Possibly one of the most surprising things about RoboCop 3, 1993’s third and final sequel in the RoboCop franchise, is how poorly-constructed the whole thing is. The film brings back Frank Miller to write the screenplay and popular horror/science fiction persona Fred Dekker to both co-write and direct, along with a number of strong actors and actresses including Nancy Allen reprising her role as Lewis, Stephen Root, Rip Torn, and more; but even with the star-studded cast and crew, RoboCop 3 suffers from robotic misstep after misstep, a messily constructed pastiche of ideas culled from the first two installments.
The film again takes place in Detroit, Michigan in a city that has now spiraled out of control – street gangs live in certain territories, homeless flood the streets, and OCP is yet again attempting to build their sprawling Delta City over the top of a busy part of town, forcing those residents to evacuate or face the wrath of the police Rehab units and cyborg samurai warriors. RoboCop (Robert John Burke) gets embroiled in the residents’ attempts to fight back against OCP, aiding hometown heroes like Bertha (CCH Pounder), Moreno (Daniel Von Bargen), and young robotics technician Nikko (Remy Ryan) as they wage a war against the Rehabs on their home turf by blockading OCP from taking their town for four days, long enough for OCP to go bankrupt.
For the most part, RoboCop 3 takes the plot of the first two films and adds a rebellious element to it, with the city residents now rejecting the overtly capitalist tones OCP brings to Detroit. Gone are the veiled satirical comments from RoboCop and the more explicit comedic elements of RoboCop 2; in their place is a fairly serious storyline, with RoboCop dealing with the loss of Lewis after a shootout between them and Paul McDaggett (John Castle) when they refuse to allow Rehab units to evict an entire community of people. While Miller and Dekker attempt to infuse a bit of humor, it mostly comes off as goofy and derivative, not aided by the film’s patriotic and over-the-top soundtrack.
Burke’s portrayal of RoboCop is much more stilted than Peter Weller’s, and part of that comes from the plotting of the film; the subtextual element of RoboCop 3 deals with the identity issues inherent in utilizing half-man/half-machine cyborgs, and for much of the movie, RoboCop is indisposed and barely functioning after taking a grenade to his chest armor. Still, neither Burke’s performance nor Miller and Dekker’s writing for the character work very well, boiling down to a lot of cheesy robotic one-liners – in truth, RoboCop is probably the least interesting character in his own film.
Though some of Miller’s dark humor shines through – there’s a particularly black scene where an OCP businessman jumps from his upper-level office as his wife speaks to him through video chat telling him everything will be okay – the majority of RoboCop 3 is fairly boring, overloaded with corporate bullshitting about OCP’s Delta City project, plans for the rebellion to wage war, and attempts to get RoboCop back up and running after the rebels recruit Dr. Lazarus (Jill Hennessy) to do the robotics work. Too much of RoboCop 3‘s middle act is devoted to this, and the film becomes bogged down in endless dialogue with too little payoff.
Eventually RoboCop does get back on his feet long enough to fight the samurai cyborg Otomo (Bruce Locke) and save the day with his new jetpack, but it’s too little and too late: the film fails to take off, and it feels like an exponentially worse version of RoboCop 2 without any of its violence or tongue-in-cheek humor. Even the series’ generic themes are poorly depicted here. What’s left is a barely functioning version of RoboCop that quietly puts the film franchise into sleep mode.