Director: John Murlowski       
Cast: Olivier Gruner, John Glover, Daphne Ashbrook

"The poor man's Jean-Claude Van Damme," I somewhat cruelly thought when Olivier Gruner first came across the B-movie world. More cruel if you have watched Jean-Claude in any movie. Is Belgium a factory for martial artists wanting to be actors? Anyway, let me first mention that I was not impressed with Gruner's previous movies, Angel Town and Nemesis, though I will admit that they are nowhere near the worst movies ever made and do have some merit. So I'm not sure why I decided to rent another Gruner flick....ah yes, now I remember: I was stuck in Inchon, Korea teaching English, and I was between classes. Inchon isn't exactly a partyin' town, even on a Friday night. At least video rentals are reasonably priced, though the selection usually isn't the greatest. In short....I was desperate!!! So with low expectations, I took it home.

To my surprise, Automatic turned out to be a very good little B-flick. It's one of those you come across in the field of unknown movies that revives your energy to dive back into the world of unknown movies to find another one. (And after watching Slaughterhouse two days ago, God, I need such a movie now!)

After a very witty opening sequence, we are quickly informed of the setting. It is the near future, and five years have passed since Robgen Corporation's president, Goddard Marx (John Glover) introduced onto the market the "Automatic" - a cyborg servant/bodyguard that is programmed "to protect and serve" its masters, with a code never to kill. A huge success, but now the competitors are cutting in with cheaper versions, and Marx has the bankers breathing down his neck and threatening to foreclose, after spending a billion dollars on the next version. Goddard manages to get a two-month extension after promising to reveal his new creation to the media the next day, and showing (off screen) the new version. But Goddard's problems continue, with rumors of this new version claim it is a labor robot, threatening many people's jobs. This results in protesters outside the corporation's gates, with the media keeping a close eye. Still, Goddard is confident of success with the press conference only hours away.

Later in the evening, however, something goes very wrong. One of the executives stays after hours on the top floor with Nora (Daphne Ashbrook), a secretary. He tries to rape her, and during the struggle one of the Automatics (all are played by Gruner) walks in on them. Despite the executive yelling at the Automatic that it is programmed to take orders from him, the Automatic calculates it as a situation to protect. In the struggle, the Automatic accidentally kills the executive. Goddard is called into the security section on the ground floor, and orders the Automatic and Nora to come down below. The Automatic refuses this (and does not permit Nora to leave), for his programming commands him to wait until the police arrive. Realizing that the Automatics follow set programs that can't be changed, and realizing that the public revelation of the killing would ruin him and his company, Goddard decides he has to call in the "Rescue Team" - a private commando squad - to clean up the mess. The team arrives via helicopter, and quickly discover that the elimination of the two of them won't be as easy as they thought.

You're right - this turns into another Die Hard clone. But I don't mind if a movie rips off another movie, as long as the new movie does it well. Despite cardboard sets and lack of lighting, Automatic does it well. As seen above, it has managed to put a few twists into the setup. The action is frequent and exciting, and it takes the time to stop here and there to play some interesting and intriguing vignettes. John Glover does an excellent job playing a creep who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. It may sound cruel to say that Gruner, with his thick accent, is very convincing playing an android. On the other hand, how many domestic actors have done very convincing jobs playing androids? And instead of using the standard ending for this genre, the filmmakers mix in a genuine surprise at the climax.

Automatic is a fun movie. It's obvious that the filmmakers were trying to make the best possible movie for the budget and the theme. Though there are some lighter moments, the seriousness is evident on screen. Die Hard may be the original, and the best, but this little movie can hold its head up proudly next to it.

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See also: The Peacekeeper, Act Of War, Point Blank