Friday, September 2, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Robowar (1988)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

A merry mercenary group working under the delightful moniker of BAM (as the film explains, this is an acronym for "Bad-ass motherfuckers"), is hired by shady government types to go on The Mission for them. Now you might ask yourself: "What's this mission about?". The film isn't going to tell you. It is in fact withholding this information for its audience's own good, or at least to spare you wasting too many brain cells, as The Mission will turn out to be not what our heroes believe it to be, so there surely is no need to bother your pretty little heads with it.

All members of BAM have manly codenames like Killzone, Blood, or Diddy Bopper, alas they very seldom use them when talking to each other. The only thing that's important about them is that their leader is played by Reb Brown and that the rest of them might just as well be wearing red shirts instead of army fatigues. Reb ain't too happy when he learns that the team is going to be accompanied by a man of the Man who just might be called Asshole or Fuck You (Mel Davison). But what can a Reb do when he's already somewhere in Central America and on The Mission with his guys?

After the BAMsters have played around with some random guerrillas and picked up a gal named Virgin (Catherine Hickland), they finally meet the problem they were brought in to solve without having been told that they are supposed to solve it - a big bad government cyborg who is running amuck. And IMDB tells me it's played by Claudio Fragasso! Kill that monster, people of BAM!

Of course, it won't be that easy for the mercenaries, and in the end, only Virgin's superior chemistry skills and the fact that Robocop was nearly as successful a film as Predator will conquer the big bad.

And lo! It came to pass that Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso watched Predator. And they saw that it was good. So obviously, they needed to make a terrible, yet glorious version of the material all their own. Dear Fragasso is only taking the responsibility for the story this time, whatever that might mean in a film patently without one, while the writing credit goes to Rossella Drudi, who has certainly fine qualifications in her future work on Troll 2, her past work on Hell of the Living Dead and being married to Fragasso. It's quite the script the couple produced, never giving an explanation when one would probably be a good idea, never having an idea of its own when it can manhandle someone else's, and never satisfied stealing from just one source. Why only rip off Predator, when Robocop is also there, rife for the picking? It's what you expect from real masters of their art.

I'd love to go deeply into the principles of Mattei's direction, his meaningful use of the colour green, the way he uses the adventures of the BAMsters as a metaphor for all human struggle, but unfortunately I'd just be making it all up. If you have seen any Mattei film, you know how it looks; if you haven't, words cannot prepare you for the experience, at least not words I feel comfortable using.

I'd also love to tell you about the acting performances, alas, there aren't any. There certainly are people on screen who are speaking some perfectly bizarre dialogue, and they certainly are actors by trade, but that's all I can tell you about them, at least not without using words I don't feel comfortable using when talking about people I have never met and who could probably still kick my ass in a fight.

Furthermore, I'd love to tell you about the action. Let us just say that there's a lot of shooting and punching on screen, often executed by BAMsters standing in a single line, shooting and screaming and avoiding cover like their Civil War ancestors before them, at other times performed while running and screaming wildly. And yes, of course there are exploding huts.

Finally, I'd love to tell you about the film's awe-inspiring effects, how the cyborg dude is dressed in an Ultraman Halloween costume someone has painted black and makes the same chittering noises a toy robot I once owned makes, but I don't think I'm fit to do it justice.

I'm afraid I can only leave you with questions about Robowar where I should be giving answers, but that is part of the nature of the films of Mattei and Fragasso. I am full of questions about their works myself, starting with the natural - if very unspecific - ones, like "who gave these people money to make movies?" and "can I meet him?".

There are, however, more pertinent questions to ask about Robowar. Why did the script only have five pages? Where did the promised appearance of Alan Collins/Luciano Pigozzi disappear to? Did the authorities of the Philippines (where the film was shot) know whom they let into their country and what terrible consequences their lenience would have for the sanity of mankind? Why is it that Reb Brown screams whenever he shoots his gun? How does the Cyborg manage to hit anyone with his pew-pew laser gun when his point of view shots show clearly that he sees the world as a random conglomerate of orange pixels? What exactly was the government's idea in sending the mercenaries there? Did I really need to see Reb Brown in a belly top?

So many questions, yet so little answers. And that, my friends, is the point of the works of Mattei and Fragasso. They help us understand the importance of asking questions we never even knew we had, and show us that answers about the world that permitted the insane duo to make more than one movie can only be found in the tears of laughter rolling down our cheeks while we are watching them.

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