This latest widget off the “RoboCop” assembly line is a bit better than the first sequel, which amounts to damnation with faint praise. Limiting the gore, but not the carnage, in pursuit of a PG-13 rating and more youngsters, pic remains a cluttered, nasty exercise that seems principally intent on selling action figures. As with “RoboCop 2,” video prospects could be explosive, but after an initial burst, box office looks rusty.
Relying on heavy makeup and the trademark costume, Robert John Burke replaces Peter Weller — star of the first two films — in the title role of the murdered cop who returns as a crime-fighting cyborg.
Still, by downplaying the character’s Murphy side to accommodate the change, the filmmakers also lose some of the original’s humanity, skimming over the battle for identity that helped elevate Paul Verhoeven’s superior 1987 pic, next to which both sequels pale.
This time, ubiquitous conglomerate OCP is trying to evict poor tenants from a run-down neighborhood to erect Delta City, a pet project of the massive Japanese corporation run by tycoon villain Kanemitsu (Mako) that now owns the company.
Director Fred Dekker (“The Monster Squad”) wrote the screenplay with comic-book writer-illustrator Frank Miller — who also scripted the series’ second installment — and helps bring some flashes of broad humor to the otherwise dour proceedings.
The RoboCop action figures that frequent the background also provide a constant reminder why the film was made — with a new innovation that has RoboCop flying, apparently designed to be the big holiday accessory.
In fact, the marketing gurus seem to be working overtime, introducing an orphaned, computer-hacking moppet (Remy Ryan) to try reaching a younger demographic and, for their older brothers, a dishy doctor (Jill Hennessy) who also joins the Robo-cause.
Burke gamely handles his thankless task, hiding within the costume to emulate Weller, while Nancy Allen, Robert DoQui and Felton Perry provide continuity with the earlier films.
Most of the performances, however, are cartoonishly overplayed, with Rip Torn and Mako wasted as ruthless execs, Allen appearing in what amounts to a cameo, and Hennessy and Ryan attractive and obnoxiously spunky, respectively, as the featured newcomers.
The series’ enduring stars remain Rob Bottin’s knockout RoboCop suit and Basil Poledouris’ musical score.
Most special effects are top-notch, though the ninja tricks feel a bit incongruous with the rest of the action — as if they were borrowed from a dubbed latenight entry on local TV.
That’s perhaps appropriate, since that’s where fans will soon find the character, with a RoboCop TV series oiling up for syndication. The arrival of that vehicle is timely, since the movie franchise looks like it’s running out of gas.