The most brilliant joke about the comedy film, “Robocop”, and make no mistake, it is a comedy, is the faulty ramp.
The faulty ramp happens very early in the story, but as Syd Field says, you can usually tell what a movie is going to be about in the first ten minutes. You will know if you like a movie in that time frame, and you will also know what it’s going to be about.
Robocop is a comedy about machines that don’t work.
I’ll set the scene, Murphy has just started his first day at a new police precinct. He meets his partner, Lewis. They trade barbs. They converse about who is going to drive the police car, a common scene in many action movies, and then they drive out of the police garage and up a ramp, a faulty ramp. As the car inclines the steep slope, sparks fly from the metal scraping the concrete ground. This is the crucial joke of the entire movie.
The people of this fantasy universe are expected to make a man into a machine, and they can’t even build a proper ramp, one of the most simple and probably one of the oldest tools known to mankind.
Archimedes was the first the theorize on the physical operations of ramps in the second century, B.C.E.
Ramps were used to build the great pyramid, and a little known place called Stonehenge. The propellers on windmills are ramps.
Wedges are also considered examples of ramps, and this includes axes, spears, arrowheads, hatchets and chisels.
These are all basic tools that have allowed humanity to reach the point that it has reached. They are the tools that allowed a company, OCP, to take the brain out of a man and put it into the body of a robot, but they can’t build a basic ramp.
Throughout the movie, Robocop is plagued by the memories of, not only his past, but his murder, and his handlers shrug it off as glitches, just another broken machine.
Later on, the joke is repurposed in the form of ED-209, the villain robot, not being able to climb down a flight of stairs. It is equipped with machine guns and rockets, but the thing that brings it down is a basic tool, the stairs, which is a variation of the ramp. Stairs consist of several ramps stacked on top on one another.
It says a lot about humanity in general and could be used as a metaphor for the times we live in. Imagine a people who can figure out and build the most complex and high-tech machines, but they can’t even tend to the most basic things in their lives. But, as the man says, “I’d buy that for a dollar”.