Carlo's Corner: Female RoboCop Rip-offs
So this week I’ll be focusing on a very broad subject that I’m sure will set the internets ablaze with discussion and will make us more popular than a Kleenex at a snot party. I’m of course talking about female RoboCop rip-offs (yes, that is totally a thing). After much deliberation I carefully narrowed ‘em down to three contenders: Hong Kong’s I Love Maria, Lady Battle Cop from Japan, and America’s very own The Demolitionist. Pew pew!
Also known as RoboForce in Europe and Japan, I Love Maria is everything I love about Hong Kong cinema wrapped up in one frantic, live-action cartoon. If you take The Departed (or better yet, the original Infernal Affairs) and then apply some Wile E. Coyote sensibilities to it, you won’t be far off tonally, believe it or not. It’s a gonzo, barnyard cyberpunk ride that (sometimes literally) fast-forwards through what could be tedious moments, with incredibly dynamic camera-work and more flying bricks than The Lego Movie.
The plot is your garden variety tale of “boys meet robo-girl." When the evil "Robo Gang" catches former member Whiskey (played by co-director Tsui Hark) fraternizing with an R&D guy from the police force (Looney), they deploy their newly developed robot, Dominator II, to make sure he doesn’t spill any of their secrets. When Dominator II (modeled after Maria, the Robo Gang’s second in charge) malfunctions during its mission to “silence” Whiskey, Looney re-programs it to only respond to the sentence “I Love Looney.” It only gets wilder from there on out as they attempt to outrun the Robo Gang in their rocket-powered hearse. I'm sure this is the only instance in the history of cinema where a bunch of gangsters try to shoot a guy while swinging from vines. Who you gonna call? That’s right, the looney bin.
I guess there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to consider I Love Maria a RoboCop rip-off aside from its alternate title, Maria’s full-chrome exterior and the fact it came out a year later. There are no scenes or plot points directly lifted, but listen, it’s just a supremely enjoyable movie about a police robohuman. And dead or alive, I’m spreading the word.
Right off the bat I’ll say that Lady Battle Cop isn’t a very exciting movie, but it does kind of make you reassess what a rip-off is. Aside from the obvious, intended nods to RoboCop, there’s nothing here you wouldn’t find in any old episode of Kamen Rider or other Japanese sentai series, and those predate RoboCop by a decade or two at the very least. One look at the design of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (an Americanised version of said TV shows), and I’m sure you’ll notice the similarities between our main character and Paul Verhoeven’s robotic avenger.
So is it fair to say that RoboCop is actually ripping off sentai? Not really. Even though I don’t consider the term "rip-off" negative by definition, there’s a difference between drawing inspiration from something that leaves an impression, and simply copying someone else’s homework to make a quick buck. I suppose calling your movie Lady Battle Cop isn’t exactly subtle, but I’m also convinced this didn’t happen accidentally so at least there's a certain degree of transparency. Oh, and if you’re “borrowing” from a movie, please get it right. “Fuck you, asshole” isn’t from RoboCop, it’s obviously from Kindergarten Cop. (I know it isn't, take it easy nerds.)
What about Lady Battle Cop, though? Well, there just wasn’t much that stuck with me, to be honest. She wears an earring that extends into a monomolecular wire for cutting baddies, there's this ESP Hulk-type jabroni who she fights throughout the movie, and finally you've got this goofy theme song featuring lyrics like “women are made for tennis / So ya' gotta stand up." But the action is painfully static, there isn’t much in terms of character quirks, and I’m not sure if they even had a target audience in mind. Oh well, at least it was barely over an hour long.
The Demolitionist is Robert Kurtzman’s attempt to cash in on a hype that had already withered five years earlier. I’m glad no one informed him because it is utter, hare-brained nonsense. Aping RoboCop almost scene-for-scene, and doing it so shamelessly that I’m sure no one cared enough to sue because it would’ve been money in the pocket. From its inciting incident to exposition, the amount of fucks given here is zero across the board. They lifted far too specific plot points, like when the main character is looking up their personal file on a computer and gets a “DECEASED” prompt. He even inserted a bathroom-intimidation scene, only here you get Richard Grieco going “You call that a dick?!” to some guy taking a wizz. Pure class.
I wonder if anyone put white roses on my grave. *sobs*
I love white roses. Did you know that?
*raises voice* Is THAT in your FILE?!
Most of you reading this will likely have an inkling of what RoboCop is about (what’s in a title), but let me give you a rundown just so we’re on the same page: Basically a cop infiltrates a criminal hideout, all but dies in the process, gets turned into a cyborg with a marketable name via an experimental government program, cue second act. What's so different about The Demolitionist, though? In a word: tone. Perfectly exemplified by Nicole Eggert’s cover getting “blown” because she refuses to fellate Richard “Mad Dog” Grieco in front of his buddies (among which FX legend Tom Savini, explaining why Grieco’s ultimate demise looks so grody).
In national news: President Bono called yesterday's attack on The White House "Really, really sad, and kinda freaky.”
This may all sound like irredeemable garbage, and though I have no aversion to such things I'd be inclined to agree if it weren't for a sincere desire to come across as legit; the commitment that Grieco and Eggert are bringing to the table is almost endearing. Always bring your A-game, people. You never know when some nobody is going to applaud you for it on the internet. And if we’re talking about bringing it, just take a look at that supporting cast: Susan Tyrell as the mayor, Savini doing his best not to look too coked out, Sam Raimi alumns Dan Hicks and Bruce Campbell, Reggie Bannister from the Phantasm movies, Heather Langenkamp, and even good ol’ Jack Nance shows up for a hot minute. I probably only came across The Demolitionist because I was browsing Nance’s criminally thin filmography, so I was pleasantly surprised when it held my attention as well as it did. Once again proving that a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes means diddly.