Wednesday, November 11, 2009

'Robot Wars' squanders its potential

Robot Wars (aka "Robot Jox 2") (1993)
Starring: Don Michael Paul, Barbara Crampton, James Staley, Lisa Rinna, Danny Kamekona and Peter Haskall
Director: Albert Band
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

In 2041, decades after the Great Robot War and Toxic Gas Scare, the American Southwest has ceceeded from the Union and is at a state of war with the "Centros", a state of uneasy peace with the remnants of the United States, and a trading partner of China. When the last known surviving giant robot--now being used as an armored, heavily armed passenger transport, is hijacked--it's up to rebellious robot pilot Captain Drake (Paul) and the beautiful archeologist Dr. Leda (Crampton) to save the day by finding the burial site of the rumored second suriving combat robot, Mega-1.

"Robot Wars" is one of three movies produced by B-movie mogul Charles Band that featured giant robots piloted by humans ("Robot Jox" and "Crash and Burn" being the other two). I've wondered if they were inspired by Japanese cartoons or the then popular miniature and roleplaying lines from FASA called "BattleTech" and "MechWarrior".

"Robot Wars" answered my question for me. The costume designs and even the look of Mega-1 reminded me very strongly of "MechWarrior". Heck, the film even felt a little like a BattleTech/MechWarrior game with the robots and other technology being more interesting than the human characters.

This brief movie (it's barely over an hour long) is another example of a Full Moon picture that's too short. There is all sorts of back story that was needed for the film to be as good as it had potential for being. (What was the past history of Captain Drake and General Wa-Lee (played with sinister glee by Danny Kamekona)? It was obviously extensive, but we get to learn nothing about it. How did America disintergrate? Why do the Centros seem to be speaking something other than Spanish? These are just a few of the questions that popped into my mind as I watched the movie and I realized it was going to end without any explanations. (And some of the questions could have been answered if the script had been better. There's a scene that could have been easily been used to give us the Wa-Lee/Drake backstory, but it's instead wasted on some very unfunny jokes about how women can be horndogs, too.)

Although this is a film that's clearly made for young kids (or adults who are content if all a movie offers are neat stop-motion special effects featuring giant battle-bots duking it out and shooting laser beams at each other), I still think it could have benefitted from just a little more time being spent on developing the world in which it takes place. That could have at the very least made the film more memorable and lifted it from mediocre to okay.