I don’t typically buy into the idea that any movie exists for no reason, but RoboCop 3 comes close. PG-13 when its two predecessors are notoriously R, the 1993 sequel can at least serve the purpose of being “RoboCop for kids.” Despite the hard-R of the 1987 original and its 1990 follow-up, the character and franchise had developed a strong adolescent fan base, with toys and cartoons marketed at much younger audiences than its “restricted” one.

With RoboCop 3, the gore is taken out entirely, along with the esoteric satire. This time around, our titular protagonist partners up with a 9-year-old, wields a jetpack, and fights ninja robots. Welcome to the ’90s!

The details of the evil corporation OCP and their headscratchingly-difficult attempt to take the city of Detroit become buried in minutiae. Apparently, they’re going bankrupt, along with the city itself, and seek the financial support of Japanese investors who hire a heavily armed militia called “Rehabs” to forcibly remove people from their homes in order to speed up the clock on building OCP’s utopian metropolis, Delta City (plans that they literally started two movies ago). Honestly, the grounds for why they’re racing against a ticking clock is almost impossible to understand given how it’s presented.

RoboCop, aka Murphy, this time played by Robert Burke, is assisting an underground resistance group of civilians following the murder of his longtime partner Lewis (Nancy Allen). Murphy forms a bond with a young child genius, Nikko (Remy Ryan), who has just recently been separated from her parents. This all leads to a bunch of fighting and resisting, which the film never quite clarifies why it’s happening, and culminates in an anticlimactic final duel between RoboCop and two robot ninjas, which feels like it’s directed by someone with no experience in action filmmaking whatsoever. In earlier shootouts, things like reverse-shot continuity and bullet trajectory are nonexistent, with unarmed characters standing next to the action with zero repercussions.

RoboCop 3 is a movie where plot points and scenes just happen and unfold without any realized connection to how they relate to the overall story. The boardroom meetings feature a bunch of villainous executives talking, and then we’re supposed to just assume that all of this fighting is in order to “stop villainous executives’ complicated plan from unfolding.”

With this third installment, the biggest takeaway is that this RoboCop idea has finally run out of steam in this current canon. At least for now. There’s no definitive goal other than revenge. The resistance must restore Murphy back to health for a good chunk of the movie, and once they do, he sets out to kill the leader of the Rehabs for the murder of Lewis.

Yet nothing much has changed between the first two movies and this one. Crime is still rampant in Detroit, OCP is still trying to build Delta City, and is still trying to rid Murphy of his humanity. After two movies of repeated attempts at reprogramming the cyborg, this one offers the oh-so-simple solution of inserting a magical chip that will block certain memory circuits to his brain. Why hasn’t someone suggested this before?

Director Fred Dekker, known for his horror-comedies Night of the Creeps and Monster Squad, seems to be a little out of his element here. His attention to detail is almost non-existent, allowing for certain implausible plot points to exist without justification. His previous two directorial efforts, along with his several writing credits (including House II), surround stories that almost celebrate some level of silliness or campiness. The RoboCop universe, however, is much more involved, with obligatory details that are crucial for the premise to be taken seriously. As gory and tongue-in-cheek as RoboCop and RoboCop 2 are, they’re done so with conviction and with regards to a serious subject—they’re essentially high-brow B-movies. RoboCop 3 is more focused on the excessive story details, even when they possess none of the importance of those from the first two films.
As Dekker leans into the more schlocky moments of the film—those which would fit right in with the first two—he seems to pull back in favor of plausibility.

The director misses out on a few good moments, such as one scene where RoboCop is driving a pink pimp-mobile, which gets shot up after only a minute, until only its skeleton is left. We would have loved to see him return the car back to the pimp he borrowed it from. Likewise, there’s a cameo appearance by the bulky prototype robot model, the ED-209, which gets reprogrammed here by Nikko to be as “loyal as a dog.” We could only hope that ED-209 had continued with our heroes on their journey, if not only for good laughs, but at least because it would make the most sense for their own protection.

Critic Gene Siskel offered that this film should have gone full-’90s sequel and given Murphy a female counterpart (Lewis perhaps?) or made his programming get altered so that he turned rogue. He should at least have to make a tough choice at some point in this movie. Also, apparently we’re still not going to get any conclusion with his wife and kid—something the 2014 reboot does very well.

Dekker and Frank Miller (who wrote RoboCop 2) are credited with the script here, using some of Miller’s rejected ideas from the previous film. This would turn out to be Dekker’s third and final time in the director’s chair on a feature, and it’s a shame because his first two outings are ’80s classics. Perhaps the tendency in the ’90s to be a little more grounded had an effect on the possibilities. If RoboCop 3 was any indication, I’d say the decade was already trying to play it safe. They can’t all be Gremlins 2.

The only good performance in the entire film is from Bradley Whitford, a prick henchman for OCP. The young actor is amazingly loathsome, but unfortunately gets killed quite early.

Ultimately, what makes RoboCop 3 boring isn’t how it’s sanitized and popcorned for younger audiences, but how it still commits to providing some sort of semblance of connection to the first two. We don’t need to act like we’re furthering OCP’s storyline. Just have them exist and be evil. If you’re going to make a movie for kids, don’t scatter it with convoluted business jargon just to satisfy fans of the original—as if they’re not already going to be turned off by the PG-13 rating. RoboCop 3 doesn’t exist for no reason, but it just doesn’t execute on the reason it had to be made in the first place.

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