top

R.O.T.O.R.
(1988)

Director: Cullen Blaine           
Cast:
Margaret Trigg, Richard Geisswein, Jayne Smith


Special guest review!

By Jason Alt

 

What could be better than a film that features a virtually indestructible robot designed by the police to fight crime? Said robot would be armed to the teeth with the latest breakthroughs in weaponry and conveyance, and would be able to see perpetrators in any kind of light. And it would be able to fairly judge and deal with criminals in a timely fashion. But it wouldn’t be Robocop.

Yeah, that doesn’t sound very good to me either.

R.O.T.O.R., made in the wake of 1987’s Robocop isn’t very good at all, in fact. It hurt me badly to watch it. Then it hurt me badly to rent it so I could watch it again. It hurts me badly to write about it, because I have to remember watching it. It hurts me to tell you about it. It is a very painful movie all around.

R.O.T.O.R. was penned and directed by Cullen Blaine, the mastermind behind such brilliant films as The Mighty Ducks and Belle’s Magical Adventure. It seems that R.O.T.O.R. is the only non-Disney film Mr. Blaine has done. If there are others, I couldn’t find them. He couldn’t possibly have anything to hide; I doubt he (or anyone else for that matter) could have made anything worse than this film. Except when you consider the fact that he has recently resolved to play the part of art director on films like Hey Arnold instead of pursuing a lucrative writing career.

The movie starts out by showing two motorists who come across the slumped figure of a woman in the road. A bandaged man crawls out of a ditch, and indicates that the motorists need to call the police. Then a random yokel steps out of the shadows, points a shotgun at the man’s head and agrees that the police need to be called as the man in bandages has killed a motorcycle cop. Motorcycle cop? Hillbilly? Couple in the car? Are they important? Do we ever see the couple again? (No.) What is going on in this film? Mr. Blaine decided the best way to go about explaining was to show the bloody man being interrogated. He tells us absolutely nothing, instead deciding to allude to events from a few days earlier.

The moviemakers then decide that at this point we want to see some credits and a cowboy drinking coffee. They also feel we want to hear an overly peppy 1980’s love song. How did they know? We’ve seen Mr. Cowboy Let's hope he does all three roles towards the filmmakersbefore; he is the same man that is being questioned. Not only is he a coffee-drinking cowboy, he also comes equipped with an internal monologue. He explains without talking that in addition to his cowboy duties (goofing off), he is an important scientist at a lab in downtown Dallas. This doesn’t really explain why he is being interrogated. It doesn’t explain why he is a cowboy. It really explains very little. He is still soliloquy-ing away, and we are supposed to assume that what we are hearing is his conversation in the interrogation room at the police station. He is filling in background information to catch the two cops up to speed, but when you consider what he is telling them, this makes no sense. He begins mentioning things that are not important at all. He talks about his farm duties, which include using explosives to remove tree stumps. In order to keep up the motif of him being a complete goof-off, he ropes the stump with some prima-cord, and blows it up that way. Most of the stump is left standing, and he says something like “I should stick to plain old nitro.” Is he saying this to the men questioning him? If the monologue is really his conversation with them, why does he keep telling them useless information? Maybe it is better just not to ask.

After playing cowboy, he heads off to work at the lab. The phone rings and the spotty dialogue ensues. The cowboy’s superior calls to tell him that he needs to have the ‘R.O.T.O.R’ prototype ready in 60 days, or he will be fired. Apparently this is somewhat an unreasonable request because, according to Dr. Cowboy, R.O.T.O.R. would not be ready for the prototype phase in even 60 months. Our cowboy protagonist decides that the best way to get his point across is quit immediately, placing the project squarely in the incapable hands of his inept assistant (and his assistant’s smart-ass robot side-kick). The two of them decide that even though 60 days is completely unreasonable, they are going to try anyway. The best way to go about it, they decide, is to run tests. This is a common film device; the phrase “we need to run some tests” is completely scientific sounding while simultaneously nondescript. This is one of the reasons that the script is so awful; do the filmmakers think us so dumb that they can’t explain what kind of tests are being done? Like it is above out heads? Anyway, they run their “tests.” This is when we learn that R.O.T.O.R. is a robot designed to fight crime. Then, right when you think you are about to learn more, the film disappoints you (get used to it!) Meanwhile, a janitor is hitting on an attractive female scientist in another room. He puts his walkman headphones between two electrodes, and apparently this action supplies enough power to bring the ridiculously underdeveloped R.O.T.O.R. to life.

As implausible as a robot being brought to life with Walkman batteries may seem, R.O.T.O.R. does just that. He is awfully sophisticated for a robot that would not be ready for prototype phase in the next 5 years. What exactly was going to take 60 months? Couldn’t they find the “on” switch? 

He awakens and inexplicably knows the location of his motorcycle and his way around the building. It seems ridiculous that he is fully functional even though everyone involved with the project said he wouldn’t be ready for years. What is even more ridiculous is that he has been given the instruction to “judge and execute” but isn’t told that it is excessive to shoot people in the head for jay-walking.

R.O.T.O.R. goes out and, um, shoots people for jay-walking. (Actually it is for speeding that he shoots them. But it would be funnier for my purposes if it were jay-walking. But at this point, I am used to disappointment.) A couple is driving down the road. The attractive female is fighting with her asshole boyfriend about their impending wedding. I am not sure which was more believable to me; R.O.T.O.R. coming to life and killing people for no reason, or the fact that this woman was planning on marrying a jerk-off like her boyfriend. He yells, pulls over, and threatens to leave her on the side of the road before finally speeding off to take her home. R.O.T.O.R. pulls him over, and instead of issuing a ticket, he produces a desert eagle, and blows a hole in his cranium large enough to put his hand through. He then spends the rest of the movie trying unsuccessfully to capture the woman, and kill her (I guess for riding shotgun in a speeding vehicle.)

The ridiculous thing about this movie is not that R.O.T.O.R. is able to function at full capabilities five years early. What is really hilariously bad about this film is that R.O.T.O.R. operates based on technology that is not available today, was definitely not available when this movie was made, and will probably never ever be available. When R.O.T.O.R. wants to see where someone that he is pursuing has gone, (he moves very slowly), he uses something called “Sensor recall”. I know that this is what it is called because every time he used it, I would see “Sensor recall” on the screen. Sensor Recall is the most asinine thing I have ever seen in a movie. Basically, R.O.T.O.R. can see exactly where someone has gone even if he was somewhere else at the time. He can look at a parking lot and see someone get out of their car and run across said parking lot exactly how it happened, even if it happened 15 minutes before he got there. It is like he is looking at security camera footage even though there is no camera and he wasn’t there when it happened. How he can see all this is never explained (apart from being called “Sensor recall”.) I shook my head in despair at the film's inept attempt to appear scientific. It made me wonder what else R.O.T.O.R. could do that wasn’t physically possible. Can he walk through solid objects? Turn himself invisible? Move an ice cube tray without spilling? Shake exactly two aspirin out of the bottle?  

Sensor recall is not the only thing R.O.T.O.R. uses to battle crime. He also knows….karate! He uses karate to battle three unruly men in a diner who help our female protagonist escape. I guess large men are in the habit of helping strange women run away from motorcycle cops. They wait patiently to attack R.O.T.O.R. one at a time, and he hurts them very badly. I think he punched one of them in the junk. Apparently this is standard police procedure in the United States; I had a Michigan State trooper tell me he had once punched a man in the groin who had him pinned and was going for his gun. But R.O.T.O.R. was winning the fight easily, and should not have resorted to such juvenile trickery. Of course he shouldn’t whack people for speeding either, but that is neither here nor there.

When was the movie made? It could not have possibly have been made after 1975. Everyone dresses like they are trapped in an episode of Laverne and Shirley. If you watch carefully, you can see all of the following things in the film:

  • Feathered Hair!
  • A cowboy jacket with leather pads on the sleeves!
  • A “Hang in there baby, Friday’s coming!” coffee mug!
  • A large knife in your own hand that you don’t remember picking up, but have a strange compulsion to blind yourself with!
  • Alf! (Not really)

The music is really bad too. Not even Richard Glass is this incompetent behind a synthesizer. The music sounds like it was cut out of a porno soundtrack. Don’t play dumb; I know you know what that kind of music sounds like.

The film does have merit, however. The technology behind R.O.T.O.R. is based heavily in scientific fact, and is much more realistic than even that used in the movie Robocop. While Robocop featured a cyborg cop enhanced by robot parts, R.O.T.O.R. is all ‘bot. He works based on the property of some metals that, when electric current is passed over them, they will change shape. He is basically a metal exo-skeleton wired all over. Electrical impulses tell different parts of his body to move, and he can eventually move independent of some impulses due to the metals’ kind of “muscle memory’; the metal can remember what functions require which impulses, and eventually ‘learn’ to do those functions on its own. This technology actually exists, although it is purely theoretical. It wouldn’t surprise me if a robot similar to R.O.T.O.R. were introduced within the next five years. Then again, it wouldn’t surprise me if a robot similar to R.O.T.O.R. were not introduced in the next five years.

Disclaimer: I criticized this movie. I criticize all the movies that I review. I am very critical, although I am not a critic. This movie was Blind Fury. This is just not true; I liked that movie immensely, and I still watch it whenever it is on television (every day.) R.O.T.O.R. is no exception. It was very very bad, but I really got a kick out of watching it. The thing about this movie is that it is not entertaining because of kick-ass special effects and an all star cast. You’ll want to rent a movie like The Matrix if you want that. This movie was great to watch because it made no sense, the dialogue sucked, the jokes are corny and you are completely unable to develop any sort of attachment to any of the characters at all. It’s so bad that it is a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends (or enemies, I don’t care what you do at your parties.) It won’t be your favorite movie, I can guarantee that. But it is entertaining, and that has to count for something.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (Blu-Ray)

See also: Automatic, Death Machine, Invader

homeindexgenree-mail