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

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Transmorphers (2007)

Transmorphers

I’ve avoided reviewing the granddaddy of the Asylum’s mockbusters, partly because I’ve already seen it, but mostly because on that previous occasion, my friend James bought the DVD and it broke three-quarters of the way through. I assumed it was God giving me a lucky break, half an hour off for good behaviour. But for some reason, here we are in 2013, and I thought it’d be a good laugh to watch it again for the ISCFC.

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve seen a few Asylum films. They started off in the mockbuster game with “War of the Worlds” in 2005 closely followed by “The Da Vinci Treasure” and “Snakes On A Train” in 2006, but for me it’s 2007’s “Transmorphers” that really put them on the map. Everything that makes Asylum the place we know and love is there – a wacky pun-ish title; at least one actor you maybe sort-of recognise from something else; a plot that surprisingly bears little relation to its namesake, but lots of relation to other films in the same genre; and, of course, a low low budget.

I don’t know if this is deliberate on the part of Asylum or not, but all their films only ever rip off the title or the plot of another film, but never both at the same time. You might be inclined to believe that a film called “Transmorphers”, released the same year as a giant robot movie whose name escapes me for the moment, might be about some giant robots having a fight. You would, of course as the construction of this paragraph has already told you, be wrong. If you rather luckily guessed it’d be the future war bits of “Terminator” crossed with a healthy dose of “The Matrix”, with bits of a hundred other sci-fi movies and TV shows thrown in for good measure, then you’re far too clever for the likes of me.

In 2009, we discover an alien civilization 20 million light years away, we send them a signal then 5 years later some big-ass robots turn up and basically take over the planet, killing 99% of the people, driving the rest underground and so on. Now, right away at the beginning of the film is a problem. Sending a message 20 million light years is not the same as calling your friend who lives a few streets over. Were the robots just five years travel away, having come from this far distant star system at some point in the past? Is it some wormhole-based fun? It almost deliberately puts the viewer on the back foot, and there’s more to come.

A bunch of human fighters try and fail to take on a group of robots. In fact, they barely get out of the door before they’re blown to bits. So, the “leaders” decide to take a badass fighters out of cryogenic freezing prison as he’s the only one who can help. He’s Warren Mitchell, a former revolutionary who was imprisoned five years ago, and luckily Mitchell immediately agrees to help out the people he wanted to overthrow before; after unfreezing his best mate and recruiting all the super-hard misfits from the Army to help him out.

We then get a lot of talking. A lot. The purpose of dialogue in most films is to tell us about the characters, or to illuminate a debate central to the film. Something like that. This film just has it to fill in time – the forced wacky banter between the characters is the same, no matter who’s talking to who; and we never really understand why they’re now so desperate to battle the robots, after spending a century underground. The city they all live in is enormous and beautiful, with flying cars, huge towers and all sorts, even though whenever you see anyone in their own room, it’s a featureless metal box with no windows.

The bad guys are all robots, remember? So it turns out the eccentric scientist’s assistant is an android he created! Why there’s a surprise that a race of people who were virtually wiped out by robots would not be thrilled to have one living with them is never really explored, but this gives scientist guy a chance to explain that he created another android too, designed to be the perfect fighter, but that one had problems. That this other android could only be one person is screamingly obvious from this point on…oh, there’s a third android, but that was clearly put in as a seed for a sequel which never came (Transmorphers: Fall Of Man, the 2009 follow up is a prequel, and that had at least two proper actors in it).

The humans finally figure out a good plan to finish off the robots for good, and the great big confusing battle on three different fronts is the last part of the film. And then it ended, and my wife informed me she’d been reading a magazine for most of the film, and therefore had a much better time than she normally does watching one of these godawful films with me.

It is, unsurprisingly, awful. It’s leaden with large periods of time where basically nothing happens, and other periods of time with poorly shot, confusing fight scenes. The robots are indestructible in one scene, and vulnerable to pistols in the next; the cast are almost without exception terrible actors and writer-director Leigh Scott should stick to something that isn’t writing or directing (while looking him up on the IMDB, the “User Lists” section displays nothing but “the worst directors of all time” and other such lists you really wouldn’t want to be on).

My criticism will mean nothing to the Asylum, they’ll keep on making these rotten films to cash in on blockbusters, they’ll continue to make enough of a profit to keep going, and fools like me will continue to review them. As my reviews have shown, though, cheap films don’t have to be bad, or slow. Asylum could make good films, but it’s like they don’t want to. I feel this film was so leaden and boring that it’s made my review suck. I apologise, readers.

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Transmorphers on IMDB
Buy Transmorphers [DVD]