance, however, is the Lethal Weapon tetralogy.
*. So Leo Getz is back again, and even doing his “they fuck you with the ____” routine (this time with cell phones). Rene Russo’s Lorna is back, and pregnant. Even the police psychiatrist, a pointless character with only a line or two in each of the earlier films, returns for another scene here, serving no purpose at all that I can see.
*. This is a series that seems incapable of letting anything go. Remember how Dirty Harry got a dog, the bulldog Meathead in Sudden Impact, but in The Dead Pool it had disappeared with no explanation? Well, in this movie we have Riggs’s original dog, plus the Rotweiler he picked up in Lethal Weapon 3, all living together in one happy doggy household. They have to get their scene too. No one is left out.
*. Even the tag line “I’m getting too old for this shit” gets recycled, this time by Riggs. Talk about things coming full circle.
*. The franchise acts like a snowball, picking up accretions as it keeps rolling downhill because with every turn something new has to be added to the formula. Like Chris Rock here. Can you doubt that if there’d been a Lethal Weapon 5 he would have been included?
*. About the only thing that’s lighter is Riggs’s head. It must have been a relief for Mel to finally join the ’90s and get a haircut.
*. Danny Glover. I was wondering whatever happened to him and then checked his filmography online and saw that he’s been incredibly busy appearing in a lot of third-rate stuff. It’s hard to figure. He was really good in these movies. Did yeoman work in Predator 2. A dramatic turn in The Color Purple. Showed up and had some fun in Saw. You’d think he would have been in some bigger, better stuff.
*. What on earth does it mean when Murtaugh keeps yelling “Will it to me, Riggs!” and “Will me!” at the end? I’d never heard that expression before and I’ve never heard it since. I guess it has something to do with psychically signaling each other, so that he can “hear” Riggs calling underwater. But that, as they like to say throughout the series, is thin.
*. If you liked the first three movies then you’ll probably like this one too. More explosions and chase scenes, even more expensively produced. Things get started with a tremendous bang as an outlandish figure in a suit of armour and a flamethrower is fired like a missile into a fuel tanker. There’s a terrific sequence that plays out on the highway that juggles a bunch of novel elements. Jet Li (cast against type as the villain, because Jackie Chan wouldn’t play a bad guy) is the leader of a Chinese gang, which means we finally get to see some real martial arts being performed. There are a couple of references to the O. J. Simpson trial that I doubt many young people will get today. In another ten years they will go over everybody’s heads.
*. Even with all the extra padding — I think I could have found at least a half hour of cuts, including getting rid of Rene Russo entirely (not because I dislike her but just because there’s no point in her being here) — I still wouldn’t have any trouble rating this as a solid enough outing but for the ending. The final act drags out for nearly twenty minutes! And nothing about Riggs and Lorna getting married and Lorna having a baby is funny or interesting at all. In fact, with all of Lorna’s demands to get married before she’ll give birth I was hoping one of the nurses would sedate her and have done with it. Before long everyone seems hysterical and is screaming and it’s all perfectly terrible. I was cringing through the whole thing before the credits finally came, mercifully, in the form of a rather self-indulgent photo album.
*. That’s a long way from ending on a high note, but it does have the virtue of drawing a line under the series. There has been talk of a reboot, but it hasn’t materialized as of this writing. A television series debuted in 2016, for no other reason I can think of other than to cash in on the name since there was never anything original or unique about the franchise. Re-watching all of these movies twenty and even thirty years later, that’s something I feel more than ever. I’m too old for this shit.
*. This is a movie I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on. Not because it stinks, but because it’s so generic there’s nothing to say. Even the story plays like a repeat of Demolition Man (1993), and that wasn’t worth saying much about either.
*. Sylvester Stallone is the human action figure, dressed up like Sgt. Pepper and walking with a painful strut and arms-akimbo motion that looks like he might actually be a model made out of some stiff material being filmed in stop motion.
*. The comic-book character of Judge Dredd is one of a long line of moviedom’s legal enforcers. Pauline Kael famously expressed concerns about the fascistic tendencies inherent in Dirty Harry, but Eastwood’s maverick cop was soon eclipsed in the sudden-and-violent justice sweepstakes by RoboCop and Judge Joseph Dredd. As mechanical (or mechanical-seeming) embodiments of the law they provide a satire on taking retribution too far, but in the end we’re on their side. They have no time for technicalities or extenuating circumstances. The law is the law, and they are not its representatives but its embodiment.
*. The look and style is Paul Verhoeven, with the now obligatory borrowing of Blade Runner‘s neon and rain-slick streets. Renny Harlin and Richard Donner were first choices to direct. Schwarzenegger was considered to star. These names are all interchangeable. Oddly enough, the Coen brothers were also offered the job but turned it down to make Fargo.
*. Fan boys were upset because Dredd shows his face, which he doesn’t do in the comic book. This is a bind producers put themselves in when adapting such material. I don’t think they should give a damn what the fan base thinks, but then that is the built-in audience.
*. I know bigger is always better, but that giant composite weapon Dredd has, clearly the BFG (Big Fucking Gun) from the Doom videogame, is as big as he is!
*. There were conflicts between Stallone and director Danny Cannon about the right tone to take. Stallone wanted it to play more as comedy, while Cannon wanted something darker and more violent. Again, this was a line that they needed a Verhoeven to walk. Here they fell on their faces.
*. Has there ever been as useless and unfunny a sidekick as Rob Schneider’s Fergie?
*. The script has a decent premise, but it’s poorly written. All the tag lines are dreadful. Stallone’s “I knew you’d say that” is introduced, awkwardly, a bunch of times at the beginning but then nothing much is done with it. Just before Hershey kills her adversary she is called a bitch, to which she responds “Judge bitch!” When Dredd tosses Rico from the Statue of Liberty after his own Saboteur-style dangling he says “Court’s adjourned.” That’s awful. I don’t even get it. Is Rico being given an adjournment or sent to his death?
*. I do like that giant old-school battlebot that Rico brings back to life, but if it’s so darn effective why don’t the police use more of them?
*. It’s not a terrible movie. If you’re not picky, or too hooked on the comic book, you can still enjoy parts of it. But it’s very much the tail-end of the SF-action-blockbuster genre of the time, which is to say right before CGI moved in and made this kind of movie the equivalent of a silent film or something shot in black-and-white. I don’t mind the movies of this earlier dispensation, indeed in some ways I prefer them to what came after, but there are many better such films than Judge Dredd to re-watch.
*. It’s hard to make a bad time-travel movie.
*. It’s impossible (I think) to make a time-travel movie that makes sense.
*. From these two premises it’s possible to conclude that (1) Timecop is a good movie (not a classic, but modestly entertaining), and (2) it doesn’t make any sense.
*. Why is it so hard to make a bad time-travel movie? I think because the idea is so inherently interesting. It’s such a fundamental human desire to turn back the clock, have a do-over, a chance to get it right. Plus it’s a bit of trickery that keeps our minds occupied with the various ramifications just enough so that we don’t notice other weaknesses in the story quite as much.
*. Those “various ramifications” are, of course, why time-travel movies don’t make sense. I will not get sucked into a discussion of the many paradoxes and unanswered questions this film leaves us with, like why there aren’t two Max Walkers at the end of the film, why they have to go into the future in a rocket-car that doesn’t go with them, why returning to the present is so much easier than going back into the past, why the same matter occupying the same space has the effect of turning people into strawberry jam, or why it’s so hard to police time travel when there are only two time-travel machines in existence (and only one that anyone is aware of, so that there shouldn’t be any problem in the first place). This is all just nonsense, and everyone (the screenwriter, the producer, the audience) knows it.
*. Suffice it to say that time-travel technology can be put to nefarious purposes if it gets into the wrong hands. Here the wrong hands are those of Senator McComb, played by Ron Silver.
*. McComb seems a little too sleazy to make it all the way to the top, but his platform does have a familiar ring to it. “The country’s gone down the drain because of the special interests. We need someone in the White House who’s so rich that he doesn’t have to listen anybody. . . . When I’m in office it’s going to be just like the 80’s. Top 10% will get richer and the other 90% can emigrate to Mexico where they can live a better life.” Are we living in the alternative reality where this guy won? Things are a lot worse than they were in the ’80s, at least in terms of what McComb is talking about.
*. I noted in my notes on Bloodsport how rare it was at the time (1988) to run a couple of words together without a hyphen before the Internet era. And here we are again in 1994, when it was starting to be more in vogue. Shouldn’t Max be a “time cop”?
*. I also noted in my notes on Bloodsport how poor the fight choreography was. That’s a problem here as well. They try and get around it with lots of quick editing and shooting the fight scenes mostly in the dark, but I was still disappointed in how stilted and awkward most of the fights played out. Despite being a genuine martial artist, I’m not sure Jean-Claude Van Damme was that great at selling a fight on film. He was mostly built for posing and doing the splits.
*. Not that this matters much. This isn’t a martial arts movie. It’s a very simple sci-fi action flick.
*. Nice digs that Max and his young wife have moved into. As Roger Ebert noted, it’s just “the kind of turreted, gabled, four-story Gothic manor that, as we all know, is the typical residence of Washington, D.C. policemen.”
*. How cheesy is it that everything in the future (that is, the year of our lord 2004) has stayed the same except now we drive around in computerized space buggies?
*. I wonder whatever happened to Mia Sara. I guess she never made it as a big star, but she’s very good here.
*. I thought more might have been done with having two Van Dammes at the end fighting the bad guys, but for some reason they didn’t play that angle up as much. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they felt it was ground they’d already gone over in Double Impact (where Van Damme played long-separated twin brothers).
*. This was Van Damme’s biggest hit (of movies where he played the starring role). Afterwards he would go quickly downhill, only to reappear in curious, ironic form in JCVD (2008) and The Expendables 2 (2012).
*. He might have learned something from the success of Timecop, and realized that all he needed to do was work on projects just a little different from the run-of-the-mill chop-sockies that he kept churning out, to swiftly diminishing returns. Timecop is by no stretch of the imagination a great movie, but it is a decent entertainment that still plays reasonably well more than twenty years later. Of all Van Damme’s films, aside from the outlier JCVD, I think it’s the only one worth revisiting.
*. Well, here’s the franchise killer. The first RoboCop can make some claim to being a minor genre classic. RoboCop 2 was very much cut from the same cloth, and while I thought it had some really big problems, I know people who actually prefer it to the original. But RoboCop 3 is just a piece of garbage.
*. You could say it wasn’t a franchise killer, as it was a lead-in to a TV series so the character did keep going. But that series didn’t go anywhere, and they had to really water this film down to get a PG-13 rating to help with the transition.
*. Now RoboCop really is an action toy (it’s how we first see him), and the real hero of the movie is the spunky little girl Nikko. In fact, we’re over fifteen minutes into the movie before Murphy makes an appearance.
*. That jump from the punk kids in RoboCop 2 to Nikko in this film is probably the biggest indicator of how far things have gone. Not that I liked the kids in the previous movie very much, but compared to what we get here . . .
*. Poor Lewis. I guess Nancy Allen had had enough, and only agreed to appear in the film if she were killed off quickly. At least she gets to finally let her hair down, and dies in church.
*. Poor Rip Torn. Had it come to this? I guess it had. Well, The Larry Sanders Show was only a year away. (In case you’re wondering at my dates, while The Larry Sanders Show premiered in 1992 and Robocop 3 was released in 1993, it was actually filmed in 1991 and was held up because Orion went bankrupt.)
*. I wonder what’s going to happen to the people evicted from Cadillac Heights. Are they being sent to concentration camps? Gulags? At one point OCP says they’re going to be taken someplace where there are better jobs, but I don’t think we’re meant to believe this. The rebels simply complain that they’re being thrown “out of their homes and into the streets,” but they’re obviously being bused somewhere.
*. There was a little bit of potential with the ninja warrior(s) sent to deal with RoboCop, but aside from spinning some somersaults in the air they really don’t do much.
*. It’s probably not worth thinking about this one too much. It’s a very bad movie. Some indication of just how bad is given by RoboCop’s first appearance. To set the scene: he comes to the rescue of Lewis and her fellow cops, who are surrounded by a punch of punks armed with knives and clubs. I guess the cops are out of ammunition, or something, because they are totally helpless. But then RoboCop arrives and shoots his way out of the roof of his car.
*. Yes, he shoots his way out of his car! He does not open the door and walk out, he shoots a hole in the roof and then pops out like a jack-in-the-box. It’s even stupider than it sounds, if you can believe it.
*. In the face of such a WTF? moment further criticism seems pointless. It’s a cheap, stupid movie that everyone seems to be embarrassed by. The satire and cynicism of the first two films has been inverted into a family-friendly entertainment that just rehashes the same old story about corporate power gone mad. It had me wondering for a moment if Delta City ever got built. But then I realized that I didn’t really care.
*. Inflation. I mentioned in my notes on Lethal Weapon 2 how fond the producers were of blowing up houses. Here things start off with the demolition of Orlando’s old City Hall building (brought down by a car bomb in the film, apparently) and end with the destruction of an entire suburban development. Or the demolition of the Sorento Hotel, if you stay until the end of the credits.
*. Speaking of that final explosion, is this one of the first post-credit sequences before they became all the rage? I really hate post-credit scenes, so if it is then this movie has a lot to answer for.
*. For the third time round, this isn’t bad. The theme song “It’s Probably Me” (sung by Sting) is catchy. The script might be the best of the series, with a few genuinely funny moments and snappy lines. Material from the earlier movies is woven in seamlessly. The scene where Riggs and Lorna fall into one another’s arms after undressing to reveal their scars is cute and clever. The action sequences are expensive and well produced and even have some fresh twists, including the disruption of a hockey game, an armored car chase, and Riggs hitching a ride on the front of a subway train to pursue the bad guys.
*. Of course none of it makes any sense, but that’s par for the course. If you make it past the first explosion without wondering too much about what Riggs and Murtaugh are doing playing bomb experts, or how they are even allowed to enter the building in the first place, then you can’t really question anything else.
*. It’s a running gag that Riggs is always getting in a foot race with people who are driving vehicles, and winning, isn’t it? Because that’s something else that doesn’t make sense (even given the shortcuts he’s always alerted to).
*. I do wonder why our two heroes never have any police back-up. If they’ve got the drop on the bad guys at the end, why don’t they just radio in for reinforcements instead of trying to take them out by themselves? Do they even consider this?
*. Despite all it has going for it, I can’t say I enjoyed this movie any more than the first two. The villains, which this series never did a good job with, are especially boring. I didn’t realize selling guns on the black market was such a big business in the U.S. Are there guns that are illegal in America? I thought you could buy a rocket launcher at a gun show if you wanted one, but I wouldn’t know. It doesn’t seem like the gang would be making that much money out of such a scam, but the producers probably figured they couldn’t go with having another bunch of drug-runners as the villains.
*. Aside from that, while it’s well done it’s just too familiar, giving a sense of having been over this ground before and now they might be trying too hard. Heaven knows they’re working the formula, but by this point the franchise was starting to seem tired. They probably should have blown it up and let Murtaugh finally retire. But the old orange had some juice in it yet.