American Commando Ninja (1988)

Normally, when I write notes when doing a review, they’ll be full of lines I liked, or things I want to remember, things that puzzled me or stuff I think will be entertaining to read, but here it’s almost all questions.  “What?” and “who’s that guy?” and “where the hell are they?” and “is this supposed to make sense?” among many others. I’ve seen a whole heap of movies, dear reader, but few of them are as incomprehensible as this one. I just read the synopsis on IMDB and I was all “is that what this movie is supposed to be about?”

It’s also a rare example of a movie from the Godfrey Ho stable (he merely wrote this one) which is, as far as I can tell, the same thing from start to finish. Often, these no-budget masters will buy a movie from another part of the Far East, and splice in scenes they either specifically shot themselves, or scenes from some other unfinished movie, and release it as a new thing, with the barest attempt made to make all the parts make sense. Please check out our Godfrey Ho reviews to see some of the gems I’m talking about.

That does not mean it makes the least bit of sense, though. According to experts in these things, “American Commando Ninja” (which features no Americans in lead roles, and I don’t think there are any commandos in it either) is actually edited together from a Taiwanese TV series, and Godfrey Ho, along with frequent co-conspirator Joseph Lai, just made some footage into a movie with scant regard for making a pleasant narrative experience. That would explain how ugly it looks, as it’s shot on video, which is fine for TV but not so great for the big screen. Ah, who am I kidding, this never got shown on a big screen. The same series was also turned into this movie’s “sequel?”, “Born A Ninja”, so if I can find that we’ll review it soon.

So, there’s a guy, David, in black martial arts robes. He’s just meditating when a sudden attack almost catches him off guard, but he’s too badass so fights all the various traps and flying stuff off quite easily. Turns out it’s just a test from his teacher, who wants him to go to another country (I believe they’re in China?) and help out their secret services. There’s a scientist who has a formula for something or other he invented during WW2, and it belongs to China. I’m pretty sure about all this. You even see him in the airport (100% guerilla footage, I’m sure) before he disappears from the movie for about half an hour.

We cut to a young woman in Confederate flag shorts (!) who’s trying to get Tanaka to tell her where the formula is. But she gets beaten up, despite being a pretty decent fighter, and the guys take Tanaka and get him to dig up the box with the formula in it. Confederate Flag lady has a sister, who lets us know “never trust a scientist” which seems at best out of left field and at worst slightly unfair to the rest of the scientific community. Anyway.

Right from here, it’s confusing as hell. Who are these people? Are they in any way related to the guy we saw at the beginning? Are they the good guys, even? One thing I need to state at this point is that it’s the worst dressed movie perhaps of all time, as I hope you’ll notice if I can find a few screengrabs to share with you. Everyone’s dressed like they’re a nerd trying to hang out with the cool kids at a beach party.

The two women have an Uncle, who seems shady as hell, despite being one of the good guys. I think. Maybe it’s a Charlie’s Angels style situation? Then there’s a dude called Larry, who turns up with his badass martial arts style and is so awesome that David decides the two of them should be friends and team up, so they go for a meal together and just hang out. A scene that would have been fine in a long-running TV series, but not so hot when we’re in the middle of a martial arts movie. Ah, who cares, it’s as coherent as anything else in this damn bizarre affair.

I really got lost here. I don’t enjoy going “this makes no sense hur hur hur”, I want to describe what the filmmakers were going for, even if I think they didn’t achieve it, but with this one I’m genuinely stumped. There’s a white guy in a cheap suit who wants the formula and is presumably up to no good, and then there’s a climactic fight scene in what might be a local park, and features a giant statue of the Buddha, painted a garish orange. They let the bad guy go at the end, for no reason other than he was presumably the villain of the series and needed to come up with a new plan every week to stymie our heroes. Oh, the fighting sucks too, in case you were wondering about that.

Dubbing! Now, if you’ve seen any martial arts movies from that part of the world, you’ll have seen some bad dubbing, but here it’s taken to a whole new level. It’s wooden and everyone sounds like they were dubbed by the same guy, that’s a given: what I’m referring to is how the dubber blows lines almost constantly. I wonder if, the first time he messed up, the director just motioned for him to carry on, as they’d only booked the recording studio for 90 minutes and they didn’t have time for retakes or anything like that.

A couple of random thoughts before we wrap things up – there’s a lovely scene with a fight on a rope bridge, and the cameraman is stood on the bridge too, so the scene is almost like some modern work of art as he’s flying all over the place, desperately trying to stay upright. And there’s the party / nightclub scene, which features one of the greatest songs of all time, “Tiger Of The Night”. I wish I could share it with you, but it seems impossible to find.

Lastly is the relationship between David and Larry. I assumed they were a couple at the end, but it seems one of the sisters was a bit in love with David, and she wanted to go with him as he drove off (spoilers!) He just says “no thanks” and leaves, and it’s Larry who looks the saddest. I assume it’s to do with China – Taiwan friendship, or something, but it really looks like they should have driven off together.

This was among the oddest experiences I’ve had reviewing movies for the ISCFC. “American Commando Ninja” is certainly an experience, though, and if you’re in the mood, it could provide a decent bit of entertainment on your next bad movie night.

Rating: thumbs down

 

EDIT: If you’d like to read even more words about “American Commando Ninja”, then I highly recommend the site “Ninjas All The Way Down”. Read their review – https://ninjasallthewaydown.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/american-commando-ninja-1988/

 

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Highway To Hell (1991)

Much like our last review, this features the brother of a much more famous actor in a prominent role; but unlike our last review, this movie is really good and entertaining and you won’t want to beat me up if you watch it based on my recommendation.

There’s also a few really interesting names to talk about, which is pretty fantastic for a movie I just picked off my pile of VHS tapes to review without knowing a great deal about it. First up is the writer, Brian Helgeland. Obviously, we know him from “A Nightmare On Elm Street 4” but less horror-literate fans may remember him from “LA Confidential”, where he won an Oscar for his script (he was also nominated a few years after that for “Mystic River”).

Then there’s the cast. Not so much the main names (although they’re all totally decent) but some of the supporting cast, who would go on to much much bigger things. First up, Ben Stiller! A year away from getting his own show on MTV, he plays two small parts and has a whale of a time with them both. His parents, legendary comic actors Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, also pop up in grotesque cameos, as does his sister Amy; and Gilbert Gottfried, who I’m pretty sure got to improvise his own lines, plays Hitler in one scene. Lita Ford acquits herself well in her only acting role too.

Anyway. Two young lovers are off to Vegas to get married, and it was here, before I knew who was going to show up later, that I thought “this is an A-list cast (for us)”. Chad “brother of Rob” Lowe and Kristy Swanson are Charlie and Rachel, and they’re eloping for…some reason. Are they too young? Not really, judging by looking at them. Controlling parents? Who knows. Anyway, with their cute dog Mr Ben in tow, off they go, but because they’re worried the authorities will be looking for them (?) they decide to get off the highway and use the back roads.

When they hit the Last Chance gas station, I noticed that someone had spent a decent chunk of change on this movie and my hopes lifted even further. Real sets! This has that classic old man who warns them against carrying on down that road, and especially warns them not to sleep in their car before they get past a second large tree. Of course, they both fall asleep almost immediately and nearly crash their car, and that’s when they meet Hell Cop, a mute monster with words and symbols carved into his face, with a very unusual pair of handcuffs, who decides to beat the crap out of Charlie, then kidnap Rachel and take her back to hell with him. Luckily, when Charlie wakes up and goes back to the gas station, the old man is full of useful information, giving him a car and a bunch of stuff that will help him out – and off Charlie goes to hell, which you can do just by driving to a certain place and then believing in it, really hard.

It’s at this point where the movie gets both better and worse. Better, because it becomes a funny (if over-broad) grotesque comedy with some superb characters; worse, because it seems a little too episodic, like the various places Charlie goes to find Rachel don’t seem connected to each other. Hell Cop seems to keep stopping at these colourful locations for no good reason other than to allow Charlie to catch up, look around for a few minutes, then have a confrontation and carry on.

But, those places are a heck of a lot of fun. First up is a diner, where cops (one of whom is Jerry Stiller) try and get a cup of coffee from the monstrous Medea (Anne Meara), and there’s a cook outside, frying up steaks on the hot concrete (Ben Stiller). The makeup is great, the look of the place is great, it’s a fine scene.

Charlie’s car breaks down and he meets the curiously helpful Beezle (Patrick Bergin), who fixes it for no charge – his tow-truck has “AAA – Anarchy Armageddon Annihilation” on the side; as he drives further he sees “Good Intentions Paving”, which is…er…a group of construction workers who are all Andy Warhol, feeding people who say stuff like “I only had sex with my husband’s boss” or “I let him drink bleach so he’d learn” into a gigantic grinder and coating the road in them.

And so on. I don’t want to recap the entire plot, because it would just be a rather breathless “and then he went here, and there was this cool reference, and then he went…” but let’s just say it unfolds at a decent pace and while it’s never enormously surprising, it has some good laughs, some good grotesquerie and…well, some of the acting is fine. Chad Lowe is a little too dull a main character to really support, and you kind-of want the smooth, charming, helpful Satan to win, but you’re having a good time so his wet-blanket-ness is less of a problem to overcome.

Hell Cop is a great villain, too. Mute, scary-looking, and with a badass weapon, he does what’s needed. The other main antagonist, Royce (Adam Storke, who was in “The Stand”) could have and should have been the good guy (he might have needed a haircut to look less like a douchebag, I suppose), and did a great job with what he had.

So, I enjoyed it a lot, but it doesn’t quite work. I think the biggest problem is the lack of flow – it’s perhaps more a series of sketches based in Hell than it is a proper movie. Some of the scenes are fantastic, and they’ve really worked hard on the visuals, but I kept wishing it would settle down a little. Helgeland was still honing his craft at this point, but he populates the movie with some memorable characters, if not a terribly memorable story. Perhaps the issue might be the director, one Ate de Jong, who also directed “Drop Dead Fred” (which I really wanted to like, but boy was it bad) in 1991 before going back to his native Netherlands and directing movies and TV there.

Still, this is head and shoulders above the sort of thing we normally cover here, and I recommend it without exception. Funny, odd, and nightmarish in about the right proportion, it’s just got a blu-ray release so you can enjoy it properly now.

Rating: thumbs up

Outlaw Force (1988)

“Hey Mark, why did this movie suck so bad?”

On IMDB, there’s one of those user-created lists of Frank Stallone movies. How bored must you have to be, how finished with every human activity that could bring you joy, to create a list of Frank Stallone movies? Although, saying all that, he’s kind of fine in this movie. Sorry.

A long time ago, we started covering the movies of David Heavener. He’s one of those names you hear at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to B-movies – a guy who made a little money selling country songs (we think, information is hard to come by), and parlayed that cash into a long movie career. He’s directed over 20 movies, starred in a handful more – his career briefly intersected with that of Donald Jackson and Scott Shaw, who gave the world “The Roller Blade Seven” – and is a genuine lunatic.

If you’re thinking “he can’t be that bad, surely” then I will present the title of a Youtube video from August 2018 as exhibit A. “They Are Slaughtering Our Babies And Trafficking Their Body Parts!” where Heavener, along with a fellow by the name of Coach Dave, discuss their rather extreme anti-choice views. He’s in favour of building a wall along the Canadian border to stop Islamic terrorism, which is apparently being bred there, thinks communism is still the global evil to rail against, and…well, it’s too miserable to continue with. I only discovered his Youtube work as I was sitting down to write this, so forgive my going on about it a little. I’ve no reason to think he’s not genuine in his beliefs but that doesn’t make them any less abhorrent.

So, this may be our last Heavener movie. The two we’ve seen (this and “Massacre”) were so dull that I’m honestly relieved to have a reason not to go deep down another rabbit hole. Given I’ve already tipped my hand as to whether you should track this movie down or not, let’s try and have some fun with this review.

Heavener is Billy Ray Dalton, a country singer (Heavener also wrote and performed the majority of the soundtrack, giving us such gems as “This Honky’s Gonna Honky-Tonk Tonight”) who helps out a guy at a gas station who’s being hassled by some gang of…sort of punks? Metal-heads? Anyway, while he’s out performing, the bad guys come back to town, and to get revenge for the guy being mean to them, rape and murder his wife and kidnap his daughter, planning to sell her to a child pornographer. Fun times!

At the funeral, one of the local cops approaches Billy and says “is there anything I can do for you?” My response would have been “catch the people who did this, you lazy asshole” but Billy is too nice, not even getting annoyed when he’s told that, due to the lack of evidence or eye-witnesses, there’s nothing they can really do. What? There’s tons of evidence! And plenty of people who saw them! Is this cop trying to tell us that he’ll only bother investigating murders when he’s got a witness who actually saw it all happening?

Anyway, Billy puts on his cowboy gear and he’s off to LA to investigate these hoodlums. Well, I say investigate, as he actually asks a few questions when he gets there, but most of the time, just appears to have psychic powers, as there’s no other explanation for how he knows what he knows.

The two cops Heavener pressures to help him are Stallone and the great Paul Smith (Bluto from “Popeye”, “Crimewave”, a million other roles). Smith is playing so far against type that it’s kinda fun, well, if you like reasonable cop dialogue from a guy who looks and dresses like an angry homeless guy (seriously, his shirt is stained and full of holes, while everyone around him is wearing suits). They’re both given personalities, but are extremely irrelevant to the plot, and are definitely only there to get the thing up to feature-length. In fact, their primary role, the only thing that couldn’t be replaced, is looking up Mr Dalton and finding out he’s former Special Forces, what is known in our part of the world as the “ultimate badass” scene.

He kicks a bit of ass, shoots a bunch of people, gets help from one of the abused gang-women (who’s cool with the drug-dealing, but not so cool with the child-porn) and shows these dirty LA scumbags how justice is meted out, old-west style. He literally hangs someone!

Why is this movie so bad? Well, one thing, it’s very poorly directed, by Heavener. My particular favourite was, whenever a character got punched, they just sort of stood there for an uncomfortably long time waiting for the fist to hit them. There’s poor lighting and the way everything looks very slightly out of focus and the sound is pretty rotten too. But we’ve seen lots of movies that we enjoyed with all those technical flaws, and the true fault with this one is it’s boring. The final fight has generated no tension, no atmosphere, and the main character is so taciturn that it’s impossible to support him. Also, with the wild media panics about missing white girls and gang violence (adding in the murder of the wife) there’s no way in hell that the LA police would be so casual about it. It would have been front-page news all over the country!

There’s also the way it’s structured. Take a look at any modern revenge thriller, and how the thing that needs revenging happens pretty early on. We know what’s coming, so get to the good stuff. “Outlaw Force” drags on to almost the halfway point before he sets off for LA, and doesn’t exactly accelerate once it gets there. “John Wick” it ain’t.

If anything, David Heavener reminds me of Neil Breen, only with the barest level of competence. He’s in the movie business purely as vanity, has those ideas that he goes back to again and again, but unlike Breen doesn’t make absolutely bonkers bargain-basement movies; there’s just enough cash and just enough sense to make movies that sort of look like the B-movies we know and love, but with absolutely nothing enjoyable in them.

Rating: thumbs down

The Strike (2001)

Our friend Donald Farmer made movies in an interesting array of styles, after his early, low-budget horror. There’s sexy thrillers (“Compelling Evidence”), sexy horror (“An Erotic Vampire In Paris”), historical (“Blood and Honor”), child-friendly (“Space Kid”), comedy (“Bollywood and Vine”, which I think remains unreleased) and revenge thriller (“Body Shop”), among more horror.

Also, in 2002, he made a martial arts movie! Well, I imagine his friend Andre Buckner, who’d appeared in several Farmer movies to this point, came to him with the script and asked him to direct (Buckner would go on to direct a couple of his own movies in the years to come), so add another string to the bow of one of the more individual genre directors of the last forty years.

I’ve seen a lot of martial arts movies, and you can get a fairly good sense of where things are going quite quickly, but “The Strike” mocks such easy attempts at categorisation! The Typical Martial Arts Movie Plot, which this is definitely set up to follow, goes as follows: the star’s big brother is killed in a different country, taking part in a tournament or because he won a tournament. The star must go to the country and take revenge for his brother, either by winning the tournament or killing his brother’s killers, or both. It’s typical that he gets some ancient wisdom or learns a new technique along the way (and, surprisingly often, shacks up with his brother’s girlfriend).

There are two brothers, one of whom is a champion pro kickboxer, the other a hotheaded amateur who wants to compete in the big leagues. But at every point where you expect it to get going with some action, it just doesn’t – not that all fighting movies should fit this template, but they should at least offer us a decent reason to keep watching.

Right from the beginning, it feels curious, as we see a scene of older brother Damon (Buckner) training a class of kids. Compare this to, say, “Kickboxer 5: Redemption”, where an identical scene at an identical point lasts 15 seconds. Here, it goes on for two minutes, which doesn’t seem like a lot but when it’s kids who have zero to do with the rest of the movie, really begins to drag. Anyway, he’s a good guy ex-cop who helps kids, and his younger brother Joe (Tony Luke) is…also a pretty good guy, honestly, even though Damon tells anyone who’ll listen what a dog Joe is with the ladies.

Joe’s girlfriend Rachel (Stephanie Sinclair) has some character quirks, like wearing a Juliana Hatfield t-shirt and lecturing him about the wonders of female indie singer-songwriters; also, she has a large, square free-standing poster of Andy Garcia in the corner of her bedroom. I’m genuinely fascinated about the sort of person who would spend money on such an item, and would have that and only that next to their bed!

Damon and his girlfriend talk about Joe a lot, like, way too much, while they’re in the apartment and while they’re on a random walk round the city. About 20 minutes in, they’re strolling round when Damon sees a couple of guys attempt to abduct / rape a woman in an alleyway. I need to break this scene down, a little. One of the two guys is holding the woman from behind with a pipe across her throat, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say he’d only had the concept of acting explained to him thirty seconds before Farmer called “action”, as he starts off by looking right at the camera, and throughout his too-brief time in the spotlight looks nervous and away from the action, as if he’s looking to someone behind the camera for advice. It’s amazing and is almost worth the cost of admission on its own.

Joe wants to get involved in the real fight league, but because he’s dumb as a box of rocks and his friend is a sleazy asshole, he goes to see Mr Ramsey (Farmer regular Danny Fendley). Apparently, if he fights for Ramsey, there’ll be all sorts of influential people there who can help him move up the ladder. Unfortunately, the actual fight is in a large warehouse, where there are maybe 5 people there to watch. Did he at no point smell a rat? Also, the fights are to the death, and as I’ve said before, running a fighting organisation where all the losers are killed just seems like a very poor business model.

There’s a brief appearance by B-movie legend George Stover (who has his name spelled wrong in the credits) as the producer of “American Expose”, the tabloid TV show that links a number of Farmer movies together and has given me the idea for the script I’m writing set in the Farmer-verse; their film crew films one of the fights and then disappears from the movie. What? Also, there are two very similar-looking redheads (Jenny Wallace, as Ramsey’s secretary; and the host of the TV report on the fight league) which lends an air of confusion to a movie which doesn’t need any more confusion.

I’m getting way too bogged down in the minutiae of “The Strike”, but I feel that’s because it seems determined to confuse and disappoint. The camera cuts just as sex scenes are starting, on several occasions (we still see a few naked women though), which is, sources close to the production tell me, were filmed but removed on the insistence of an actor’s wife. But I need to break down one more scene!

To keep him fighting for them, Momota, one of the other criminals involved in the fight league (who may or may not be in league with Ramsey, it’s almost impossible to tell) kidnaps Rachel. But, he’s also got a bunch of other attractive white women enslaved in another corner of what I presume is the same warehouse, and wants this young lady drugged up and turned into a prostitute. The four women aren’t on beds, they’re just on what look like long painting tables, two to a plank, and aren’t in a room, just a corner of a massive warehouse. Who does this? Could no-one have sprung for just one extra room to film in?

The best way to describe this is “unsatisfying”. The plot is poor, the acting poor, and the stakes are rather low. The direction is fine, but I’m going to guess (again) that Farmer didn’t have a lot to work with, either in terms of budget or available talent. It starts off nowhere and goes nowhere, unable to decide which of the two brothers is supposed to be the star. It ends nowhere too, with there being no real crescendo to the action, and although both brothers appear able to fight, the fight scenes are slow and sort of boring.

Because its structure is so odd, I’m going to take a wild guess and say it was quite personal for Buckner. Maybe he has a brother who helped him out at a tough time in his life, or he read a story when he was younger that really affected him. Or maybe it was just written by a guy who’d never done a script before and had no real idea how to structure them? Who knows?

An intriguing curio from one of our favourite directors, but perhaps not worth spending too much money tracking down.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Star Crystal (1986)

None of the images on this poster appear in the movie

This is a pretty curious one. If you read the title and the VHS box art didn’t load up just above these words, I imagine you’re half-thinking “is he talking about The Dark Crystal under some weird alternate name?” No, dear reader, but you may be wishing I was at the end of this review.

It’s an “Alien” rip-off, just made at the same time as “Aliens”. It’s cheap and ugly and stupid and wildly sexist, but the one thing I feel confident telling you is that its ending is next-level, top-ten-of-all-time bonkers, from so far out of left field that you may begin to wonder if you’re watching an alternate movie with the same cast they edited in the ending from. I won’t spoil it, as it has to be seen to be believed I think, but equally I don’t want you to watch it as it’s terrible. As it’s on Youtube, though, you can watch, say, the first twenty minutes and the last twenty minutes, to produce a slightly more bearable experience.

A thing is found on Mars. Well, I guess it’s Mars, it could be any non-Earth planet I guess. It’s taken on board a space station, and the outer casing falls apart, to reveal a large crystal and a small living blob of goo. Fairly quickly, the blob takes over the controls of the station (no, I don’t know how), turning the oxygen off and killing almost everyone. The only people to escape, on a small ship, are what I imagine Golgafrincham Ark B (Hitch-Hiker’s Guide reference!) to look like – a barely competent computer guy, a “nutritionist” who’s only called that because they couldn’t get away with just having a housewife walk round the spaceship giving everyone their sandwiches, an engineer, the computer guy’s friend, who appears to have no useful skills at all, and the love interest, likewise no skills. There’s probably a few more people? Ah, who cares.

The alien doesn’t actually move from its original location at all, and relies on people coming to it in order to be killed and drained of their life-essence. Luckily, almost all the cast do, so by around the 45-minute mark, all we’re left with is the computer guy and the love interest. Then the movie stops for the next half-hour.

I wish I could force everyone who watches the movie as a result of what I’ve said to film a “reacts” video when you get to the ending, as it’s a doozie. Is it enough to make up for an often staggeringly dull, unoriginal first three-quarters? I don’t know.

So, take a group of actors you’ve never seen before, a low budget, a writer / director who only made one other movie, and an alien comprised of mostly KY jelly, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Well, something roughly the same length as a movie. It’s an odd one. You may develop a phobia of air ducts that are large enough for a person to climb through – ON A SPACESHIP – by the end of this movie too.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Prototype (1992)

Thank you for sticking with us for a few weeks while we did a bit of “housekeeping” – in other words, reviewing series that have been added to since we stopped reviewing them, once-lost-now-found movies from our favourite directors, that sort of thing. You, dear reader, are likely much less obsessive about these things than I, but hopefully you’ve been entertained and informed.

We love covering post-apocalyptic movies here, too, and given there are approximately an infinite number of them, we’ll never run out of review material. 1992’s “Prototype” is a peculiar one, though, for several reasons. It’s a welcome return for one of our favourite directors, Philip Roth (“Interceptor Force” 1 and 2, “Total Reality”, “Digital Man”, “Velocity Trap”) and a slightly less welcome return for “the extremely confusing plot”, and its twin brother, “the info-scroll at the beginning that doesn’t really explain anything”.

 

So, it’s the future, and I guess there’s been an extinction-level event of some sort. The remnants of humanity are hanging on, then some boffin creates “Omegas”, who are genetically altered humans. I think. They figure out how to reprogram themselves, and this period of history is known as “the time of the mad minds”.  Why? I don’t have the foggiest idea, my friends, because the Omegas don’t appear to do anything bad, either before or after they re-program themselves.

Then, again for reasons that are never revealed to us, humanity invents the Prototypes to hunt down the Omegas. Whereas the Omegas are just people, the Prototypes are a sort of garish rip-off of Robocop; it appears they’re successful, as the last one powers down, its mission complete, after killing off what it believes is the last Omega. Sadly for it, the Omega thing, whatever that thing is, is implanted in a little blonde girl who manages to escape the carnage.

 

Fast forward 20 years. There’s the adult version of the blonde girl, a scientist working in what I presume is the last military base on Earth, someone who might be a soldier or she might just be his assistant, a guy in a wheelchair with a really sweet mullet, a kid who’s maybe related to the guy in the wheelchair, and a guy with that cornrow / mullet combination who is, a later info-scroll tells us, a genetically engineered protector for the Omega. Not an Omega, who are also genetically engineered, just a super-strong fighter who’s there to protect her. If you’re feeling a little lost, join the club.

One of the comments from my wife while watching this movie was “is this sponsored by Marlboro?” Everyone smokes, all the time, to the point where you have to wonder how cigarettes are still being made in the post-apocalyptic world of 2077. But such trifles distract from the central question relating to “Prototype”, viz:

 

What the hell is going on?

 

The info-scroll definitely indicates that the Omegas are the bad guys, and the Prototypes have restored peace in some way, yet later on the final Omega, Chandra Kerkorian (Lane Lenhart) is the hero, and the organization behind the Prototypes are the bad guys. Wheelchair-mullet guy, Hawkins Coselow (Robert Tossberg), we discover, was once in the Army, so scientist lady asks him to step up to be put in the Prototype armour, which will allow him to walk again (they had a body on ice for this purpose, but the bonding process didn’t take).  He’s definitely a good guy, and is in love with Chandra, who seems completely indifferent to him, and indeed every other person in the cast. But then there’s a virtual reality sex thing where Hawkins goes through his fantasies with Chandra, although she might be taking part in some of them?

The movie sort of ambles along for an hour or so before they decide to put Hawkins in the suit and get on with the plot. It bears some similarities in its meandering please-get-to-the-point nature, as well as a post-apocalyptic setting, with British sci-fi movie “Hardware” (not much of a compliment). But it also has a kind of film noir feel to it, like the filmmakers were aiming for something they weren’t quite talented enough to pull off, which goes to the editing as well, which is extremely curious in places (presumably on purpose).

 

Even though I tried to find entertainment in “Prototype”, as I love a good post-apocalypse movie, I just couldn’t quite manage it. Whose side was anyone on? Who are we supposed to want to win? Are there any normal humans in this movie? What was this war all about?

 

Unless you’re a completist, either of Roth movies or post-apocalyptic ones, might be best to steer clear of this one. But, it’s up there for free, so you’ve only got your time to lose.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Space Kid (1999)

Donald Farmer has long been a favourite here at the ISCFC, as we’ve been covering his movies pretty much since we started. There were a few, though, that seem to have avoided our piercing critical gaze, either because we couldn’t find them or because they’d never been officially released on home video. Well, a future review – “The Strike” – will be coming because I figured out I’d been searching for it under the wrong name (it had a DVD release), and Farmer himself paid for a very limited DVD release of “Space Kid” last year.

 

So now, dear reader, you get to learn about yet another oddball entry into the Farmer-verse. And, I think there’s actually a Farmer-verse! This movie gave me the key, and I think numerous movies exist in the same world. A central part of “Space Kid” is the tabloid TV show “American Expose”, and the same show appears in “The Strike”. There’s also a very similar show in “Vampire Cop”, and Dana Plato plays an investigative reporter in “Compelling Evidence”. Can you imagine that erotic thriller and “Vampire Cop” existing in the same world? I might try writing a script and see if Mr Farmer would like to direct it.

 

But that’s for another day. We’re here to talk about “Space Kid”, which starts in a quarry – er, an alien planet – as Queen Nebula (listed in the credits as “Space Mom”), pursued by rebels, leads her son to safety, while being pursued by agents. At one point, she appears to use her own child as a human shield, but I have to assume they were aiming for something else with that scene. She gets shot while scrambling up a hill, but the kid (who will come to be known as Charlie) manages to beam himself aboard an intergalactic space-ship, ending up on Earth. I feel that bit was glossed over, but it’s also entirely possible I was distracted.

So, he ends up on Earth and then it becomes the sort of thing you may have seen a few times before – Charlie befriends a lonely kid roughly his own age, helps her with bullies, an evil babysitter, doing the dishes, and other problems, but she’s quite honest about the fact he’s an alien. Some people believe her, some don’t, and then there’s scientists and government agents teaming up to track him down (including two Men In Black, played by long-time Farmer regulars Andre Buckner and Maria Ortiz). It’s got a little bit of a lot of kids’ science-fiction TV and movies of the time, but is no worse for it.

 

It’s quite short (55 minutes, with substantial closing credits) but that’s not always a bad thing when it comes to the lower budget end. There’s some decent acting on display – Ortiz is excellent in her brief role, Melanie the TV reporter pitches her performance very well, and Donald Farmer is a decent actor as the producer of “American Expose”.

 

If you’re not already a fan of Mr Farmer, then I’d suggest not starting here, but if you’re already in deep, like me, then come on in and experience another string to his bow – kids’ movies, to go along with civil war, vampire, zombie, cannibal, and demon movies.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Robo-Warriors (1996)

Don’t worry, this isn’t a “No Retreat, No Surrender” sequel too

This might be the least sequel-y bunch of sequels we’ve ever covered. Five years ago, the ISCFC sort of tolerated 1989’s “Robot Jox”; then, presumably relating to a clause in a contract somewhere, we got two sequels, from the same company, also about giant fighting robots, that specifically didn’t mention their relatively famous forebear or anything that happened in it. That would be 1990’s “Crash and Burn” and 1993’s “Robot Wars”, and both of them were actually listed as “Robot Jox 2” in some less copyright-interested countries round the world, and were surprisingly decent! Okay, the standard was low, but still!

I’d quite like to know what brought this movie, which had the working title of “Robot Jox 3”, into existence. It’s nothing to do with the Full Moon, who produced the first three, although their regular guy Stuart Gordon (director of “Re-Animator” and one of the best HP Lovecraft adaptors) gets a “based on characters created by” credit, and Richard Band does the soundtrack.

As we continue on our early 2019 pledge to wrap up a lot of our review series, I know you were all clamouring for information on which was the best giant fighting robot movie (subcategory: Full Moon and adjacent companies) to which I can tell you…probably “Crash and Burn”. But wait! There’s a few hundred more words with vague jokes and low-quality information to come!

This is a “Premiere International Production”, which made me smile as it reminded me of “Prestige Worldwide” from “Step Brothers”. Sadly, this smile would be my last for the next 90 minutes – but enough about me! It’s 2035, and the Earth has been invaded by the Terridaxx, who look like the sort of thing a cheap episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would try to pass off as aliens.

Anyway, they enslave us pretty quickly, but…and here’s where the first confusing thing happens. We start off with a group of human soldiers in the jungle, led by Ray Gibson (the great James Remar), attempting to find a giant fighting robot, which had been abandoned / lost there, to take on the Terridaxx. Not on the battlefield, but in an arena, as apparently we can get them to leave if we beat them at one-on-one fighting. The last one the humans create is the best, but for no reason we’re ever given, they leave it in the jungle, and by the time the humans find it, it’s overgrown and half-buried.

Then, we discover all that is a flashback, a story being told by an old man to his grandson, Zach (Kyle Howard, who’d go on to be a successful adult actor in stuff like “My Boys” and “Royal Pains”). Try and keep this timeline in your mind, I guess. Zach decides, after a brief search on the internet (the sweet innocent internet days of 1996) to just wander off into…a warzone?…to find Gibson and get him to help defeat the Terridaxx. Gibson hasn’t aged a day, and the jungle scene (when they get to it) with the robot in it is identical to when Gibson was there last.

Oh, it turns out the grandpa is also a highly trained giant robot engineer, so he and Zach help Gibson when he decides to help, and the aliens, despite being in total control of Earth and not needing to, agree to a one-on-one giant robot fight. Earth wins, the Terridaxx go home; the Terridaxx win, and…who cares, it’s not going to happen anyway. Probably something like the human race agreeing to slavery, or whatever.

This is really a kids’ movie with the vaguest hint of it being for adults. The hero is a kid, whose blind optimism for a better future (although just how bad the Terridaxx are is never really mentioned, can’t be any worse than the current President I’d have thought) is the push that all the adults need to get off their asses and repel the alien threat; he repairs the robot in a moment of need and provides tech support during the final battle. The issues are simplistic, and easily overcome.

I admire how low-budget movies ply their craft, sometimes. They get round this being the future but all the technology being suspiciously 1996-era by saying “the Terridaxx confiscated all our good stuff” (even if I’m not sure what good it would do them to get rid of future microwave ovens or whatever). My favourite, though, is the final battle, which doesn’t use stop-motion or animation or CGI or any of that good stuff – it looks back to Godzilla and just has a couple of guys dressed up in giant robot outfits. Now, the robots are basically immobile so…I’m really not sure why they’re fighting each other? They’re just stood toe to toe, blasting each other with their best weapons, and the fact that they’re giant chuffing robots seems secondary to the battle. Why not do it another way? Or show one of the robots dodging a few bullets every now and again?

Anyway, it’s very slight, as most cheap entertainments for kids were from that era. Are you desperate to see all four movies in the Robot Jox-verse? If so, have at it, if not, avoid.

Rating: thumbs down