By Clark Collis
Updated August 20, 2007 04:00 AM
Credit: Everett Collection

RoboCop was cursed with a dumb premise — near-future Detroit cop Alex J. Murphy returns from the dead as a sort of metal Dirty Harry — and an even dumber name. As producer Jon Davison recalls in an excellent (though old) making-of, the script was offered to ”every halfway decent American director — and every one of them turned it down. And I have a feeling most of ’em never got past the title page.” So, the Robo team hired Paul Verhoeven, a better-than-halfway-decent director but also an excitable Dutchman with only two English-language movies to his name and hardly any special-effects experience. What could possibly go wrong?

As the doc reveals, Murphy’s Law — which would have been an apt title, given the name of Weller’s lead character — was in full effect while filming the sci-fi shoot-’em-up. An overwhelmed Verhoeven had it out with F/X wizard Rob Bottin over the design of Weller’s robo-suit (production briefly shut down while Weller figured out how to act in the cumbersome costume). He also developed insomnia, began taking prescription meds, and wound up shooting sequences ”basically under the influence,” as he says on a lively commentary with Davison and co-writer Ed Neumeier.

The birth pangs proved commercially worthwhile when this skimpily financed baby became a hit, spawning two inferior sequels and a short-lived TV series. However, 20 years on, the original still impresses. Weller is excellent, giving his metal man a very human heart, if not a literal one. Frequently, however, the film is stolen, deliciously, by its villains — Kurtwood Smith’s smirking psycho and the warring corporate sleazeballs (Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer) whose police-owning company represents capitalism run amok. All three contribute to the engaging, anecdote-laden ”Villains of Old Detroit,” one of several new docs on this two-disc set. Other extras include four extraneous but memorable deleted scenes — check out the beyond-lewd topless pizza-making promo for the film’s sitcom-within-a-movie It’s Not My Problem! — and an extended cut that amps up the bloody mayhem to occasionally comic proportions. That, in fact, was Verhoeven’s original intention. Though he went on to helm Total Recall and Hollow Man, Verhoeven has always been more interested in satire than sci-fi (combining both in the underrated Starship Troopers). RoboCop‘s jabs at the military-industrial complex hit even harder today than in ’87. When Cox’s boardroom baron declares, ”We practically are the military!” it’s impossible not to think of the role corporations may have played in U.S. foreign policy in the past few years. For a movie with a stupid name, RoboCop turned out to be an extremely smart film. A