RoboCopMaurice Dean WintMaria del MarAnthony Lemke
RoboCop: Prime Directives 1 - Dark Justice
Medium: TV, film
Year: 2000
Director: Julian Grant
Writer: Brad Abraham, Michael Miner, Edward Neumeier, Joseph O'Brien
Keywords: SF, RoboCop
Country: Canada
Actor: Page Fletcher, Maurice Dean Wint, Maria del Mar, Anthony Lemke, Kevin Jubinville, David Fraser, Richard Fitzpatrick, Tedde Moore
Format: 90 minutes
Website category: SF
Review date: 14 January 2012
I don't know why imdb calls this a 2000 mini-series even though it aired in January 2001, but what the hell.
It's the most recent on-screen RoboCop to date. They've been trying to do a remake recently and there will always be comics and video games, but here's all the RoboCop that can be watched:
1. RoboCop (1987)
2. RoboCop 2 (1990)
3. RoboCop 3 1993)
4. The Animated Series (1988, 12 episodes)
5. The Series (1994, 22 episodes)
6. Alpha Commando (1998-1999, 40 episodes)
7. Prime Directives (2000) cameos, e.g. Robot Chicken, The Indian in the Cupboard.
This was RoboCop's only TV spin-off that wasn't family-friendly, which means that unusually it also wasn't animated. Instead it's a mini-series of four TV movies. Do they have enough story to justify that? Answer so far: no. Dark Justice is a fairly thin movie, being basically a standard 45-minute TV episode that needs a diet. However there's enough here to stop it flagging too badly and I look forward with interest to see where they take their concluding plot developments.
The story's set ten years after the first RoboCop movie and ignores all the sequels. What's happened instead is that folks got old. Officer Anne Lewis isn't mentioned. Murphy's wife is dead and his son (Anthony Lemke) has grown up into an ambitious OCP executive, believing himself an orphan because the sequel movies never happened and RoboCop's real identity isn't public knowledge. Even OCP itself seemingly won all its battles and then lost the war, being now a sluggish leviathan on the verge of bankruptcy because it's so bad at running Delta City. Losers. How'd they manage that, then? Are they banned from raising taxes? You'd think a ruthless evil capitalist corporation would at least be able to balance the city budget, having complete control over expenditure and no need to justify their decisions in elections, but it seems they can't even manage that. It must be a sovereign debt crisis, I guess.
Meanwhile RoboCop (Page Fletcher) is a dinosaur, in violation of current policy and built of parts that are no longer being made. Fletcher is downright lovable in the flashbacks from when he was still alive and looks about 75 as RoboCop with his helmet off. He's philosophical. He sits in the dark and thinks. This is quite a clever move on the film's part, since it's slow-moving and comparatively lacking in action. There's not actually that much RoboCop here, actually, with most of the screen time going either to slimy OCP executives or to flashbacks of when Murphy was an ordinary cop and his partner was Maurice Dean Wint.
The OCP executives aren't very interesting. They're not doing much yet. The best thing about Maria del Mar is that she's also Wint's ex-wife, which gives a bit of spice to their relationship. I like the background and family ties between the different characters here, which feels as if it's going to add a lot even when it hasn't yet. Lemke is suitably dodgy. However the only one who's obviously mad and evil is Kevin Jubinville, who's planning to put a sentient artificial intelligence in control of everything and then thinks you can get something built in ten days instead of six months just by telling the technical department to hurry up. (This "department" is one man in a basement, by the way.) His character's name is Damian and he's so stupid and blatant that it undermines his villain credibility.
That's merely a bit dumb, though. Other things are actively irritating:
1. OCP agree to let Jubinville put his artifical intelligence in control of their company building (and hence everyone's lives) in ten days' time, despite the fact that he hasn't even shown them a working prototype. Uh, guys? Safety standards? That'll be why you fail.
2. The finale is a tower of cliches. A character volunteers for death in a risibly under-motivated moment that only works because the actor manages against the odds to sell it. The script's so fixated on dramatic symmetry and catch-phrases ("take the shot", "what are you prepared to do?") that it violates all sense to get there. A cackling supervillain with twin miniguns pops up and no one thinks to shoot at the vulnerable gaps in his armour. Instead RoboCop's bullets have no effect until the dramatic climax immediately after a Bad Thing's happened, whereupon they acquire "The Hero's Angry Now" magic powers. (Admittedly at this point he also switches to armour-piercing bullets, but that just begs the question of why he didn't do that earlier.)
This is annoying to watch. However what comes afterwards is good, with a plot development that bodes well for future episodes and of course they've pissed off RoboCop.
3. The violent psychos are TV-grade. You'll roll your eyes, slightly.
4. The film talks rubbish about chess. "In the end it all comes down to what you're prepared to do to win." Um, no, actually it comes down to logical analysis.
5. It's doing the wrong kind of satire. Paul Verhoeven took the piss out of right-wing fantasies by taking them to ludicrously violent extremes (RoboCop, Starship Troopers), but this on the other hand is taking an uncritically right-wing point of view and using it to sneer at liberals. Someone on TV argues that criminals only use lethal force because the police do, for instance, while a bleeding heart bleats on about it being wrong to shoot terrorists. "That would be a gross violation of OCP procedure! Not on my watch!" Any Judge Dredd-like darkness has been ditched and instead we're being expected to admire RoboCop uncritically. "I used to live in Cadillac Heights. It was a warzone before you came."
This is only palatable because there's not much of it, mostly at the beginning, and later we get all that stuff about RoboCop being near-obsolete. I'm not saying that it's inherently wrong to poke fun at liberals, mind you. You can poke fun at anything. However a non-ironic take on RoboCop means taking the bullshit at face value and sucking out everything that made the character interesting.
The acting is okay, although they're all TV-level actors who've hardly done anything I've ever heard of. I like Page Fletcher, who'd apparently been offered the role for the 1994 series and turned it down. He's unlike Peter Weller, but that's okay because he's playing a very different version of the character. Incidentally, after this he did one more TV movie in 2002 and then seems to have retired. No idea why. He also looks like Rutger Hauer. Oh, and Maurice Dean Wint is also good.
Overall, it's both quite good and rather dull. The actors I'm happy with. The production values are fine, although not lavish, and it doesn't stink too much of TV. Fundamentally there's a good story buried underneath this running time and I'm keen to see where it's going next, but there's just too much backstory and time-wasting with OCP executives. Not enough RoboCop, not enough stuff happening. Nevertheless I still sort of like it.
FOOTNOTE: coming back to this review after completing the whole mini-series, I've changed my mind. I love it. With hindsight, what we have here are solid foundations for a story that's going to get ever stronger.