Thursday, December 22, 2016

"You'll Have to Use Pure Illogic" - R.O.T.O.R. (1987) - Part 3 of 3

This is Part 3 of our discussion of 1987's R.O.T.O.R. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Previously, we watched as rancher/scientist/police captain Dr. Coldyron explained the development of the R.O.T.O.R. project, a police android capable of cleaning the streets of human scum, though it will not be ready for deployment for at least a decade. Unfortunately, the android was activated early, escaped, broke into its own police locker to find its uniform and helmet, and stole its own personalized motorcycle. Now it is chasing an innocent woman named Sony across the Texas highways.

Sony takes refuge in a trucker's semi, only to watch R.O.T.O.R. shoot the trucker, who has committed no apparent crime, in cold blood. In seconds, Dr. Coldyron comes to the rescue, shooting the android multiple times to surprisingly good effect. Coldyron is also able to momentarily paralyze his creation by showing him what appears to be a small yellow tape measure.

Sony gets back in her car and drives away, and R.O.T.O.R. gives chase on its motorcycle. Coldyron takes advantage of the fact that everyone in Texas uses a C.B. radio to contact Sony and tell her to keep driving until he can get help. And he also needs Sony to serve as bait, a plan to which she has, again possibly unwisely, no objection. He tells her to drive to a fishing camp on Lake Dallas, where they can confront the android.

After setting his plan in motion, Coldyron leaves a phone message for Dr. Steele in Houston. He informs Steele that R.O.T.O.R. has escaped and he will meet her at the Dallas airport.

A few hours later, we watch as the android recharges itself at a garage by using jumper cables and a pickup truck battery, the electricity rendered in beautiful shades of copper and green.

Dr. Steele's plane arrives at the Dallas airport, accompanied for unknown reasons with an arrival message for an unrelated flight from Los Angeles. Next we witness the film's gripping and justly famous airport arrival sequence as passengers exit the ramp. Finally, Dr. Steele, a female bodybuilder/scientist with a hairstyle similar to that of the feline object of Pepe Le Pew's affections, emerges from the plane and meets Dr. Coldyron.

Driving Dr. Steele in his car, Coldyron says, "He's out there. We made him, and he's doing what we made him for."

"In science," Dr. Steele says, "there's no room for human error. There's no place for it in law. We built the perfect lawman, one who could walk into the streets of blood, the cities of fire, the...the edge of destruction, and function perfectly again and again."

Coldyron holds up the small tape measure. In reality it is the deactivation key, the only thing that can stop R.O.T.O.R.

After an extended sequence where they park and check into the Lincoln Hotel, Coldyron and Steele, who cuts a dashing figure with her multicolored hairstyle, resolve to go get the android.


Coldyron reasons that R.O.T.O.R. is programming itself because something has happened to the self-learning alloy from which it is made.

Using pure logic, Dr. Steele reasons that "to combat pure will, you'll have to use pure illogic." Coldyron will have to allow himself to fail and use his failure against the android, because its brain matrix is based on Coldyron's lower brain functions.

On another stretch of Texas highway, Sony is still driving fast, roughly nine hours after being told by Coldyron to drive to Lake Dallas. R.O.T.O.R. is still chasing her but in a stroke of luck the android drives off a cliff.

Concerned, Sony gets out of her car to make sure the android is neutralized. At the bottom of the cliff, R.O.T.O.R. stirs. Sony, again showing somewhat questionable instincts, runs into the forest instead of getting back into her car.

When she reaches the lakeside, she steals a boat but forgets to untie it. R.O.T.O.R grabs the line and pulls the little boat back to shore. "I am R.O.T.O.R.," it says. "You are guilty." It points its gun at her head, but Dr. Steele arrives and shoots the android. She attacks it and there is a short fight in the shallow lake, after which the android drags Dr. Steele to the shore. She continues fighting it while Coldyron rescues Sony.

The thrilling fight continues for several minutes, an expert showcase of action filmmaking including judo moves and horn-honking, which again incapacitated the android, who eventually stumbles into a rope trap--but the ropes are primer cord, which explodes when the android discharges electricity!

The massive explosion destroys the android cop.

We cut back to the interrogation room, where Coldyron has finished telling his incredible story. (It is unfortunate for the viewer that he does not relate what occurred between the android's explosion and the beginning of the film with a battered Coldyron emerging from the forest with an unconscious Sony and stopping the Mercedes. This would undoubtedly have been a high point of the story, but perhaps it would be better left to a sequel.)

His fantastic story finished, Coldyron saunters out of the interrogation room, leaving the detectives in awe, and heads across the parking lot toward his car.

Shockingly, however, we see Coldyron gunned down by a man in an overcoat with a rifle. It might take us a moment to recognize the gunman as Division Commander Earl Buglar from earlier in the film. "Justice served," the man says. "C.O.D." We are left to imagine what the acronym stands for, proving that this film is thought-provoking, if nothing else.

In a neat twist, we are introduced to Coldyron's nephew, a college student who inherits everything from his uncle. The nephew continues the R.O.T.O.R. project with R.O.T.O.R. II--unfortunately not a produced sequel but in fact the next generation police android, which now looks like Dr. Steele instead of the late Dr. Coldyron.

R.O.T.O.R. is both an exciting vision of the future of law enforcement and a sophisticated critique of the predictions of earlier science fiction cinema about law and order, such as RoboCop and The Terminator. Many of these films satirize the actions of law enforcement or exaggerate them to make them ridiculous. R.O.T.O.R., however, is true to its Texas roots in that it truly respects police work and does not fall prey to the easy temptations of "satire." The unstoppable android's creator, Coldyron, is above reproach, the epitome of the morally straight rancher/scientist/policeman with exactly zero character flaws. The downfall of the R.O.T.O.R. project is bureaucratic haste in letting it loose, and the resulting lack of mercy in its artificial intelligence. Coldyron, in fact, foresaw these flaws, but was prevented from addressing them due to his dismissal from the department.

R.O.T.O.R. is also exciting in its hard-science vision of near-future technology. The android's abilities cannot be too far off, what with all the technological advances in hardware and software we see every day, such as exploding tablets and apps that train your brain to play memory games. How much more advanced is R.O.T.O.R.'s time vision, a property of its computer brain that allows it to stand in any location and view what occurred in that location's recent past? And how much more advanced is the android's ability to transform from a mechanical skeletal structure into a mustachioed motorcycle cop complete with uniform and helmet? Not much more advanced, clearly.


In the end, R.O.T.O.R. succeeds almost effortlessly as a thought-provoking, action-packed work of speculative cinema due to the clever script by Cullen Blaine and Budd Lewis, and to the efficient, fast-paced direction by Blaine. Its wonderful innovations--the multiple opening scenes triggering the start of the story, the colorful hard-boiled but technologically savvy dialogue, the enjoyable story interludes advertising local Dallas restaurants and hotels--all combine into one of the finest action films of the 1980s. Avoiding the crudely satiric clumsiness of RoboCop and the bare bones cheapness of The Terminator, R.O.T.O.R. is the science fiction/action hybrid that finally showed these kinds of films in a positive light.