Charles Band and Full Moon are favourites here at the ISCFC, so after watching “Robot Jox” we naturally looked around for any other giant robot movies they’d done. They did two others, and amazingly they were both officially listed in at least some areas as being that film’s sequel, despite neither having any relation in terms of plot or cast. Unquel time!
It’s the near future, after an economic collapse. Handily, two of the main cast act as exposition machines – a teacher who does her lessons via TV to her far-flung class, and Lathan Hooks, the boss / chief newsreader of that same TV station (Pa Walton himself, Ralph Waite) – and they fill us in on what’s been going on. Corporations bankrupted the earth, and it was chaotic until the organisation Unicom took control of things, to ensure “life, liberty and the pursuit of economic stability”. They banned robots and computers out of apparently altruistic motives, but Hooks is positive that Unicom is just another totalitarian regime, and says so on the air. The rusting giant robot sat in the sand outside the station is a handy visual reminder of all this.
Riding into town comes Tyson, a bike messenger, delivering supplies from Unicom to the TV station way out in the desert, and his arrival coincides with the murder of Hooks. It turns out he was a member of an underground resistance movement, athough his angry rabble-rousing broadcasts don’t exactly leave anyone in much doubt. A storm moves in, which traps everyone in the station – as well as everyone we’ve mentioned so far, there’s Arren, Hooks’ beautiful teenage granddaughter (Megan Ward, in her first film role); sleazy TV host Winston Wicket and the two porno stars he was interviewing; and Quinn the handyman.
If you’ve seen “The Thing”, you’ll recognise some of the beats of the film. The resistance warns them that one of the crew is a “synthoid”, a replicant-style android, so the majority of the film is trying to figure out who’s the villain, survive, as well as maybe help out the resistance along the way. Can you spot who the villain is? If you do, don’t bother giving yourself a pat on the back (it’s fairly obvious).
For the most part, it’s a tense and exciting film. The future feels real and lived in, the actors are all decent and there’s plenty of that low-key Full Moon humour in evidence. Special effects are also strong, with some stop-motion robot action as well as some decent-looking gore. The problem is, and this seems to be an ongoing problem with Band and co, they don’t seem to be bothered by the middle bit of the film. Setup, fine; crescendo, fine; act 2, people stood about having conversations and not doing anything exciting. You could wander off to make a cuppa when Pa Walton dies and return when the next murder happens, and you wouldn’t have missed much.
One thing I’d like to mention briefly is the role women play in this. It’s kind of a weird, old-fashioned “feminism”, where the porn stars are just as smart as everyone else, the women sit around and discuss how awful it would be to wear bikinis as the women of the past did and the clothing choices are by and large unisex. But on the other hand Megan Ward, disappointed at not being able to attract a man, tries to push her boobs together to make them appear bigger; and there’s an entirely gratuitous topless shot of one of the porn stars in the shower, who’s prepared to have sex with literally anyone (she doesn’t see the face of the person who’s mauling her). Sadly, it’s probably one of the more forward-thinking films we’ve reviewed on this site.
This isn’t a sequel to “Robot Jox”, but the weird thing is it very easily could have been. Make the disused robot the last surviving one from the “Jox” era, irrelevant now there’s only one government, and have the new totalitarian regime a reaction to the old way of doing things. Add a few lines of dialogue and bob’s your uncle, a sequel that makes sense and does something interesting with the idea. But no!
As an alternative idea, I think Full Moon would have been much happier making hour-long TV shows. A series set in their giant robot universe, with a different cast and story every week (as well as one in the world of Puppet Master) would fit them much better than the movies, which suffer from flabby middles. Still, they should be commended for using low budgets and making films which were, by and large, entertaining, with strong casts and a distinctive visual look (although that could be the result of the VHS tapes most of these films are on looking a bit washed out on a big TV). Provided you’ve got some friends with you, and have some love for the golden era of straight-to-video, you’ll have a good time with this.
Rating: thumbs up