I’ve written a bit about how the extreme violence in Robocop affected me as a kid, and if I had to pinpoint the specific scene that did the most damage I would have to say that it’s the boardroom scene and the unfortunate end to one Mr. Kinney. If it’s true that exposure to violence can desensitize a person to its impact, then I’m pretty sure this sequence is what did me in as it’s the first time I saw a death scene portrayed quite so violently. Desensitization aside, I’d argue that this sequence is integral to establishing the world, humor and hyper-stylized tone of Robocop, and is a prime example of when less is more as the four seconds that was edited out of the sequence ends up making the scene much more disturbing than intended.
So before I go on, let’s take a look at this sequence. The scene opens with Morton and Johnson taking an elevator in the OCP building to head up to a conference about the future of Delta City. Kinney (played by Kevin Page), a young, wet-behind-the-ears, junior executive, jumps on with them and for all intents and purposes plays the role of the audience, asking all the obvious questions so that we can get the gist of what’s going on at Omni Consumer Products…
As the meeting starts Kinney is seated at the very back of the room, furthest away from “the Old Man”, but as Dick Jones gets up to lead his presentation introducing his sector’s prototype for the ED-209 (Enforcement Droid), we can see that Kinney has the best/worst seat in the house.
Jones needs an assistant to illustrate how the Ed-209 works in a disarmament procedure, and of course Kinney is a prime choice, and is more than eager to help (in fact, in the novelization of the film he’s described by Ed Naha as “…a kinetic portrait of unchecked enthusiasm…”)
Dick Jones then pulls out a shiny silver Desert Eagle and hand the small canon to Kinney…
Sigh. Kinney, you poor, poor bastard.
This is the point in the film when we as the audience get the first hint that we’re in for some intense shit. It was scary enough when the ED-209 unit first came into the boardroom, thrusting its legs forward and heaving the weight of its torso too and fro. But as I mentioned above, Kinney is the stand in for the audience. We’re right there with him as he points that gun at the enforcement droid, and when that booming deep voice commands us to drop our weapon, we have 20 seconds to comply, we know this isn’t going to end well for our stand-in. Now we’re effectively trapped inside Kinney, second-guessing and future role-playing invitations, and we’re just as concerned as he his as he turns to Mr. Jones for some sage advice about how in the hell he’s supposed to get out of this situation.
Sure, drop the gun. Seems reasonable enough. I know staring at that brute of a droid in the…uh, face? Grill? Whatever, staring at that thing would have me forgetting all my common sense too. Again, this is the genius of the scene as we’re right there with Kinney. Ker-clunk. Gun dropped. But what’s that? The droid didn’t hear it fall? WTF?
What’s this happy horseshit about me having 10 seconds to comply!?! That’s right Dr. MacNamera, you better rip open that command console and pull the plug on this hulking monster!
It’s at this point when both Kinney and the audience are afforded their last hope of sanity in the film. One last split second where we hear a faint whisper in the back of our heads saying “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…” Though I may be a tad desensitized to onscreen violence in movies, I can honestly say that this serene split-second still gives me chills and equally fills me with dread for what I know is coming next. Kinney, you have five seconds to comply. Five seconds to live.
So getting back to the violence and the potential this film had for an X-rating. As originally filmed, the sequence where Kinney is torn apart in a hail of canon-fire from ED-209 is a sticky, burnt and bloody 9-12 seconds…
The screen continuously cuts between Kinney getting pummeled from the front, from behind, and back to ED-209 blasting away. Even after Kinney is knocked back onto the scale model of Delta City, the droid continues to fire on him, ripping up his legs and chest, more and more. It actually lasts long enough that at a point, you can’t help but start to nervously laugh and ask can this possibly continue? And that point IS the point of this scene. It’s stepping over that line of decency into lunacy that lets the audience in on the joke of the whole film. This isn’t reality anymore, it’s a cartoon. The punch line of this cartoon joke is delivered by the dumbass that screams for a paramedic, as if there could possibly be any hope to salvage poor Kinney’s life.
What makes this scene even funnier is that it’s a dry run for the sequence where Boddicker and his gang maim and kill Murphy. It’s funny because they do salvage Murphy, and in a way they save his life. But not Kinney. Poor, poor Kinney. “Don’t Touch Him! DON’T TOUCH HIM!!!”
Anyway, back to that pesky X-rating. In order to avoid this, Verhoeven and company ended up slicing up the sequence, cutting our a mere 4 seconds of footage and earning that coveted R. But as I said above, less is more, and the shortened theatrical sequence is way more disturbing in its abrupt dispatching of Kinney. It plays so much more callous and cold, and when Morton utters the famed final word on Kinney’s life, “Hey, that’s life in the big city…”, it’s all the more unnerving.
I find it interesting that Kinney’s death makes its way into two pieces of merchandising. The first isn’t all that surprising, as it’s included in a full page sequence in the first Marvel adaptation of the film into a comic book…
Though it’s not surprising, it is a little more violent than I’m used to Marvel adaptations being, though it was printed under the Epic comics imprint I believe.
The other instance is a two-card sequence in the Robocop 2 Topps trading card set…
At the end of the day Kevin Page may have played a minor role in Robocop as Kinney, but his five or so minutes on film have haunted me for years. I’m not sure if there’s much more that an actor can ask as a legacy than having that kind of impact.