Eliminators (1986)

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This never happens

If you spent any time in a VHS rental shops when they were still a thing, chances are you’ll have seen this video on the shelf. Chances are also that you wouldn’t have bothered renting it because it was a cheap looking knock-off of a hundred other, better movies, but now all you need to do is go to Youtube and there you are (well, you did, it appears Full Moon got wise and had it taken down).

You don’t get too many mad scientists any more, which I think is a shame. Much like “Cthulhu Mansion”, we’re treated to a turn from a great old English actor – this time, Roy Dotrice, star of stage and screen, as Abbott Reeves. Along with sidekick Dr Takada, he’s built something we come to know as Mandroid out of a crashed pilot and all sorts of high-tech bits and pieces, and he looks like the bargain-basement offspring of Robocop and Terminator (see below). Anyway, they’ve also figured out time travel, which really ought to be the headline of their endeavour, and send Mandroid back to the Roman era to grab some artifacts.

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Reeves wants Mandroid disassembled, but Takada isn’t down with that and helps Mandroid escape. Now, here’s where there’s a bit of a join visible in the script, like two imperfect rewrites welded together. He’s killing Reeves’ henchmen all over the place (a lot of henchmen for a reclusive scientist, but whatever) and decides to kill Reeves then and there – a good plan. Takada talks him out of it, dying in the process, and Mandroid just leaves. If you’ve ever seen a film before, you’ll know there’s another confrontation coming, and he’ll never be this unprotected again. So why leave him? Well, apart from “because that would make the film ten minutes long”.

The film feels an awful lot like a TV pilot, for an A-Team-esque show, just with robots. Mandroid goes to find the scientist who created some of his parts; then the two of them, on their way to find and confront Reeves, meet Han Solo-esque riverboat captain Harry Fontana; then with far too little time left in the film, they meet Takada’s son, a supernaturally gifted martial artist. And it’s these four who become the team…the main face you’ll recognise is scientist Nora Hunter, played by Denise Crosby. She’d go straight from this film to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” but the entire cast is pretty strong.

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The surprising thing about this film is it’s really quite good. Denise Crosby is a strong leading woman, and the plotline is well-done. It doesn’t mess about too much, Mandroid’s robot kit looks pretty good for a low-budget action film, and there’s some nice dialogue. One of Fontana’s riverboat rivals has him at gunpoint and says “I’ll give you til the count of five”, to which he replies “that could take all day”.

This is a perfect Sunday afternoon matinee type of film. Aside from a few seconds of Crosby side-boob, there’s nothing too violent or unpleasant about any of it (the IMDB-listed rating is PG). Just a good action adventure film, with a time-travelling robot in it. It feels like the producers went “what’s famous at the moment?” and came up with a list – Terminator (1984), Romancing The Stone (1984), Jackie Chan (Police Story and Meals On Wheels were big hits at the time), Back To The Future (1985), Commando (1985) and probably a few others, threw them in the blender and out came this. No bad thing, necessarily – if you’re going to steal, might as well do it from the best.

As the end credits rolled, I realised I’d been watching a Full Moon film, which explains the level of competence, the decent acting, and the relatively high budget (back when they had major-studio money behind them). Director Charles Manoogian also did “Demonic Toys”, and producer Charles Band is of course well known to us, being a first ballot ISCFC Hall of Famer. Well, he might have to explain why the fascination with miniature creatures before we let him in, but you know.

Rating: thumbs up

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Youtube Film Club – R.O.T.O.R. (1987)

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I try to understand films on their own terms, I really do. There’s nothing more boring than reading some review that points out holes in films that aren’t holes at all, or are just small mistakes blown into huge things by a blogger with no imagination. But with this one, I was really genuinely stumped. How did they make so many crazy choices regarding this film?

We’re introduced to this film with a hell of an info-dump. It’s the future, and crime is way up, even though we see zero evidence of this at any point. To this end, police officer and science expert Barrett Coldyron (pronounced Cold-Iron) has set up a company to make police-helping technology, and their big project is Robocop. Sorry, R.O.T.O.R (see above). Man, “research” isn’t really a pulse-pounding word to be putting in the title of your film, is it? To illustrate this marvel, they show the weirdest / worst footage you’ve ever seen. Here’s a screenshot compilation:

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Anyway, it’s at least 4 years away from completion, although Coldyron mentions 25 years a bunch of times as well. Then, for no real reason,  his primary backer, a sleazy chap who might be a Senator, tells him he needs to come up with the goods in 60 days. He quits, and his incompetent deputy almost immediately messes it up (well, it’s the wisecracking native American janitor, really) and R.O.T.O.R., who’s only been a flimsy-and-hilarious-looking robot frame to this point, emerges from his storage tube looking like a normal human, with a moustache, double chin and everything. Luckily, even though he’s years from completion, they’ve already made him a uniform and a special bike so he’s able to get out of the heavily guarded base without anyone seeing anything.

I could recap this film in its entirety and you would not believe me. It’s so strange! Let’s talk about Barrett Coldyron for a moment. The first thing you’ll notice about him is that his voice is dubbed, and at times he does little more than hold his mouth open for the duration of his line. The thinking behind this decision is incomprehensible to me. He’s not the only dubbed voice either, and it’s not like they didn’t have mics because the dubbed people will be in scenes with non-dubbed people, and their lines were taken live. Huh? One conversation is memorably shown on screen with a static image of a phone answering machine. He has a few weird philosophical conversations about police work and society, so the choice to give this heavy lifting to an actor they had so little faith in they dubbed him was strange. Or maybe he was the money guy (he’s listed as producer, and this is his only credit in either capacity), and after they’d finished the movie the distributor insisted on dubbing the worst actors. Actually, I like that idea better.

There’s a lot of attempts at comedy in this, too. The primary source of this is a robot which works at ROTOR’s lab, who is entirely sentient. I don’t know, if I owned a lab which had invented perfect synthetic human skin and sentient robots, I’d be making billions off it and not worrying too much about the sleazy Senator who backed me and demanded results. He wisecracks and the rest of the cast resort to making meta references – “Terminator” is mentioned, and someone does the “this isn’t a low-budget sci-fi movie, you know!” thing.

Please watch the film on the link above before continuing, as this film is so odd I really want to get into the meat of it, which will involve talking about how it ends. ROTOR escapes, and sees a couple breaking the speed limit. After killing the driver, he then decides to chase down and kill the woman too, for what must be the flimsiest reason imaginable (it’s not illegal to be the passenger in a speeding car, is it?), so the rest of the film, such as it is, involves Coldyron trying to help the woman escape the chasing robot. ROTOR  makes a point of only punishing lawbreakers, except when the filmmakers forget that, and he does stuff like kill a chef whose sole crime appears to be frying burgers in the way of a chase. Oh yes, and he can see the past and events he was not privy to, thanks to his “SENSOR RECALL” function. That’s maybe the tenth stupidest thing about this film, but it’s worth a ponder. The robot bad guy in this film can see into the past. Is this film amazing or what?

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Time is of the essence, as ROTOR is still tracking down the wife. So, in this hurrying spirit, Coldyron decides to visit the airport to pick up the scientist who invented ROTOR’s combat chassis, then drive her to her hotel so she can get changed into her ass-kicking gear, then go and try to save the day. Huh? Also, she’s definitely a scientist, but to play the part they’ve picked Jayne Smith, a bodybuilder with the weirdest skunk-mullet haircut. I mean, way to explode a stereotype, I suppose? And she describes herself as “the brawn” to Coldyron’s brains, which makes no sense. That they have Iron and Steel in their names might be a joke, or it might have just survived from an earlier script draft with a different emphasis. God knows.

The ending is magnificently terrible. Coldyron manages to kill the robot, although Steele isn’t so lucky. Then, as the film is wrapping up with him walking back to his car, his evil backer from the beginning of the film shows up with a shotgun and murders him! In broad daylight, outside his place of work! Oh, and there’s a graphic showing Steele as “R.O.T.O.R. II” which had better be a joke because they’d be mental to think this piece of garbage was getting a sequel.

I feel I’ve let you down. This is one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, a film that almost defies you to try and figure it out, but you know what? I had fun watching it, even if it some of it was just staring in slack-jawed amazement at the things people think are ready to be released, and to expect people to pay money for. I cannot recommend this film highly enough, but please be ready to be as confused as I’ve just been. I’ve barely covered half of the insanity in this film, and I could talk about it for hours, but you’d get bored reading it. Just watch the film.

Rating: thumbs up