(On TV, April 2017) Robocop 2 doesn’t have the best reputation, and it’s easy to see why: It almost entirely re-creates the thematic points of the first film, sometimes in more entertaining ways but never quite going beyond what had been settled in its prequel. Worse yet, the script doesn’t quite know what to do with its most daring ideas (such as the underage killer) and puts them all away during its last act, dumbing down everything to a fairly dull combat sequence that keeps going and going. This being said, there are a few interesting moments in this sequel (The body horror, the over-programming interlude, etc.)—in fact, some of those moments are good enough that a truly decent remake would pick and choose scenes from the first and second movie to be able to create something much stronger than the result of either film. But we have what we have on-screen, and the best thing we can say about Robocop 2 is that it’s more of the same, except not as smart. The violence remains excessive, the special effects have a charming 16-bit quality, the humour isn’t always well-handled and director Irvin Kershner can handle the mayhem efficiently, even though he can’t elevate the material like Paul Verhoeven did. Belinda Bauer is deliciously evil as an amoral psychologist, Wanda De Jesus has a small role and Peter Weller is fine as Robocop, even though the scripts frequently asks him to step out of character. As a sequel, it’s passable … but viewers are advised to avoid the dreadful third installment.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2017) Contrarily to most of the movies I’m revisiting recently, I didn’t have very fond memories of Robocop. For the past twenty years or so, I’ve been remembering as an overly violent, implausible, mean-spirited piece of exploitation. Having grown older and given it another chance, however, I’m forced to be more positive upon second viewing. Oh, I still think it’s overly violent, implausible and mean-spirited (the last of which makes the first two characteristic feel even worse) but I can now appreciate that it has quite a bit more on its mind than the average action SF movie. Its preoccupation with industrial decay, man/machine relationships and corporate corruption still ring as relevant today (even more so than its recent remake), adding considerable depth to the film. It’s also, thanks to director Paul Verhoeven, a finely crafted piece of entertainment—fast, darkly funny, cleverly presented and relentless in achieving its vision. Some of the special effects are dodgy today (especially ED-209), although much of the practical stuff remains well done. Peter Weller is fine in the lead role, but special posthumous mention has to be made of Miguel Ferrer as an actor who aged exceptionally well—his character here is young and brash and detestable, but by the end of his career Ferrer had grown in his unusual features and could play a fearsome leader. It all adds up to a notionally respectable result, even though the cynicism of the film is still a bit too dark for my taste. With this second viewing, I update my appreciation of Robocop upwards and note that at a time when I’m happy when a revisited film holds up to my good memories, it’s rare that I like it even more twenty years later.
(On Cable TV, April 2013) Following a familiar formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but incompetently following a familiar formula seems even more inexcusable than in trying something new. So it is that cheap direct-to-video Dragon Eyes manages to botch a dirt-simple “stranger comes to clean up town” plot template. It’s not even particularly subtle in its presentation, as a sturdy asian protagonist walks in the middle of a black/latino gang-infested Louisiana neighborhood and starts picking fights with the local criminal element. We eventually learn the back-story, but what initially seems like directorial stylishness eventually reveals itself to be pure incoherence. Simply put, Dragon Eyes goes through the motions so automatically that crucial plot developments are forgotten and simply aren’t shown on-screen: the result is a story that is carried forward on pure assumed plotting knowledge: The viewers have to fill out missing scenes in their heads, since what is shown on-screen seeks to skip ahead (or back) without delivering the basic narrative building blocks. From time to time, various visual flourishes keep our interest: Some action scenes (including a few lengthy fighting shots) are directed with some ambition, the opening credits are fine, some stylish freeze-frames introduce the characters (alas, without much final impact) and a few of the actors are clearly too good for the material given to them: Cung Le manages to remain intriguing as the dull protagonist, but Jean-Claude Van Damme steals the film as a grizzled mentor, while Peter Weller has a bit of fun as a criminal kingpin, and Crystal Mantecón is beautiful enough to make an impression despite a woefully underwritten love-interest role. Dragon Eyes quickly becomes an irritant, a film that doesn’t quite know how to tell a basic story despite limiting itself to the barest bones of a narrative. It begins in confusion, advances in incoherence and finishes without a satisfying wrap-up. It ultimately doesn’t distinguish itself from countless other basic low-budget action films except for the fact that it doesn’t even deliver minimal viewing satisfaction.