Our RoboCop Remake (2014)

I don’t know what it says about my attention span lately that I’ve been watching so many anthology-structured comedies built out of isolated sketches instead of an overarching narrative. Out of all those recent selections, though, including the stoner culture comedy The Groove Tube & the Italian Fantasia parody Allegro non troppo, I don’t think any have been as fractured or as loosely defined as Our RoboCop Remake, which actually does follow a strict narrative throughline. Crowd-funded & practically crowd-directed, Our RoboCop Remake is a scene for scene “remake” of the Paul Verhoeven classic RoboCop. Just as Alex Murphy’s robo-body is violently disassembled in RoboCop 2, the editors behind this fan-made reimagining divided the 1987 RoboCop feature between 50 contributing filmmakers, who individually remade scenes of the film for varying comedic effects. The movie was curated as a tongue-in-cheek protest of the then-upcoming major studio remake of RoboCop released that same year. This is explained on the film’s website with the mission statement: “Because if anyone’s going to ruin RoboCop, it’s us.” Although uneven by nature and at times painfully unfunny, the film is a lot more vibrantly energized & aggressively strange than its major studio counterpart, which makes it a lot more in tune with Verhoeven’s original vision than that PG-13 bore.

It’s difficult to imagine watching Our RoboCop Remake without having seen its source material, which might be its one major flaw in comparison to 2014’s other robo-reboot. Every scene is such an isolated, comically absurd send-up of the Original Flavor RoboCop moment it’s parodying that the story would be impossible to follow (or care about) if it weren’t for the primary movie’s legacy. The scene to scene range of talent & production value in everything from writing to costuming is violently drastic, including both intricately-constructed ED-209 puppets & out of the box Party City RoboCop costumes. Still, the movie easily survives on the strength of individual moments & gags and is consistently charming in the juvenile audacity of its basic premise. In stand-out moments comedian Steve Agee delivers a Tim & Eric style infomercial for prosthetic hearts, RoboCop explodes dozens of would-be rapists’ genitals, and an MGM lawyer serves the audience with a “Cease & Desist” order to shut the entire operation down. The comedy can be disappointingly bro-minded in some stretches, with an overabundance of dick jokes guiding the way. Helpful text at the bottom of the screen indicates the contributors involved in each segment, though, (sometimes amusingly so, especially in the case of a brief Drive spoof attributed to Nicolas Winding Refn), so any eyeroll-worthy moments of failed humor are quarantined well enough to not ruin the mood entirely. By the time the whole movie ends on a credits sequence involving multiple breakdancing RoboCops, as if it were an episode of Strangers with Candy, its general party vibe is undeniably infectious.

As with the similarly-spirited “illegal movie” Girl Walk//All Day, Our RoboCop Remake demands respect merely by maintaining its outsized ambition against the odds of its budget & circumstance. The range of its various mediums, from live action comedy sketches to amateur puppetry to crude computer animation to interpretive dance & musical theater, overcomes any disappointments in its inconsistent tone. The film is also deliriously over-the-top in its nudity & violence and deliberately devolves into an Ultimate Reality style of post-modern deconstruction towards its climax in ways that pay homage to Verhoeven’s reputation as a subversive button pusher without producing anything resembling a carbon copy of his work. The film is similar to the mixed bag results of Gus Van Sant’s “shot for shot” remake of Psycho, except that it’s much easier to imagine yelling at it while downing a case of cheap beer with your most idiotic friends. That’s not too bad of a result for a crowd-funded parody of an 80s action film stretched across dozens of filmmakers with varying levels of raw talent.

-Brandon Ledet

Cross-Promotion: The RoboCop Series on The Bangers & Mash Show

I was recently invited back as a returning guest on an episode of The Bangers n’ Mash Show to discuss one of my all-time favorite film properties: RoboCop. My previous contribution to the Bangers n’ Mash podcast was in the form of short clips on their 2016 Phantom Awards episode. This conversation was much more substantial. I join the show’s co-host Zack [Mr. Bangers] to not only discuss the original Paul Verhoeven classic RoboCop (1987), but its various sequels, reboots, re-imaginings, and bastardized multi-media spinoffs. Highlights include RoboCop’s brief pro wrestling career & Korean fried chicken commercial. Lowlights include the 2014 major studio robo-reboot & various failed television series. It was a great excuse to gush at length over one of my all-time favorite movies and to finally push myself to watch its little-loved offspring that I’ve been avoiding for decades, namely RoboCop 3.

Give a listen to the Bangers n’ Mash episode on RoboCop below. And if you like what you hear, give a listen to more episodes of the podcast on their YouTube page.

-Brandon Ledet

RoboCop (2014)

One of the stranger trends to emerge from major studios scrambling to remake every past success has been the push to re-imagine Paul Verhoeven films as PG-13 commodities. The recent announcement of an upcoming Starship Troopers re-imagining makes three Verhoeven remakes in the past few years that seemingly are determined to strip the iconic director’s work of all the satirical cruelty that made it successful in the first place. Did the world really need a version of Total Recall with no Schwarzenegger and no trips to Mars? It’s doubtful. I can’t imagine a modern version of Starship Troopers’s war propaganda satire will fare much better and it’s starting to feel like only a matter of time before we get an updated version of Verhoeven’s Showgirls with all of the camp and the nudity surgically removed. The biggest disappointment in this trend so far, though, might just be the 2014 remake of Verhoeven’s privatized police force satire RoboCop, arguably one of the greatest films ever made. The PG-13 RoboCop reboot is especially frustrating in the context of modern, sanitized Verhoeven remakes because it threatens to actually be a decent film with its own interesting ideas for its opening half hour. No other Verhoeven bastardization so far has ever had a chance of being half as interesting as the recent Robo-reboot did, which makes it all the more tragic that the film crashes and burns in such a dull, uninspired manner.

I’d forgive anyone for being fooled that the 2010 RoboCop “gets it” based on its opening sequence. Samuel L. Jackson kicks off the film as the host of a primetime news shoe that’s half CNN, half Dianetics DVD. There are no comedy sketches interrupting this opener as “commercial breaks” like in the Verhoeven film, but the satire in the sequence is still palpable. Jackson’s fake news show profiles a private American company that makes billions of dollars selling weaponry to the military. In demonstration of the power & efficiency of the company’s military-grade robots, which include past RoboCop villain ED-209 working in tandem with Star Wars prequel-type droids, a Middle Eastern terrorist cell is dismantled by American troops. The raid bleakly concludes with the execution of a child, a detail the news program conveniently cuts from its live feed. Jackson’s host then asks his audience why a “robo-phobic” America is so cautious about bringing these private sector androids into urban law enforcement, needling, “What’s more important than the safety of the American people?” This opening efficiently conjures modern concerns of trading freedom for safety, the morality of drone warfare & the surveillance state, and the terrifying business practices of privatized military & police forces, all while maintaining at least some of the sly humor of Verhoeven’s source material. Unfortunately, its minor successes are short-lived. There’s a national debate about the ethics of a roboticized police force that, of course, eventually leads to the titular cyborg solution of a half-man/half-machine (all cop) compromise. The movie remains mildly interesting as RoboCop is built by a futuristic prosthetics company and adjusts to his new Robo-body, but immediately crashes into a wall of modern PG-13 action tedium as soon as he blossoms onto his complete Robo-self. It never recovers.

The hard-R violence of the 1980’s RoboCop feature meant that each bullet, every blow delivered by RoboCop or his supercriminal enemies were significantly brutal. In the remake, the violence is much less impactful, much easier to shake off. The film’s CGI-aided fantasy violence doesn’t help that point much either. RoboCop leaps weightlessly like a superhero in this version, sharply contrasted with the limited mobility in his heavy hydraulic systems of the past. Outside of a couple production details like RoboCop having one human hand and one Robo-hand to accentuate his dual, self-conflicted nature, the film more or less runs out of ideas as soon as its titular hero is actualized. It’s an aggressively conventional work that fully loses track of why it even exists, to the point where callbacks to the Verhoeven classic in lines like “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar,” feel absurdly out of place. With the violence muted and the satire almost completely drained, this RoboCop rehash feels entirely devoid of a sense of purpose, as if it were a down-the-line sequel of a Jason Statham or JCVD property that surfaced on VOD long after its origins had been forgotten. You can feel it reaching to reclaim its opening spark in its political mockery, which posits old-timey Republicans as the opposition to the RoboCop initiative and forward thinking leftists, including Michael Keaton in full Steve Jobs mode, as the ones pushing for the innovation. By the time Sam Jackson’s news anchor returns to usher in the end credits, though, the game had already been lost and nearly everything in-between feels like a generic 2010s shoot-em-up. Something about that wasted potential feels even more dispiriting than it would if the movie were just bland from the very beginning.

RoboCop is one of those remakes where you could change just the title and a couple minor plot details and avoid purchasing the rights to the intellectual property altogether. That, of course, would have hurt ticket sales, but it would also have lowered expectations of the quality comparisons to the original Verhoeven film, which it seems disinterested in matching in tone or content. The worst part about RoboCop is that the idea it initially presents it is interested in continuing & adopting Verhoeven’s weird vision to a modern context. Ultimately, though, I’m not sure it was interested in saying anything in particular at all, a distressing attribute seemingly shared by all of these unimaginative “re-imaginings” of this great director’s greatest hits.

-Brandon Ledet

RoboCop’s Brief Career in Professional Wrestling

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An often misunderstood political satire, Paul Verhoven’s darkly comical scif-fi action classic RoboCop is one of those strange ultraviolent 80s properties that, despite its exceedingly dark content, was cartoonish enough (perhaps by design) to appeal to small children. Bare breasts, bullet wounds, drug abuse, threatened sexual violence, and f-bombs aside, RoboCop boasted a titular cyborg protagonist seemingly designed specifically to make for a kickass action figure for little kids to drool over. Indeed, children did latch onto the futuristic law enforcer’s look (assuming they weren’t intellectually engaged by the film’s attack on the privatization of law enforcement), so much so that the movie inspired a surprisingly wide range of kid-friendly mutations. Almost immediately after its release, RoboCop launched an ostensibly still-alive comic book series, a corny live-action TV series, two separate animated shows, and such unlikely oddities as this Korean fried chicken ad, all with content designed to appeal to a younger crowd than its R-Rated source material.

The absurdity of that fried chicken ad aside, the most fascinating RoboCop mutation of all (to me anyway), was the crime-fighting cyborg’s brief career in professional wrestling, an art form that by design has to appeal both to children and to child-like adults alike. This magical three minutes of pop culture content was staged in Washington, D.C., 25 years ago, at a WCW pay-per-view event titled Capital Combat ’90: The Return of RoboCop. Now, that title may have you wondering how RoboCop could be “returning” to a pro wrestling career he never began, which is fair. The truth is that he wasn’t returning to the ring, but rather returning to existence. The PPV was a cross-promotional effort between WCW & Orion Pictures as a means of hyping the theatrical release of RoboCop 2. The really, really sad truth is that even if RoboCop were to step into the squared circle in 2015, he still technically wouldn’t be “returning” to the ring, since in an event named after him, his appearance was so brief that he never made it into the wrestling ring in the first place.

Not only was Capital Combat ’90: The Return of RoboCop an egregious corporate synergy cash-grab, it was also just a blatant false promise. It might have been too much to ask for pro wrestling fans to expect RoboCop to perform any power-bombs or pile-drivers, but surely they must’ve been livid by the measly three minutes of RoboCop content actually delivered. Considering the character’s appearance in the context of the (standard) three hour runtime of the PPV event, less than 2% of the product was actually RoboCop-related. If his appearance had been a surprise, this might have been less of a blatant rip-off & more of a strange novelty, but keep in mind that RoboCop was featured prominently on the poster of the event, which was named after him. That kind of bait & switch might not be punishable by RoboLaw, but it’s still incredibly cruel.

This cruelty was not helped at all by the booking, which made the odd choice to place the RoboCop segment halfway into the show. Every match that leads up to RoboCop’s pro-wrestling debut features announcers just salivating over what’s to come. The show continuously promises the arrival of crowd-favorite Sting & “his buddy RoboCop”, who was present to protect Sting’s younger fans “the Little Stingers” (Oh, won’t somebody please think of the Little Stingers?). While other wrestlers were performing (in some occasionally great matches), announcers would turn up the volume little by little, reminding the audience to stay tuned-in with phrases like “As we anxiously await RoboCop and, of course, Sting” & “Still to come, Sting & RoboCop,” trying to visit the unlikely “buddies’” locker room, struggling with a feed that “cuts out”, etc. Then, when the big moment finally comes, it’s essentially a two-minute sketch that briefly interrupts the show before the next match. It’s no wonder that RoboCop’s appearance disappointed so many fans, given that it was tossed away so casually after such a ludicrous build-up instead of being saved for a show-ending gimmick or at the very least a surprise swerve.

Thanks to the following 25 years of emotional healing and the advent of YouTube, however, these three minutes of RoboCop pro wrestling content can now be enjoyed in a void as a novelty, which is often the best way to consume some of WCW’s trashier antics. Here’s a rundown of the entirety of what RoboCop does as a professional wrestler. He walks down the entrance ramp to the intro, “The nation’s number one law enforcer. He serves the public trust, protects the innocent, upholds the law. The ultimate police officer, RoboCop!”. Noticing his longtime “buddy” Sting has been locked in a cage prop (leftover from a ridiculous match in which a crooked manager had to be restrained earlier in the evening), RoboCop springs into action by calmly walking over to the cage, bending its “steel” bars, and lifting the door of its hinges. And that’s pretty much it. The Four Horsemen heels that had locked Sting in the cage are freaked out by his newfound buddy and run off without a physical altercation (probably afraid that they will be shot to death) and without missing a beat the ring announcer begins to shill for the next upcoming WCW PPV event, Bash at the Beach. And thus RoboCop’s pro wrestling career began and ended.

This, of course, is far from the worst stunt in the history of pro wrestling, or even the history of the WCW. Hell, this isn’t even the worst movie-promotion stunt in the history of WCW, considering that they gave David Arquette (as himself) the Heavy-Weight Championship belt as a way of promoting the film Ready to Rumble in a stunt that disgusted even Arquette. It is an odd footnote in both pro wrestling & RoboCop history, though, one that probably confused both adult & child fans alike. I’m still trying to make sense of it myself. In a three-hour event that boasts actually-decent matches featuring the likes of Cactus Jack, Rick Flair, and Lex Luger it’s the three minutes of RoboCop content that stands out as something truly special, for better or for worse. Sometimes even when pro wrestling is at its trashiest depths, it can be memorable in a way that a lot of mediums can’t touch. Bad movies have a way of achieving that special kind of trash as well, and for a brief three minutes in 1990, Capital Combat: The Return of RoboCop found both art forms failing spectacularly in unison: a rare, but wonderful sight that’s to be cherished . . . as soon as the pain of being let down & ripped off fades away.

-Brandon Ledet