Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Android Cop (2014)

Welcome to a Los Angeles of the near future. An earthquake has hit the local nuclear reactors, leaving parts of the town as an irradiated quarantine zone populated by the poor and your usual post-apocalyptic gangs. Obviously, it’s called The Zone.

Excellent, if irascible, cop Hammond (Michael Jai White) is getting a new partner in form of the newest in police SCIENCE(!) – an android he soon dubs Andy (Randy Wayne). Now, after a partner killing incident with one of the turrets guarding the Zone, Hammond isn’t much of a lover of machines (and clearly, there’s no difference at all between an android and a gun turret), so the relationship between Hammond and the rookie robot starts with a lot of patented buddy cop bickering.

However, when our heroes are tasked with rescuing the android body harbouring the consciousness of the Mayor’s (Charles S. Dutton) daughter (Larissa Vereza), they’ll just have to learn to respect each other. Particularly since their rescue mission is connected to a conspiracy that soon sees them having to fight off not just the local gangs, and a few cannibals, but also the corrupt forces of evil cop Sgt. Jones (Kadeem Hardison).

Going into a film made by the writer/director (and editor, and cinematographer, and more, because who says movies aren’t a one man job?) responsible for nigh unwatchable The Asylum productions like Princess of Mars and Battle of Los Angeles is not a task one sets oneself without adjusting one’s expectations. As it turns out, however, in the case of Android Cop, there isn’t actually much need for any adjustments of the unpleasant kind, because when it comes to silly, low budget SF action movies a tiiiiny bit based on other movies you might have heard about, this one’s actually great fun.

Now, obviously, the SF elements, as well as the details of the conspiracy, are very much on the silly and not always on the coherent side but since the film presents them with a self-deprecating sense of humour (yet not cloying self-conscious irony) and with fun, they set up exactly what they’re supposed to set up in the sort of film this is – action scenes, basic motivations for basic characters, and a bunch of bad yet funny jokes. Why, the SF elements even have an actual plot function I found myself appreciating as silly yet kind of awesome!

The most important elements for silly SF direct-to-video action – action all work out quite nicely for the film. The action scenes are, despite mostly taking place between our heroes and guys dressed up in rags (so you can use the same stunt actors in more scenes a bit easier, one suspects), pretty fun, decently choreographed and directed, if not with particular style, at least with the sort of discreet confidence that eschews too many dumb editing effects. Sure, Atkins isn’t Isaac Florentine or John Hyams but here, he shows himself to be a much more capable action movie director than I had expected. And while the film’s ruined houses - that look a lot like reused sets from some kind of Middle Eastern set war movie to me – aren’t exactly incredibly attractive, they sure beat the exclusively warehouse set action of many another cheap action movie I’ve seen. The same goes for the costumes and the make-up effects – they’re a bit dumb (particularly the silver sheen of androids), they’re certainly cheap, but they get their jobs done and look as if the people involved at least cared a little about them. It seems like The Asylum truly has changed.

Android Cop’s true not so secret weapon, though, is Michael Jai White. If you’ve watched your share of direct-to-DVD action films in the last couple of decades, you do of course know that White is an excellent screen fighter who at least deserves to have the name recognition of your Van Dammes and your Lundgrens (whom I have both grown to love in their own special ways) but doesn’t really seem to get it. So, yes, White is great in the action scenes, yet his real gift to people consciously deciding to watch a film called Android Cop (hey, that’s me!) lies in his overall performance. He’s playing a somewhat hard-ass yet sympathetic cop who isn’t acting like one of your typical action movie cop on the edge assholes (why, he even prefers peaceful solutions), and he does so with the sort of easy-going charm that suggests he’s quite conscious he’s in a movie of highly suspect quality yet not willing to go the easy way of just cashing his pay check without giving the audience something. Doesn’t mean he can’t have fun with it, though, and so he plays whatever silliness the film throws at him with a friendly wink (but not too big of one), and a relaxed but not bored attitude that suggests he’s having quite a bit of fun here. I’m not too surprised about that part, given White’s past career; what I didn’t know is how good his comical timing is, so he milked quite a few laughs out of jokes that really weren’t all that funny from me.

Randy Wayne isn’t exactly the ideal comical foil for him, seeing as his interpretation of an android is to talk like he’s reading the phone book aloud and turn his head stiffly. Wayne isn’t terrible, though, so it’s just about enough. The rest of the cast is mostly okay (Vereza), or hamming it up in satisfactory manner (Hardison and Dutton), which, given that the acting side still is the Asylum’s biggest problem, is perfectly fine for a fun little flick like Android Cop.

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