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Robot Jox
(1990)

Director: Stuart Gordon   
Cast:
Gary Graham, Anne-Marie Johnson, Paul Koslo


Special guest review!

By Jason Alt

 

A grim version of the future. A planet devastated by war. Test-tube babies. Giant robots. Drinks that taste like blood. Russians. Flying cars. The Hawaiian dude from Problem Child. Giant robots. Are these not the essential elements of the perfect film? No? Who asked you anyway?

Robot Jox, which is set in the not-too-distant future, contains all of the above ingredients for sheer cinematic mastery. So it is no surprise that this movie bankrupted Empire Films. “Wait, did I read that right?” you may be asking yourself. Yes, unfortunately you did; this movie was such a turd in the punch bowl that is the box office that the production company went broke 3 months after unleashing this cinematic juggernaut onto an America which was, frankly, not ready. Which was a travesty considering all the things this film had going for it. Somewhere along the way it lost its audience, failed to put butts in theater seats, and utterly failed to transition to video (and laserdisc for that matter).  

But what can we expect from a hit/miss director like Stuart Gordon? He has had both his great successes (Re-Animator) and his disappointments (Space Truckers and the incredibly unsuccessful film adaptation of They'll release the soundtrack to anything these daysRay Bradbury’s The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.) His writing career has been just as unpredictable and he has fared very well in that respect. His story, which you may have heard of, features a man who has to tell his wife that he has somehow shrunken their kids. “Honey,” he tells her, “I shrunk the kids.” I don’t recall what the name of that movie was. He then wrote The Dentist.  But inconsistency is not what crippled this movie and ultimately an unwitting production firm. The reason this film bombed is actually not apparent. We would do better to take an objective look at the film as a whole and judge it on its merits.

The story is utter Gouda. Calling it Brie wouldn’t even do it justice. This is just perfect by me, really. Wars are settled by pilots of giant robots with each pilot (what is the singular of Jox?) having to fight 10 battles before retirement. The Jox are being driven to an early retirement by test tube babies who are designed to be the ultimate fighting machines.

The plot centers around Achilles (Graham) who, in his 10th and final bout, accidentally kills lots and lots of spectators. Swearing he is going into retirement despite the rescheduling of the 10th bout, he, in movie protagonist fashion, comes out of retirement at the last minute to save the girl and win the fight against a Russian dude who has an accent. Did I give away the whole plot? If you didn’t see that exact ending coming as soon as all of the characters were introduced, you probably aren’t old enough to be watching a PG-13 movie anyway. And it’s past your bed time.

The acting is great. By that, I mean “stereotyporific”. Everyone tries their best to act like the vague, sweeping generalizations of the minority group they represent. And I love it. “Hmmm, I wonder if the Russian guy is going to drink some vodka! OOOH! He did!” “I wonder if the guy in the gigantic cowboy hat is going to have a southern accent. He does! Magnificent!” Even Gary Graham, who is commonly panned by Hollywood contemporaries (Me) for being a very wooden actor, is wooden. And that’s great. It’s just what we expected and it’s why we love him so. Because his character, Achilles was written that way. In fact, I daresay that Gary Graham plays a better Achilles than Brad Pitt. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, why don’t you?

Is there anything funnier than a scene in a movie where an ordinary person’s ordinary actions are rendered comedic genius by sheer virtue of their being drunk/drugged? A person walking down the street is boring, but a drunk Kevin Spacey staggering down the road, shouting vague philosophical theories at confused onlookers…still didn’t save The Life Of David Gale from tarnishing Spacey’s sterling acting resumee. It came close though, and the scenes with Achilles drugged and/or drunk trying to fight and even not fall down and piss his pants made me feel like I was going to have a hard time not pissing my pants. This movie really didn’t take itself too seriously, which is a relief. A poignant piece about the moral hurdles a man-slaughtering former giant mecahnoid jockey faces while he battles crippling depression, alcoholism and juvenile onset diabetes this move is not.

The Robots What happens when a robot eats too many beans and stands near a flameare an awesome sight to behold. A montage of 12-inch-tall plastic models and stop-motion photography blend to form an orgasmic experience. An “eyegasm” if you will. I am friends with a guy who knows a guy who did the models for the film….I basically worked on it myself, really. Anyway, this (albeit vague) connection netted me a few tidbits of uncommonly known information about the miniatures. Namely that they were, to put it scientifically, dropped. On the floor. One model in particular, in fact. On the eve of principal robot photography. If you look closely at the jet-packs on the robots you will see one that is obviously repaired with super glue and lots of cursing. And now I pass this information along to you, dear readers. Laugh along with me at the high-school-play-ishness of this film. And yet it so nearly struck oil at the box office. Instead it struck the septic tank.

The Robots are equipped with the kinds of weapons that one would expect to see on giant dueling robots. All the standard weapons are there; flamethrower, laser, giant rope-saw, rocket propelled boxing glove (no, really). This movie takes us into the behind the scenes and gives us not only a peek into the cockpit of the giant bots, but also into the command center where a team of robot experts gives advice to the “jock” both over his radio and on the heads-up display inside the cockpit. A lot of thought obviously went into conveying how teamwork is essential in the war of the future, and also that the military of the future will employ the same 6 button flight simulator joystick that came bundled with my old 486.

Nothing, that I can see, is wrong with this movie. I really thought it was a gas. You probably will too. And it is available on DVD directly from Ebay, complete with barely any special features. Maybe the production company couldn’t afford to put any on here! (There is no way to express my evil laugh via text; suffice it to say it would make your beer curdle, or your vodka taste like blood.) So see it. Buy it on DVD. Or rent it from Blockbuster and “misplace it” and pay the 9 dollar replacement fee. That’s the cool thing to do these days anyway.

Also reviewed at: Cold Fusion Video Reviews

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See also: Godzilla Vs. King Ghidora, King Kong Escapes, Star Kid

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