The vaguely futuristic Detroit of "RoboCop 2" doesn't have the monumental dankness of its predecessor. In this sequel, directed by Irvin Kershner, the urban landscape has a glossy, overbright clarity. Even Peter Weller's RoboCop seems freshly decked out: His armor is floridly muscled and polished to a twinkle. The new spiffy look gives him an almost jovial deportment, and the film is at its most enjoyable when he's simply padding about the city like some sort of crustacean samurai.
But the new look is essentially a set-up. RoboCop looks this good so that, before not too long, we can feast on his dismantling at the hands of a gang of terrorist dope dealers led by a messianic maniac (Tom Noonan) with a ringlet in his nose.
The film seems to come apart along with RoboCop. Despite some marvelously creepy and elegant effects, and occasional outcroppings of rude wit, "RoboCop 2" (citywide) is yet another entry in this summer's body-count sweepstakes. It's a film made by a director of great feeling and craft (as demonstrated in films as disparate as "Loving" and "The Empire Strikes Back") who's caught in a bind: He's hired to deliver the goods for a movie that has no room for his usual range of sensitivities.
The first "RoboCop," directed by Paul Verhoeven, was gloriously in sensitive; it was so snide and soulless that you had to laugh. Except for RoboCop and his partner (Nancy Allen, also a blip in this new film), the movie was peopled with snivelly cretins trying to outmaneuver each other to the top of the corporate dung heap.
"RoboCop 2" (rated R) tries for some "heart" early on, but there's no conviction in it. There's confusion, though. We're told that RoboCop's wife--that is, his wife when he was policeman Frank Murphy, before he was blown apart by thugs and re-engineered as a cyborg--is deeply distressed by his lonely vigils outside her home. You see, he keeps having flashbacks to his "old" life. But when she is brought in to confront him, lawyers in tow, she seems to want nothing more than a reconciliation with her new RoboHusband.
His rejection of her is supposed to be a sign that he has human feelings, but it's one of the few times we are allowed to glimpse those feelings. (And it's the last time we glimpse the wife. So much for subplots.) The film is all set up for a character study that never happens. It's as if the Elephant Man turned into the Woolly Mammoth.
There are a host of other inconsistencies and evasions in this movie. The script, by Frank Miller (of the "Dark Knight" Batman comics) and Walon Green (who co-wrote "The Wild Bunch"), has something to do with an attempted takeover of Detroit by the nefarious Omni Consumer Products corporation. The city owes OCP millions and, in an attempt to force a foreclosure on the city's assets, the corporation engineers a police strike. And yet RoboCop is still on the job, blithely dispatching looters and muggers.
Say it ain't so . . . Robo Scab ????
When a crafty corporate interloper (Belinda Bauer) finagles to get RoboCop out of the way and install a leaner, meaner RoboCop 2, it's never quite clear why. Ultimately, Robo 2 seems to be in the movie so that he can face off against Robo 1. The resulting hardware wars are sometimes invigorating, but you're not left with much except the clank of gunmetal and the spectacle of once again viewing acres of innocent civilians being strafed by arsenals of special effects.
Nastiness in a movie can sometimes be liberating and fun, but the nastiness in "RoboCop 2" is no more authentic than its "heart." And, considering the fact that one of its leads is a 10-year-old boy (Gabriel Damon) who fires Uzis and becomes a drug lord, perhaps we're all better off for the lack of authenticity.
And perhaps we've passed the point where the kind of urban despair and violence depicted in this movie can be used as a comic springboard for a load of techno-mayhem. This isn't gallows humor; it's gallows exploitation.
An Orion Pictures release. Executive producer Patrick Crowley. Producer Jon Davison. Director Irvin Kershner. Screenplay Frank Miller and Walon Green. Cinematography Mark Irwin. Music Leonard Rosenman. Production design Peter Jamison. Costumes Rosanna Norton. Film editors Deborah Zeitman, Lee Smith, Armen Minasian. With Peter Weller, Daniel O'Herlihy, Belinda Bauer, Nancy Allen, Galyn Gorg.
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.
MPAA-rated: R (under 17 not admitted without accompanying parent or adult guardian).