ROBOCOP

Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven.

1987. R. (Orion, stereo,

103 min., CC, $89.98)

At first glance, "RoboCop" might seem like just a slick Hollywood product -- a violent action picture with the central gimmick of a man-turned-robot. But it has a lot more going for it than a concept: It has a point of view.

"RoboCop" is, in fact, a sardonic satire, set in the near future, and this is what gives it an edge. Private industry has taken over government services -- and why not? These super-corporations are more efficient -- and more heartless -- than any city or state agency ever imagined. When the opportunity to run a big-city police force presents itself, they're ready. And when a young career cop is brutally gunned down by a slimy bunch of bad guys, his mutilated body is still more grist for the mill. All of this becomes the vehicle for putting a sophisticated cyborg cop into service.

"RoboCop" is not what you'd call subtle. The good-guy/bad-guy aspect of the plot is about on a par with your average Stallone or Schwarzenegger movie. The villains are dispatched in a grisly fashion that lets the punishment fit the crime.

And yet, the movie is not without nuance. Its wry use of television excerpts (news reporting at its most inane, plus sexist slapstick comedy) gives us a clear picture of what the moviemakers see in our future. The dichotomy of a machine that still retains some human emotions is quite intriguing, even moving at times.

The most arresting aspect of "RoboCop," though, is the way the story is told, with an impact that borders on dynamite. Dutch directer Verhoeven, making his American debut, punches every scene, every effect, right through the screen in a direct line to the viewers' collective gut. It can be pretty overpowering at times, but it certainly does the job. The special effects deserve separate mention, for Phil Tippet and crew have provided terrific stop-motion animation.

I like the human performances, too, and must single out Miguel Ferrer (the look-alike son of Jose), who brings special gusto to his role of a young executive hotshot whose morals were obliterated years ago.

The only thing I don't like about "RoboCop" is its overall vision of the future. So much of "RoboCop" rings true that its prophecy of American life seems frighteningly real as well.

VIDEO REVIEW MAGAZINE THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP