Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Battle of the Damned (2013)

An evil corporation (aren't they all?) is responsible for an outbreak of rage zombie-ism in "a South-East Asian city" - the film was shot in Singapore and Malaysia (yes, with people running through empty streets and interesting locations instead of ninety minutes of the same warehouse), so take your pick. In response, the city is quarantined.

The boss of the corp hires a mercenary appropriately named Max Gatling (Dolph Lundgren) and his men to rescue his daughter Jude (Melanie Zanetti). The city's supposed to be harmless now, but of course, in truth it's full of zombies. Alas, Max is the only one in his gang with an action hero name, so he's the last man standing up to the running and snarling menace even before the ending of the film's credits. Max is really tenacious, though, and goes his merry way through the zombie hordes until he accidentally stumbles upon Jude on a solo plundering trip. Jude belongs to a small group of survivors under the dubious leadership of a certain Duke (David Field). Max, being your typical action movie hero, doesn't care about the people he hasn't been hired to rescue, and really only wants to grab Jude and go. Jude, on the other hand, has a mind of her own.

These minor internal struggles are our survivors' least problems: apart from the zombie horde, there's also the fact that the city is soon going to be destroyed by fire bombs, and the fact that Max doesn't have any transportation, either. There also seems to be no way to actually get out of the city, quite independent if its six people or two. Oh, and Jude is pregnant by one of her co-survivors (Matt Doran) to give her a little more motivation to actually want to get out.

Still, things look rather bleak until Max meets and befriends a squad of battle robots roaming the streets.

It's Dolph Lundgren and robots versus zombies! 'nuff said!

But seriously, the way Christopher Hatton's Battle of the Damned plays its cards, this really is an excellent selling point for the film. The first two thirds of Battle's running time are spent on your usual low budget rage zombie standards, just with an added "but what if a Dolph Lundgren character were caught up in the zombie apocalypse", which really would be enough to make for a rather entertaining, if not very original film. At one point during the writing process, director and writer Hatton must have realized that the zombie apocalypse genre is rather bleak, and that, really, even a Dolph Lundgren type action hero won't make it through it alive. Dolph will need help, and what better help could there be than letting him team up with some of the robots who went crazy in Hatton's last movie, Robotropolis. It's a plan brilliant in its simplicity. Plus, it adds zombies versus robot action to the whole affair.

Hatton is also clever enough to realize that, once you have your hero team up with robots, the (mostly) earnest tone with "funny" one-liners Battle of the Damned had until then is impossible to maintain, so the film's last half hour turns into the sort of crazy, silly, nonsense the idea really needs to not become annoying. The robots may still be a bit underused (that CGI doesn't come cheap, you know) but Hatton manages to make the Dolph and survivors and robots versus zombies thing as entertainingly silly as one might hope for.

However, there's also a lot to like about the parts of the movie that aren't based on being slightly insane, when you may still think you're watching a standard decent low budget flick. The film's action choreography by Jen Kuo Sung aka Jen Sung Outerbridge (a man who seems to do a bit of everything from stunts to acting to voice acting, and who also plays a sword-swinging survivor named Elvis here) is in part responsible for this. Sure, there's a bit too much shaky cam in these scenes for their own good, but they are also quite inventive and tense, not something you can find in all cheap action movies. A particular high point finds Lundgren fighting off a bunch of ragers (among them one former colleague, though Dolph isn't the kind of guy who even blinks before killing infected he knows, so there's no melodrama about it) while he's hand-cuffed to a lamp post, which really isn't something you get to see every day.

It's always lovely to encounter a piece of direct to DVD low budget filmmaking that is so obviously going out of its way to entertain, with nothing half-assed about. So what if it's silly? Battle of the Damned can play in my home cinema any time.

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