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The Clumsiest-Looking Robot on Screen?

Peter Weller (Robert John Burke in 3), Nancy Allen, Daniel Herlihy. Directed by Paul Verhoeven (1), Irvin Kershner (2), Fred Dekker (3). Aspect ratio: 1.85:1. Dolby Digital Surround. 103 minutes (1), 116 minutes (2), 105 minutes (3). 1987, 1990, 1993. Image Entertainment ID4071ORDVD (1), ID4072ORDVD (2), ID4073ORDVD (3). Rated R, R, PG-13. $24.95 each.

The problem with RoboCop, rough'n'tough'n'packin' mega-firepower though he is, is the way he walks. How seriously can you take any crime-fighting superman when you just know his mother keeps him on a high-fiber diet---either that, or his manufacturer's warranty expired just days before his hip-bolts seized up?

It's a problem the widescreen picture can't help but exacerbate. RoboCop looks awkward, graceless, clumsy---and while that wasn't a problem on video, when all you saw were the cyberbaddies he battled, the addition of "real" people to the periphery of the picture reveals just what a klutz Robo is. Or maybe we just expect more from the special-effects department these days. Back in 1987, when the first movie came out, even the battle-tank droid he encounters looked scary.

The basic premise of all three movies is the same: Robo, part cop, mostly robot, was created by the Security Concepts/OCP megacorporation to uphold law in an increasingly lawless Detroit. The smidgen of human built into his frame, however, also retains a smidgen of humanity, allowing him such luxuries as choice, instinct, and, most important of all, decency.

This isn't a problem in the first two movies, where internal corruption and demented drug barons are the worst things he confronts. RoboCop 3, however, pits him against OCP itself, as he sides with a heavily armed Neighborhood Watch group to ward off the company's attempts to "rehabilitate" them---in much the same way, the subtext suggests, that Hitler wanted to rehabilitate Jews.

The ensuing movie-long battle for RoboCop's soul, like the climactic conflict between good (RoboCop, the neighbors, and police officers deserting their corrupt department) and evil (OCP, some outlaw punk mercenaries, and a shockingly easily beheaded Ninja android), follows an excruciatingly stock formula, even down to the hero arriving at the last gasp to save the day.

Still, RoboCop 3 has a few entertaining surprises, and even goes some way toward justifying the packaging's ordinarily suspect pull-quote: "the best RoboCop ever." (Free Willy 3 boasts a similar recommendation. Are threequels suddenly in fashion?) RoboCop 2 is by far the weakest in terms of plot and simple damage done, and the original is a classic---its plot is, beyond question, by a merely mortal writer.

The film transfers for all three flicks are adequate, lacking any truly bothersome video noise or artifacts. The DVDs lack those little extras that the format ordinarily offers, however. These are not quiet movies, even when people are whispering, so the clean Dolby Surround sound is a treat---when things explode around Robo, you hear and feel a boom. Earplugs, eye candy, and the wonderful Nancy Allen: what a combination.

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