This past Wednesday audiences had the chance to see a brand new take on Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic ROBOCOP. Love it or hate it, the update will probably make a few bucks and quite frankly, Joel Kinnaman is pretty good as the part man/part machine Alex Murphy. Yet when I caught the original film on SPIKE TV the other night, I was reminded exactly why nobody can take on Peter Weller. This dude isn’t taken down with an explosion. This guy suffers a bloody and violent demise only to become an indestructible cop ready to shoot off a rapist’s genitals… because dead or alive, they were coming with him.
Even early on in his career Peter Weller commanded our attention in the horror world with the solid 1983 feature film OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN. This creature feature of a man obsessed with a big old ravenous rat is a solid flick directed by George P. Cosmatos, the fellow who went on to direct RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD 2, COBRA and TOMBSTONE. Weller has a blast as a man driven to the brink of insanity trying to fend off the rodent and he displays the humor and the horror of the situation impeccably well. While the actor had appeared in a number of films before, this was a clear sign that he could bring a whole lot to the world of horror and sci-fi.
The following year Weller starred in one of the coolest flicks of the 80’s. The 1984 feature THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION was a genre-bending bit of madness which cast the actor in the title role. This weirdly intoxicating flick featured aliens, rock and roll and a whole host of oddness. If you’ve never witnessed this lunacy you owe it to yourself to space out and join Weller plus an incredible supporting cast. You’ve got John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd and Clancy Brown joining in on the spacey fun and boy is it worth the trip.
After a handful of dramatic features including FIRSTBORN in 1984, A KILLING AFFAIR as well as the made for cable flick “Apology” in 1986, the actor went all iconic on us. In 1987, Weller and Verhoeven gave audiences a brutal bit of class with ROBOCOP. Starring opposite Nancy Allen, the actor handled the role of Alex Murphy brilliantly. The film was so popular that it featured two sequels to a much lesser degree – the third film placed actor Robert John Burke in the Murphy role. To this day, the original ROBOCOP still stands as a classic work of violent 80’s cinema. A smart script, a ton of humor and a handful of intense sequences including Murphy being shot down by a pissed off group of baddies is still one hell of a great movie to watch over again.
One of my favorite Weller films may not be on the top of the list for everyone. David Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH (1991) is one of the most outlandish and grotesque features that I have ever witnessed. The buggy typewriters and the main characters bizarre relationship with his wife is pure perfection. Weller, Judy Davis, Julian Sands, Ian Holm, Roy Scheider and so many more help make this one hell of a f*cked up journey. It’s been awhile since I spent time with this drug-fueled fantasy that maybe a revisit is in order. Although one thing that I clearly remember, only an actor with Weller’s talents could deliver a monologue about a man with a “talking asshole” and make it work as shockingly well as it does here.
Weller’s career is an extremely successful one. From his early genre films such as LEVIATHAN in 1991 and SCREAMERS in 1995 up to his work in the Heath Ledger religious horror movie THE ORDER in 2003, the man was always working. He continued to make a name for himself throughout the years and even expanded his iconic status to become part of the series “Odyssey 5” from 2002 to 2004. In 2006 he was featured in the hit series “24” as Christopher Henderson, a former co-working of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) who turns to the dark side.
This past summer, Peter Weller was featured in J.J. Abrams STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS as well as taking on a recurring role in one of my favorite television series “Sons of Anarchy” as Charles Barosky - he has also directed several SOA episodes as well as "Hawaii Five-O" and "Longmire." “Dexter” fans may remember him as Stan Liddy in 2010 as well. In other words, the man who was the original ROBOCOP hasn’t gone all that far. This talented actor even lent his voice to the animated “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and Part 2” in 2012 and 2013. He was perfectly cast as Bruce Wayne/ Batman. This of course is another reason why he resonates with genre fans.
Not resting on his laurels, the actor seems to be continuing to work quite often. In the upcoming SKIN TRADE, he stars opposite a few action tough guys including Dolph Lundgren, Ron Perlman and Michael Jai White. According to IMDB this revenge thriller is currently in post-production but I’m looking forward to it. You’ve got Dolph, Peter and Ron all in the same flick?!? I say yes please. While we may have a new ROBOCOP, the original will never be forgotten. As long as Mr. Weller continues to make movies, I’ll continue to go see them.