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RoboCop (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

Paul Verhoeven's original RoboCop (1987) stands as one of the most recognizable titles in the cyberpunk canon. While the film's titular ironclad cyborg's iconic design made it popular, this seminal dystopian film has remained vital for 30 years because of its sharp barbs at the corporatocracy (in a then-near-future Detroit). Actually, this may now seem like a retroactive forewarning in the era of the Trump administration. Current populist revelations have perhaps had an impact on the renaissance of the whole science fiction subgenre (notably, with Denis Villenueve's upcoming Blade Runner 2049), but it's difficult to neatly box Verhoeven's vision into the ongoing trends of dark neo-noir. Rather, co-writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner assist the director's knack for hyper-violent satire in the construct of a crime drama. And it's further fortified with absurdist action sequences that mesh with the sleazy TV show catchphrase ("I'd buy that for a dollar!") on the periphery of the main story that all characterize its toxic culture. Even the police force is adjoined to the corporate machine of Dick Jones (Ronny Cox)'s Omni Consumer Products (OCP), who've essentially bought the resource-strapped police department and attempted to gentrify the entire city. One of the only honest cops, Murphy (Peter Weller), gets cornered and blown away by the brutal gang leader Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). But the decimated policeman is reborn in the hands of OCP scientist Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer, RIP), who fits what remains of his mortal body into a cybernetic suit while removing all memories of Murphy's former life. With this experiment, Morton and OCP hope to exert total control (a main theme) over the new class of officer that will serve the "public trust" but, really, the company's will. RoboCop is tenaciously entertaining, penetrating, and one of the best American films of the 1980s, providing Detroit with its own everlasting fictional hero, and transcending its slick surface-level aesthetics (including stop-motion puppetry) through an emotional examination of human identity. —Grant Phipps