I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to write me over the last three years. (Unless, of course, you were a little too honest about my ‘skills.’ I prefer those correspondents who are overly polite and irrationally generous.) Still, I tend to wince when films are suggested as potential review subjects. First, I have enough movies lined up now to last years to come. Second, many of the titles proffered don’t really cut the mustard. This then leaves me in the awkward position of being either honest but rude or polite but dishonest. So imagine my trepidation when my younger brother Kevin said he had a picture for me. I mean he’s not even an aficionado of the Jabootuish Arts. Sure, he’s sat through a couple of bad movies over the years. But other than an amused penchant for The Giant Claw, he hasn’t really evinced much interest in such matters.
So I was preparing to politely chuckle my way through his selection, which, he explained, he’d copied off of cable TV. To my surprise and delight, however, my enthusiasm in no way needed to be manufactured. R.O.T.O.R. proved to be one of the most amazing artifacts of the ’80s I’ve yet to come across. It held its own against Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, The Sea Serpent or even The Uninvited. As well, it reaffirmed my faith that there are still treasures out there waiting to be unearthed. If I ever win the lottery, this will be the first Jabootu DVD, director’s commentary and all.
The film’s opening augers well, with a title sequence reminiscent of Robot Holocaust‘s. Another clue to the movie’s quality is provided by the preponderance of certain names in the credits. For instance, ‘David Newman’ is identified both as an actor and as one of the Associate Producers. Meanwhile, David Adam Newman provides the score. Given the quality of the music here, one might be forgiven for postulating that nepotism factored into his employment. And then there’s Cullen Blaine. He, we note, provided the film with it’s *cough* “original story idea.” (The actual script was the work of Budd Lewis, who also functioned as the film’s Production Designer.) As well, Blaine is one of the three people who “Produced” this. Not that you’d want to confuse that stalwart trio with the picture’s two Executive Producers or the three Associate Producers. Finally, the multitalented Mr. Blaine is our director. Ed Wood himself would be proud.
We open on the displayed image of a robot chassis. This is designed so as to mimic a human skeletal frame. It’s like, oh, I don’t know, the one from The Terminator. You know, the one revealed after the flesh outer-body had been burned away? Ominously, this image is followed by an introductory expository crawl. Veteran junkologists will recognize that, outside of films in the Star Wars series, such an intro tends to signal an imminent trip to the cinematic scrap heap. For example, remember Johnny Mnemonic? OK, probably not. Just take my word for it. Anyway, this one goes as follows:
ROBBERY AND ARSON.
OUR OBJECTIVE WAS TO BUILD THE PERFECT
COP OF THE FUTURE…A MACHINE
PROGRAMMED TO OVERCOME ANY
OBSTACLE, TO COMBAT THE CRIMES AND
CORRUPTION WHICH THREATEN THE VERY
EXISTENCE OF OUR SOCIETY…BUT,
SOMETHING WENT TERRIBLY WRONG.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Having similar thoughts, I did some research. I discovered that The Terminator was released five years prior to this. Meanwhile, Robocop came out in 1987, two years before this. I’m not trying to imply another here, but feel free to put the pieces together yourself.
For the nonce, let us muse on other subjects. First, I’m assuming that they came up with the words defining R.O.T.O.R. after thinking up the acronym itself. You know what I mean. You’re a writer. You want to create a name for an Evil Organization, say, and you choose M.U.R.D.E.R. Then you try to come up with words to match. Like, uh, Maestros of Unrest, Revenge, Destruction, uh, Elephants…OK, maybe not like that. But you get the idea. Assuming that this is correct, however, one must be struck by the fact that the coolest word they could come up with here was ‘R.O.T.O.R.’. Wouldn’t K.I.L.L.B.O.T. or something have looked better on the video box? Moreover, the phrase used to define the acronym is strained, at best.
Meanwhile, and getting back to the introductory crawl, is it really necessary to explain that “something went terribly wrong”? When you grab a film out of the video store’s Sci-Fi section, don’t you pretty much assume this to be the case? After all, you wouldn’t have much of a movie if everything went according to plan. Still, we don’t have much of a movie here anyway, so I guess the point is moot. In any event, “something went terribly wrong” in this case seems more like a quote from Today’s Film Reviews than the referenced Today’s Headlines.
Blaine, like any novice filmmaker, knows that he will be afforded only so many chances to gain the attention of the major studios. Hence he attempts to dazzle the viewer with cinematic innovations from the very beginning of the movie. In this case, it means opening the film proper with shots of a cityscape (Oooh!) accompanied by an expository mock radio broadcast (Ahhh!). Here the obligatory jocular DJ is issuing a traffic report. This clever device serves to inform us that it’s late on a Friday afternoon and that we’re in Dallas.
The report also conveys the fact that droves of people are fleeing the city for the weekend. To illustrate this we are shown stock footage that details moderate traffic on a multi-lane highway. “Things are getting pretty jammed up down there,” he comments, as we look over lanes operating at perhaps twenty perfect of capacity. “The Central Expressway is backed up all the way to LBJ,” he continues. I guess that one advantage of doing traffic on a radio station is that you can say whatever you want and none of the listeners will know any better. Meanwhile, since this ‘report’ was presumably looped into the film in post-production, you have to wonder why they didn’t alter the script when they couldn’t dig up stock footage to match the dialog.
In any case, we have been served notice that some amount of the citizenry is heading, as the announcer relates, out of town to “the lake.” (Or, as it is undoubtedly known to Dallas residents, The Big Unspecific.) Magically, this is no sooner said than we segue to a car doing exactly that. We watch as it drives down a rural road, listening god-like to the small talk of its occupants, Paul, and his wife/girlfriend/whatever, who sadly remains unidentified. She’s hoping she brought enough food, he wryly replies that she usually brings enough for an army. This mundane chitchat works to establish a tone of normalcy, lulling the audience into a serene sense of complacency. Later, when this peaceful, bucolic ambience is shattered, it will seem all the more shocking. Hitchcock was also known to use this technique.
Paul is just noting how he’s looking forward to a peaceful weekend when (Irony Alert!) their homey conversation is interrupted by a rather unconvincing dubbed-in explosion sound. The car pulls into a patch of dry ice fog and screeches to a halt. Said fog serves (in theory, anyway) to represent smoke from said explosion. The car’s occupants soon witness a bedraggled man, bearing a woman in his arm, stumbling into the beams of their headlights. Seeing this, they emerge from their car. Oddly, in this shot it’s dusk. Then a second later it’s pitch black out. Apparently the sun falls very quickly down in Texas.
Approaching, they see that the woman is unconscious and that the man is battered and bleeding. The latter reaches into his pocket, produces an I.D. and painfully tells them to call the police. (I’m not sure how they will do this. During the previously described conversation, Paul noted that he was looking forward to a weekend with, and I quote, “no phone.”) “Paul,” his companion stiltedly exclaims, “call 911!” You know, I’ve seen many a poorly made movie in my time. Yet I’m still surprised when they fail to come up with an actor who can believably deliver such a basic line. “Paul, call 911.” I mean, how hard is that?
However, this proves merely the beginning of our Parade of Bad Acting. For now we hear the double snick of a shotgun being pumped, heralding the appearance of a hunter. We then cut to a shot from ground level, presumably a POV shot from the battered man’s perspective. From this vantage we see the hunter *cough* dramatically shoving the barrel of his shotgun directly at the camera. As this isn’t shot with a deep focus lens, the barrel is (sort of) crisply seen while the man remains out of focus. Then, when the guy speaks, the camera shifts focus onto him while the shotgun muzzle blurs out. This, sadly, proves to be director Blaine’s biggest ‘auteur’ moment.
“Go ahead [and call 911],” agrees the hunter, in the sort of molasses-thick, countrified accent often employed on TV’s The Dukes of Hazard. “This old boy just killed a motorcycle cop.” Why he felt it necessary to describe what exact kind of cop was killed is left to our imaginations. As we shall see, there are other details he might have more likely mentioned here. In any case, Paul reaches into his vehicle and produces a car phone, an old ’80s one, with a cord and everything. (So much for being away from the phone all weekend.) To be fair, as I always attempt to be, the guy playing Paul is lame rather than awful. Given the present company, this makes him seem like Larry Olivier.
We cut to 7:30 P.M., according to the note on the screen. We learn that the wounded man, the one accused of killing a cop, is in fact the virile Captain Barrett Coldyron of the Dallas Police Department. Despite this, he’s been cuffed and is being loaded into an unmarked police car. A *cough* detective — wearing a cowboy hat, of course, because we’re in Texas — informs him that they’re heading into ‘Division.’ Wow, nothing lends a scene verisimilitude like that arcane cop jargon, eh? “You can shower and shave downtown,” he continues. “It’s going to be a long night.” This, sadly, will prove a more accurate prediction for us watching the film than for those in it.
As they prepare to leave, the detective tells Coldyron to “buckle up for safety.” Doing that ‘sudden shifting focus’ thing again (hey – a directorial motif!), we see Coldyron’s image in the rearview mirror snap into focus as he laughs derisively. “Sure,” he snickers. “You bet.” His ridicule subtly informs us that he has recently faced dangers far more severe than those of not wearing a seatbelt. Foreshadowing, thy name is Cullen Blaine.
The car drives off and the magic drum machine of David Adam Newman explodes across the soundtrack. Ah, the synthesizer. What would bad composers of the ’80’s have done without it? Here the score provides accompaniment for Coldyron’s raspy yet overly enunciated narration. These voiceovers introduce us to two of the elements that make the film so enjoyable. One is the performance of the guy playing Coldyron. (Guys, actually; see AFTERTHOUGHTS.)
A tall, rangy blond guy vaguely reminiscent of Shadoe Stevens, he reads his lines in an exaggeratedly tough manner, like someone parodying Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. (Sort of. Again, see below.) On the plus side, and unlike many of the film’s other performers, he can actually spit out his dialog in a coherent manner. And he does provide actual inflections and intonations to his readings. In his case, ironically, too much of each. He tends to sound overly actorish, like someone in a community theater production who’s working too hard to sell a line. Imagine a twangier Clint Eastwood who hasn’t yet learned that less is more.
The other delight on display here is a brilliantly goofy script. Coldyron, we learn, is the head of the department’s Tactical Operations Lab. “Two days ago,” he rasps, “I was considered one of the leaders in the field of Police Robotics.” This tends to inspire a bewildered laugh from the viewer, who might be forgiven for wondering exactly how many experts in Police Robotics the country sported in 1989. Or now, for that matter. (And no, there’s no indication that the film is set in The Future.) Just in case we can’t figure out where this is going, Coldyron notes that he’s presently thought of as “a modern day Dr. Frankenstein.” As we shall see, he’s yet to tell anyone his story. Therefore I’m not really sure how he’d be ‘considered’ anything right at the moment.
Cut to an establishing shot of “Division Headquarters,” the time now being 10 P.M. In case you’re wondering, the film helpfully provides us with regular time cues. Since they obviously spent more time keeping track of what happens when than on any other element of the film — meaning that the reported timing of events is only occasionally screwed up — I’ve assembled a helpful Timeline down in the AFTERTHOUGHTS section.
Coldyron is sitting in an interrogation room and being questioned by two very bad actors. Given the furniture the room contains, I suspect this was shot in a school. The Male Bad Actor is standing with his foot up on a chair seat, leaning forward. (Acting Pose #37 — Aggression.) Meanwhile, the Female Bad Actor leads the interrogation. “We can gain entry into every classified paper in the Tactical Operations Lab,” she notes, whatever that means. Are they going to shrink down to microscopic size, like in Fantastic Voyage, and ‘enter’ the papers that way? “We’d rather hear it from you, though,” she continues. Meanwhile, her partner kicks in with his big line. “Make no mistake,” he pronounces, whilst still leaning dramatically forward with his foot up on the chair, “we will do so in any event, talk or not.” (If you didn’t guess that the emphasis of that line should have rested on the words ‘mistake,’ ‘will,’ ‘event’ and ‘not,’ well, that just explains why you’re not acting in movies like R.O.T.O.R.) Since “hearing it” from Coldyron provides an all too obvious mechanism for relaying the bulk of our story, we’re unsurprised when he complies.
As Coldyron fidgets with a thin cigarette lighter-type deal — Plot Point! – he begins his tale. “Last Thursday,” he begins, which seems sort of odd because he’s actually referring to the day before this. Up here in Illinois we often refer to this as ‘yesterday.’ In any case, we go to flashback. It’s the day prior, as noted, and early morning on Coldyron’s oddly expansive ranch. This serves to establish Our Hero as one of those Doctor/Police Captain/Robotics Expert/Cattle Rancher types.
“The day started like any other day,” he drawls. “The fresh October morning breeze blew across the ranch, the cattle were coming in for the morning feeding, and a buttery morning sunlight painted a golden glow through the ranch house windows…” I kept waiting for one of the exasperated cops to yell, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all very picaresque, but cut to the chase.” Hemingway, the guy ain’t. It’s more like receiving a police statement from Martha Stewart. Also, not to badmouth Coldyron’s lyric streak, but does an “October” breeze really appear on “any other day”? I’ve have thought only in, well, October.
This sequence, unsurprisingly, proves to be an elaboration on the ‘create a peaceful mood so as to shockingly shatter it’ technique as explicated earlier. A mere day ago his life was a bucolic ideal, now it’s blah blah blah. It also proves to be a particularly egregious example of padding. We spend four solid minutes watching Coldyron’s morning routine. We scan his kitchen, gliding past a rumpled newspaper and a half-eaten donut. Oddly, we then cut to Our Hero being awakened by his alarm clock, so I guess the paper and donut were remnants of the previous evening. Or perhaps a continuity error.
Coldyron pops some vitamin tablets, drinks some juice, and prepares a wide-mouthed mug of coffee with extra sugar. He then carries this outside with a carrot and approaches a nearby corralled horse. Whereupon he eats the carrot and the horse drinks the coffee. Comedy! Adding to our enjoyment is that this is all accompanied by a tune that suggests what the Monkees would have sounded like had they sung Country. Actually, it’s not a bad song, in fact it’s rather better than the ones we’ll hear later, but it just seems out of place here.
Here they establish one of the film’s typically moronic plot devices. Coldyron is trying out “this new primer cord explosive,” to clear a stump. This proves to be a cord that is, apparently, impregnated with explosive. The idea is that you can loop the end of it into a lasso, toss it around something, and then set off the tied-off circle section. How this would work – for instance, how do you keep the lead you’re holding from going up and taking your hands off – is apparently not to be subjected to too much scrutiny. I guess it would be also be petty to note that here he has to set it off with a detonating device, whereas at the end of the picture (oops, hope I didn’t blow anything) it conveniently goes off by itself as needed.
Cue the drum machine. Coldyron climbs into his truck, and we spend a leisurely minute or so following his vehicle as he drives to work. Oddly, one shot here shows the sun rising just over the horizon, even though hours earlier it was already up in the sky. Upon arriving at the Lab, his narration resumes. “Ten years ago, when I founded [the lab], our objective was to research, develop and construct the nation’s first invincible police force.” Given the nature of his efforts, I can only assume that he had been so inspired in 1977 by watching the weekly exploits of The Six Million Dollar Man. “Although we’ve made incredible strides,” he continues, “sometimes it’s hard to tell the boys from the toys.” I have no idea what this means.
We quickly meet the staff of the humungous lab building. There’s Houghtaling, a scientist. We can tell because he wears a lab coat and carries a clipboard. There’s a goofy janitor/lab assistant. This guy is black, and thus unsurprisingly speaks in exaggerated ghetto slang. Next is a woman lab assistant who speaks in Valley-Girl talk. Oh, and let’s not forget Willard, the lab’s Comic Relief Robot. Willard rolls around on wheels and appears to be the sort of deal one could buy from the Sharper Images catalog and operate via remote control. Still, his operating software must be tremendously sophisticated, as he’s able to engage in ‘comical’ banter with his associates. (Lame banter, admittedly, but no lamer than anyone else’s.) In any case, counting Coldyron, there appears to be a healthy staff roster of four people working in this gigantic, mall-sized edifice.
In one of the film’s comic highlights, Coldyron meets with other scientists to explain his work. The result is a veritable fountain of inane dialog. “Let me quickly recap our Charter,” Coldyron expounds. “We scientists are like the great science fiction writers. We’re all prognosticators of the future. And since our particular purpose of vision belongs to the creed of law enforcement, we open inroads into Tomorrow in ways and means of those who would serve and protect Justice and Order.” And, yes, I did transcribe that correctly. My first thought was that the word ‘charter’ doesn’t mean what I thought it did. Also, isn’t the phrase ‘prognosticators of the future’ redundant? Well, live and learn.
The extras assembled here work diligently to pretend that they are people attending a meeting. One woman nods her head as Coldyron speaks, one fellow pretends to take notes, others tuck their hands under their chins and feign paying attention to what he’s saying. His bewildering opening comments concluded, a 16mm film projector is started up. This ‘plays’ what is obviously an animated schematic of the R.O.T.O.R chassis. One, I might add, that looks like something a talented high schooler might have whipped up on his circa-1989 Apple. By zooming in on this, they delay for many milliseconds our awareness that said graphic isn’t actually being projected onto a screen but has instead been editing directly into the movie.
Calling out their names and academics affiliations, the attendees begin to ask questions. “Is this what your research has led up to?” one queries. Normally, we’d laugh at this question. I mean, duh, why else would he be showing them this? However, since we’re seeing what he’s seeing, he has our complete sympathy. Coldyron might as well wheel in a guy wearing the robot suit from Supersonic Man and declare this to be his prototype. Instead, he refers to the work of another scientist, a Dr. Steele. (Steele…Cold-iron…get it?) This worthy, he explains, “developed a super-technology, a structured combat chassis out of an alloy…an unknown alloy…simply given an obscure number.” OK, I don’t want to be overly pedantic here. Still, I believe that should more properly be a previously unknown alloy. And what the hell is an ‘obscure’ number?
As a follow-up to his bizarre ramblings, another guys asks, as far as I could follow, “What’s your intent of the little known alloys, is there some good vibration to its molecular tonality you can utilize?” “Exactly,” Coldyron replies. (!!) “Watch,” he continues. Here the animated robot does what appears to be, well, The Robot. After several seconds of this impressive display, another question is fielded. “The chassis,” one woman asks. “How can it animate without gears or motors?” It was here that I began to suspect that the characters weren’t actually watching what we were, since both gears and motors are in fact prominently on display. Perhaps someone should have coordinated the script with the animation inserts. Anyway, the answer to her question (please go along with the script here and pretend that the robot is lacking the aforementioned components) is as follows. “This battle chassis,” Coldyron notes, “has been issued a Prime Directive.”
“Are you saying,” another calls out, “that this thing can do anything from aerobics to Tai Chi?” Obviously this is a lot to get out of the statement, “This battle chassis has been issued a Prime Directive.” It’s apparent, though, that scientists are used to reading between the lines, because Coldyron confirms that this is what he was saying. “It can do Karate to full field combat,” he replies, apparently now just making it up. Meanwhile, the Q&A continues. “God knows this is spectacular,” one begins, cheekily flaunting the fact that he’s obviously not been paying attention to any of this. “But what exactly are we dealing with?” Here things begin to get a bit silly.
“Molecular memory and learning,” Coldyron explains. “All it needs is a spark, a current of electricity as a catalyst. An inducer. Simulate a brain impulse. In this case, a command. The metal itself has already been taught the aerobic movement by the particular electrical impulse and the induced corresponding command. Then the molecules move the chassis into the remembered posture. The metal itself can learn, remember and teach itself. It doesn’t need motors, gears and tubes.” Here the inserts show us close-ups of the chassis, spotlighting in some detail its motors, gears and tubes. “All it needs is a flat place,” Our Hero concludes, “and a lever long enough, and it can move the world.”
One guy, who looks like a very bad Walter Cronkite imitator, is troubled by the moral issues raised. (I think.) “Who are we who create such a thing?” he asks. “Heroes and villains?” His concerns are soon deflected by Coldyron’s witty rejoinder. “The only difference between a hero and a villain,” he quips to their general mirth, “is the amount of compensation they take for their services. At our pay scale, I’d say we’re heroes.” Apparently Hitler and Stalin could have saved their reputations much wear and tear if they’d only have accepted a salary cut.
The grilling continues apace. “What are you planning,” a woman asks, “high tech Rock ‘n’ Roll to the rescue of civil law and order?” “You’re on my wavelength,” he replies, “and you’re right.” And, if I’m any judge, in serious need of medication. “I’ve already wondered if our creation is going to rescue society or destroy it,” he admits. (Yeah, you might want to think that sort of thing out before you get it up and running.) “I think Dr. Frankenstein must have felt the same way,” Coldyron muses. Yes. Not to mention the guy who invented the Flowbee Haircutting System. Continuing the analogy, Coldyron notes one difference between his work and Frankenstein’s. “He tried to harness Death,” he expounds, “and we’re trying to harness Life.” Uh, actually, Frankenstein was harnessing Life. Other than that, though…
This about wraps up the extensive ten-minute presentation. Yes, I can see why our greatest minds flew in from around the country to attend this meeting. As for Coldyron’s summation, I believe it speaks for itself: “And next year, same time, same place, if you’ll be our guests again, you’ll see the product of the next phase of evolution. Twenty-five years from now, if you’ll come next fall, what you’ll see will be the only thing that stands between humanity and itself. Remember, mankind is bent on genocide. Self-extermination. I’ll show you the only remedy.”
A guy doing an awful Columbo impression now enters the room for a little quip session with Our Hero. In fact, his acting is so bad, and the segment runs on for such an oddly long period, that I’d theorize that this is perhaps director Blaine doing a cameo. He informs Coldyron that he has a phone call from Police Commander Buglar at Division Headquarters. This fellow, we’ll quickly learn, is Coldyron’s sleazy Gov’ment Superior. Coldyron greets him cordially, but Buglar is having none of it. “Let’s not spar with the social amenities, Coldyron, and say we did!” he spits, proving himself fully the equal of his subordinate when it comes to conducting a barely coherent conversation.
Buglar is upset because the shadowy Senator Douglas (“Our benefactor, your meal ticket, Mr. ‘Free Ride,’ as you must think of him!”), just ragged him out. He goes on to explain the dirty facts of life. Douglas is “[t]he man who gave you the shovel you’ve been digging up graves with, my friend!” He’s becoming impatient, though. Buglar, feeling the heat, replied that the project is on schedule, which, of course, it isn’t. He then explains that he had to make up a projection because Coldyron’s frozen him out on the real timetable. “You’ve hated me!” he spittles. “You thought I was nothing but a stupid paper-jerker, a peasant!” (A paper-jerker?) Buglar apparently has some issues.
The Senator wasn’t satisfied with that, though. He wants a prototype up and working in sixty days. (!!!) Buglar replied that that was impossible. He retreated, though, when Douglas lowered the boom. “Do you know what he called me?” he sputters. “‘Private Citizen.’ Do you know why?” Luckily, he provides the answer to this enigma before our brains fry out from trying to plumb its mysteries. “Because he can make me a ‘private citizen’ in sixty seconds!” Oh, I get it. By the way, did somebody tell the scriptwriter that ‘sixty’ was a lucky number or something?
Since Coldyron is as confused as we are, Buglar elaborates. “The Senator found himself a Holy Grail three and a half years ago. That Grail can make him King. The project? Your dream? That’s his Holy Grail. He skimmed millions from here and there and gave it to the Mayor. The Mayor took a slice and gave it to me. I took my cut and it went down through half a dozen middle people and you got what was left for your great quest…An election’s coming up in six months. With product of your research, he’ll take public credit and he’ll use it to catapult himself into the White House!” Buglar tells Coldyron to deliver the prototype or everyone from the Mayor down, including Our Innocent Hero himself, will go down on graft charges.
Yikes. Where to start? First, I especially like the screenwriter’s conceit that he’s making some big Statement about how things work. Yeah, Brother, keep bring Truth to Power. You and Oliver Stone should definitely get together. Also, they keep playing this hilarious ominous music during the whole thing, to emphasis just how evil all of this is. Given the literally moronic dialog, this comes off all the funnier. Next, graft isn’t that perfectly schematic. I’m not sure how the Mayor got on the bus anyway. Besides, in the real world a big city mayor would most likely be satisfied with the patronage opportunities presented by the project, rather than personally taking “a slice” of the funding. And if Buglar is a police commander, who are the ‘half dozen middle people’ between him and Coldyron’s lab?
Meanwhile, Hel-looo, Douglas is a Senator. He wouldn’t have to illegally ‘skim’ money. Funding for advanced law enforcement research? Chances are he wouldn’t even have to attach it to a bigger bill as a rider. He’d just sponsor it in Congress, and probably attract plenty of co-sponsors to boot. And how the heck does Douglas expect to become one of the major parties’ candidates for President (!!) four months before the election? Hello, the primary process would already be over with by then. And would some sort of untested robot really “catapult him to the White House”? And if he ‘skimmed’ the money himself, would he really threaten to expose the graft of everyone else involved in the project? Wouldn’t that make his shenanigans more likely to come up? And even if it didn’t, wouldn’t he be tarred anyway for sponsoring a project so rife with corruption?
The bad writing continues. Not only will they all go to jail, but Buglar reminds Coldyron that “your Holy Grail,” i.e., the R.O.T.O.R. project, will be history. (“That gets turned into a public urinal and your name printed on a target on the bottom!”) Now, I know this might have been hard for the scriptwriter to keep track of, but the “Holy Grail” throughout this conversation has been Senator Douglas’, and has referred to the Presidency. Now of the sudden the Holy Grail is Coldyron’s. Maybe everyone in the movie has a Holy Grail. Maybe Buglar’s is not to be thought of as a paper-jerker. Still, it’s a bit confusing, all these Holy Grails. Couldn’t someone have a Brass Ring or Golden Apple or something instead?
Coldyron replies that this is simply impossible. A stable prototype is years off, much less months. Buglar then tells him he’s off the project, apparently because the best way to magically produce something is to can the head of the four-person team involved in creating it. Our Hero, needless to say, isn’t about to take this lying down. He now delivers what may be the film’s best line, which is saying something. “You fire me and I’ll make more noise than two skeletons making love in a tin coffin, brother,” he threatens laconically. Then, having warned Buglar against firing him, he quits. Whatever.
I guess I should mention that the camera keeps cutting to close-ups of some objects on Coldyron’s desk. One is a small statue of a griffin, the other a small battery operated robot toy. In other words, the symbolism of the first is a tad vague, of the second a little too on the nose. Sadly, there isn’t a third object that’s ‘just right.’
In a rage – we can tell, because he’s clenching his teeth even harder than usual – Coldyron storms out of his office. (Hey, a receptionist! Make that five people working in the building.) In the hallway a ‘cop,’ who’s both suspiciously skinny and sporting oddly long hair, stops him. He begins to remind Coldyron that it’s time for his yearly range qualification exam. In mid-sentence, though, he quails, open-mouthed and popped-eyed, under the furious glare of Our Hero. This, I think, is supposed to be ‘funny.’ And since the fellow playing Coldyron can’t suggest rage more than other emotion, it’s all the more amusing to watch the other guy’s exaggerated reaction. In fact, the reaction supplies the audience with a helpful cue, since otherwise we might have missed the fact that Coldyron is supposed to be irate. This is therefore an example of someone’s emotional state being an Implied Attribute.
Coldyron stalks out to the elevator, informing a passing Houghtaling that he’s now in charge. I think. Like many of the conversations in the film, this one is rather hard to follow. Still, that’s the gist of it. I think. Through a series of terse statements, Coldyron reveals that he’s leaving his subordinate “the keys.” Befuddled, and who can blame him, Houghtaling asks “The keys to what?” “The Holy Grail,” Our Hero spits out. Ah. Those keys.
Looking for a little relief from his troubles, Coldyron calls Penny, his Significant Other, and invites her out to lunch. Supposedly some kind of executive, Penny’s desk appears to be that of a receptionist. It’s the little touches that make you know the filmmakers care. Following this, Houghtaling engages in a conversation with Willard the Comedy Relief Robot. I’ll spare you a description of this, except to note that Willard ends the scene by asking Houghtaling if he intends to finish his fries. See? It’s funny, because why would a robot be interested in french fries? Get it?
To our horror, the lunch scene is a montage of shots under a hideous romantic pop duet entitled “Hideaway”. Oddly, the sequence takes place in a crowded upscale restaurant, which doesn’t seem like much of a ‘hideaway,’ but there you go. Amazingly, although our lovebirds laugh at each other’s comments and feed each other food (again, imagine two adults doing this in a fashionable eatery), they don’t end up hand-in-hand on a beach or playing games of chance at a carnival. Oops, I should have waited for the scene to end. Although I was technically correct, they do end up alongside a body of water in a park, with Coldyron’s arm around her shoulders. Still, that’s completely different from the hand-in-hand on the beach scenario.
We cut to the Lab. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, and Houghtaling is yelling at Willard the Comic Relief Robot. Presumably he’s frustrated because he hasn’t been able to activate the prototype in the two or three hours since Coldyron quit. The reason why is obvious, for, as he explains, “I can’t run a sequential circuitry test without the impulse feed chain.” He complains about Coldyron’s leaving, and with apparent good cause, as this has halved the scientific staff working on the project. Necessity is the Mother of Invention, however, and he now has a brainstorm. “Willard,” he orders. “Punch in all the impulse codes! That’ll activate the chain and we can go down to the tank and trace the circuits by hand!” (By George, I think he’s got it!) Willard frets about what would happen if current gets into the chain. A more obvious concern, I’d think, would be how Willard intends to “punch in” the codes, given that his arms are about as functional as fellow mechanoid Tom Servo’s.
Still, this sets up the idea that something could happen that would be bad. It also sets up Houghtaling’s rejoinder. “What do you think this is? Some low budget sci-fi flick?” Ha, ha. Self-referential humor. Eat your heart out, Scream. Next we cut down to the suspension tank room, where the Jive-Talkin’ Janitor is hitting on the Valley Girl. In the process, he hangs his portable radio earphones on some miscellaneous piece of equipment. A musical blare lets us know that this is significant. Boy, I hope this doesn’t result in current getting into the impulse feed chain. Meanwhile, the guy starts discoursing, still in jive argot, that he’s of American Indian descent. This develops into a typically bewildering and inane topic of conversation.
I’ll only note two things here. First, the tÃte-‡-tÃte between these two probably represents the single most excruciating segment of the film. And second, the guy’s name is revealed to be Shoeboogie. Oh, and yes, the phrase “Gross me out!” is employed. Amazingly, though, they somehow failed to insert “Gag me with a spoon!” into the script. Oh, and Shoeboogie pulls out one of those switchblade knives that’s really a comb. Uh…OK, I guess that’s more than two things. Sorry. It’s just that kind of a movie. Anyway, Valley Girl leaves. Shoeboogie makes to retrieve his radio (“I’s got to have my tunes!” he inevitably opines) and reaches for the headphones with the metal comb. As contact is made, little arcs of electricity are animated in. I think we can all see where this is going.
Coldyron and Penny return to her rather impressively sized home to begin to barbeque some steaks. Presumably they ate an early lunch, since it’s now identified to be only 4:00 and they mention the steaks will be ready in twenty minutes. Tis’ not to be, though. Penny suddenly remembers that she’s out of coals, and sends Our Hero out to fetch some. And thank goodness, because the homey domestic ‘aren’t we happy!‘ scene here is just painful.
Back to the Lab. Houghtaling is down by the suspension tank, presumably tracing those circuits we’ve heard so much about. He radios up to Willard, who is reading a copy of Eerie magazine. See, it’s funny, because a robot is reading a magazine. Get it? Houghtaling reports that he’s registering an impulse feed coming in on the chain. Apparently the scriptwriter was confused by his own technobabble, because earlier the fear was that current would get into the impulse feed chain. And even if he’s not confused, I certainly am. Anyway, I think we call all see how ominous this is.
Coldyron arrives at the mini-mart. Needing to beef up the film’s robust eighty-something minute running time, we now take a little plot detour. See, a carload of punks has also arrived outside the store. We know they’re punks because of the musical cue handily provided. Smelling mischief, Our Hero approaches the punk left outside in the getaway car. This guy is obviously a street thug, given his sleeveless T-Shirt, shades, headband and goatee. Coldyron leans into the car window and holds up a buck. Then, in his best Clint Eastwood impression, which, frankly, isn’t all that great, he informs the guy that if he’ll provide change for the dollar, he can drive off before Our Hero calls the cops.
Coldyron pulls back his jacket and we see that he carries a pistol tucked into the waist of his jeans. Since this will be revealed to be one of those gigantic Desert Eagle sort of deals, I found that rather unlikely. Those things are huge and weigh about ten pounds. They therefore don’t seem like the sort of thing you’d carry around wedged into your pants. Anyway, the guy freaks and drives off, leaving his three associates to fend for themselves.
Coldyron heads over to a coin newspaper dispenser and removes a paper. Then he draws his weapon, draping the paper over it for camouflage. By the way, he doesn’t pull back the slide to rack up a shell, so apparently he was carrying that thing with a cartridge already in the pipe. Yep, he’s a professional, all right. (Continuity Error fans will note that the pistol Coldyron tucks into the paper in no way resembles the Desert Eagle model he reveals moments later. In fact, I think the gun here is actually one of those cheapo BB pistols modeled to look like a Colt .45 automatic, only one they’ve painted silver. You can tell from the large three-sided slide mechanism you pull to pump up the next charge of CO≤ gas.)
Upon examination, this proves an illustrative scene regarding how poorly this film is constructed. After all, you might ask, what that heck was that whole seemingly extraneous “if you give me change for my dollar, you can go” thing about? Yet if you think about it, Coldyron was presumably supposed to be doing this so that he’d have change with which to buy the newspaper. However, they apparently forgot about this, or else the director didn’t really get what the scriptwriter was trying to do here. In any case, the guy just drives off, and with Coldyron clearly still holding the dollar bill in his hand.
Moreover, there’s a second miscreant standing by an outdoor payphone, apparently on lookout. You’d think he’d have noticed Coldyron chasing their getaway vehicle away or pulling out the gun and sticking it into his newspapers. Nope. In fact, Our Hero somehow manages to walk right up to the guy without raising any alarm. I guess they’re counting on the fact that they’ve shot most everything in medium shots. This makes it hard to tell where anything is supposed to be in relation to everything else. Yet if you rewind to the shots of the punks entering the store, you can see that the pay phone actually faces out into the parking lot. Meaning Coldyron rousted the fellow in the car about twenty feet directly in front of the lookout guy without being noticed.
Also, the newspaper dispenser is about ten or fifteen feet straight off to the guy’s left, and faces the store’s front bay windows. At least, that is, in the establishing shots. Apparently trying to disguise the fact that Coldyron’s drawing his weapon in full sight of the guys inside, the dispenser is magically placed in front of a brick wall for the close-up shot. Plus the lookout is at a different pay phone, too, one that doesn’t match the establishing shots. Hey, whatever gets the job done, right?
Anyway, a few manly blows and the lookout is knocked unconscious. Coldyron then turns with his marginally disguised weapon, whereupon he sees one of the remaining punks exit the store. This fellow is dragging along a salesclerk and holding a revolver to her head. In a galling bit, the punk calls Coldyron ‘Blondie,’ ala Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This is the kind of thing that has you fantasizing about beating the filmmakers with a length of rubber hose. The robber also calls Coldyron “White Boy,” which is odd because the guy is himself white, albeit I think he’s supposed to be Hispanic. Between this and the Shoeboogie thing, it’s a bit hard to understand where Blaine was going with all this weird ethnic stuff being assigned to actors of the wrong race.
Our Hero casually dons his sunglasses — boy, he’s sooo cool, huh? – and orders the guy to let the woman go. The punk laughs and points out that “all you’ve got is a newspaper.” This is an extremely weird line and is only there so that we get how ‘clever’ Coldyron’s cover-up-the-gun gambit was. Anyway, the newspaper falls away and Coldyron shoots the guy down, although if you deconstruct the separate camera shots the angles are all wrong. Only now, conveniently enough, does the last bandit comes running out of the store. The now released salesclerk quickly KO’s him with some awkwardly executed martial arts stuff.
This scene is here for a number of different reasons, none of them particularly compelling. One is to somewhat establish the idea of this rampant amount of crime that threatens the nation’s survival and lies behind Coldyron’s work. Because otherwise, frankly, we don’t see much evidence of a society in crisis. (Let’s not even get into the fact that people like Rudy Guliani have since managed to reduce crime rates significantly, and without the aid of robot cops.) The scene also, as noted, eats up some running time, and furthermore provides Coldyron with a little action sequence of his own.
We cut to later and find that the cops are have arrived. Coldyron is on the phone explaining things to Penny. The time is identified as being 8:00, meaning that they’ve all been sitting around for four hours. And, yes, it’s dead dark out. The investigating detective comes over and tells Coldyron to head home, saying he’ll do all of Our Hero’s paperwork on the incident. I’m not sure that’s how it works, but what the hey? Funniest is when he returns Coldyron’s weapon (!!), which has now reverted to the painted BB pistol. I guess this isn’t one of those police departments that are all worked up about shooting review boards and that kind of thing. Coldyron is, however, reminded that he’s really just a lab jockey, and that he should leave the dangerous stuff to street cops. It took me a while to figure out, but apparently this is supposed to be ironic foreshadowing or something.
Back at the Lab, Houghtaling and Willard the Comedy Relief Robot are flummoxed by the state of the equipment. Apparently that switchblade comb induced short-circuit “drained all the battery packs,” amongst other bizarre and incomprehensible phenomena. In any case, all the previously stored power has gone missing. They fear that it’s ended up in the mysterious object in the dry ice fog-shrouded suspension tank. However, they decide to ignore this possibility, apparently because it’s an unpleasant one. Shrugging, they head back upstairs. By the way, I thought we were four years at the earliest away from activating this prototype. Yet all they really needed was an incompetent janitor, a personal cassette player and a comb. Science is funny that way.
To our vast lack of surprise, the moment they are out the door an arm appears through the mist and pops off the top of the containment module. This is followed by a Terminator-esque POV shot, complete with vision-obscuring targeting bars. We can tell this is from a robot because everything’s tinted red. Luckily he’s programmed to find his locker (!), which has helpfully been marked ‘ROTOR 222’ with a label maker. This seemed kind of odd, given that none of the other lockers bear such identification. Of course, given how many people apparently work in the building, it’s possible that none of the other lockers have been assigned. The arm reaches in to remove a leather cop’s uniform.
Down in the parking garage, we see a helmeted cop walking in a stiff, I’m-a-robot fashion. He bumps into another cop carrying a clipboard, who offers to sign him up for the Policeman’s Ball. ROTOR (enough with the darn periods, already) examines the form and then pushes the guy away. The other cop straightens up and delivers an indignant little monolog. This, I suspect, is meant to be humorous, despite the manifold evidence to the contrary. Another thing we notice is that, while ROTOR is so advanced of a mechanoid as to appear fully human, his voice generator is much more primitive than that of Willard the Comedy Relief Robot’s. Apparently the filmmakers didn’t want us to forget that ROTOR’s an android. Unfortunately, it also means that you can hardly make out what he’s saying.
Next comes one of my favorite little moments in the film. ROTOR heads across the parking garage, where some plastic chairs are set up in rows (??). Rather than walk around this formation, ROTOR reveals his inhuman otherness by plowing straight through them. Presumably this is meant to portray his inexorable relentlessness, how he allows nothing to stand between him and his goal. Unfortunately, walking through rows of chairs sounds easy on paper but proves more difficult in the execution. This despite the fact that the prop chairs seemingly weigh only a few ounces apiece, and quite probably couldn’t be used to seat adults without collapsing. Yet for all his vaunted super-strength, the actor playing ROTOR visibly strains when pushing through the seats. If Blaine wasn’t such a doofus he’d have built a little alleyway between the chairs to facilitate ROTOR’s knocking them aside and hidden the fact with the positioning of the camera. Apparently, though, no one thought of this.
This awesome display behind him, ROTOR approaches a showroom containing a roped-off motorcycle. In a mime-like fashion the actor pretends to apply pressure to the patently unlocked doors. The illusion is (sorta) sustained when they dub in a wrenching-metal sound to suggest a lock bursting open. A close-up reveals that the slogan “ROTOR / To Judge and Execute” has been emblazoned on the side of the bike. Considering that the motorcycle is apparently set up for display purposes, you have to wonder whether this is the wisest bit of PR. Luckily the key has been left in the ignition (!) and ROTOR is soon roaring off to perform sundry acts of mischief. On his way out he pops an exuberant wheelie, which seems an odd piece of programming for a law enforcement robot, but there you go.
Upstairs, Houghtaling and Willard the Comedy Relief Robot are still discussing the whole ‘drained energy’ thing. Houghtaling decides to just shut things down, so as to preclude an ‘accident.’ “I have a feeling this is how Terminator got started,” quips Willard TCRR. How droll. As they leave their banks of Radio Shack computers behind, a message noting that ROTOR has been activated silently appears on one of the monitors. Frankly, I’d have thought an alarm system of some sort to be a better idea, but what do I know? Also, did no one at this police facility notice the pushed-aside chairs, busted door or stolen motorcycle yet?
We jump forward to 2:00 A.M on Friday. Inside a ‘moving’ car that is rather obviously sitting on a soundstage, a man and a woman are seen. They are Gregory and Sony, and they’re arguing over her plans to get a job after they’re get married. This is presumably meant to establish him as a jerk and her as a take-charge, take-no-crap individual. In case you’re not getting it, Sony will be our Sarah Connor-esque heroine here. Sort of. Not really. But…kinda. Anyway, an odd note is that Margaret Trigg, the woman playing her, gets top billing in the end credits, despite her relatively small amount of screentime. How this came to be remains a mystery. Maybe she took the billing in lieu of pay. Or maybe she actually did her own line readings. More on this in the AFTERTHOUGHTS section.
This scene, like any of the picture’s ‘acting’ moments, is pretty horrifying stuff. Unfortunately, such sequences are also cheap, so this one goes on for a while. Trigg tries to express barely controlled rage, while her partner mutters on about marriage being a “barbaric ritual.” As is often the case with couples in such movies, we never really figure out why these two would even be together. Eventually we learn that they are returning from their wedding shower. Like many such affairs, their shower apparently lasted until after one in the morning. Noting what a strain all these pre-wedding arrangements are, Gregory belligerently tells Sony that “[y]ou look like you got both eyes coming out of one hole!” Ah, if I only had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that one. I’d have a dollar.
Gregory starts complaining that he’s hungry. Sony notes that he ate at the shower, but he replies “that was five hours ago.” Apparently they held the shower in New Mexico. Even then I have to wonder what kind of wedding shower it is where people dine at nine in the evening. Anyway, the bickering continues and Gregory hits the gas in frustration. This gains the notice of ROTOR, who’s presumably been riding around for roughly six hours without finding anyone else to hassle. Friday nights in Dallas must be pretty quiet. (Apparently fearing that we’ll fail to comprehend all this, a graphic flashes across the computer display on ROTOR’s bike, reading “Violation / Excess Speed.”)
Gregory, tired of the squabbling, pulls over to have it out with her. ROTOR then pulls up behind them. Apparently his bike is equipped with a fog generator and a side-mounted kleig light, so that ROTOR can be dramatically framed when pulling over traffic offenders. Approaching the car, he says something about Gregory speeding – I think — in his incomprehensible robot voice. He actually sounds like a malfunctioning speaker at a fast-food drive-up ordering stand, something which no one every thinks to comment upon. (See the similar circumstance of Dracula’s echo chamber voice in Dracula vs. Frankenstein.) Gregory unwisely attempts to bribe his way out of the ticket. ROTOR, either for this or perhaps just for the speeding thing, draws his weapon and kills him. Again, who programmed this thing?
Here further bad editing occurs. ROTOR patently stands some distance from Gregory when he shoots him through the head. Yet immediately afterward he’s close enough for his mortally wounded victim to clutch at his motorcycle jacket as he falls. This clutch will prove to be a plot point. Therefore, you’d think they would have taken a bit more care when blocking out the scene.
Spooked by these events, Sony tries to scrunch down and hide in the front seat. As she does she accidentally hits the car horn. This reveals one of ROTOR’s more noticeable design flaws, which is that he’s temporarily incapacitated by loud noises. (!!) This is indicated by ROTOR clutching his head, apparently in pain, which seems an odd reaction for a robot. Luckily for him, no one will ever decide to systematically exploit this rather convenient Achilles’ heel.
Apparently sounding the horn violated some noise pollution statute. At least that’s what I’m assuming, because ROTOR now tries to shoot Sony as well. This might seem like a small point. Still and all, if ROTOR’s programmed to execute lawbreakers, then why is he after Sony? Is it against the law to be a passenger in a speeding car? Even in Texas? And given that his pursuit of her will represent much of the rest of our movie, you’d really think they’d have tried to motivate this better. Anyway, Sony is able to knock her assailant down with the car and make her escape. Here we get one our more obvious Terminator rip-off moments, with ROTOR rising silently and unhurriedly resuming pursuit on his bike.
By the way, why was ROTOR designed to have a bit of a potbelly? Just wondering. Even stranger is his being equipped with a ratty little mustache. Then add to the paunch and the bad facial hair his too-tight leather uniform. The result has been aptly described by a correspondent to the film’s IMDB listing, who refers to our menace as a “porn-star-lookalike.”
Boy, this film is great. Every scene boasts delightfully bad acting or is poorly motivated or inanely written or all of the above. Here’s a case in point. Panicking, Sony decides that her best course is to pull over and try to talk things out with the person who just murdered her fiancÃˆe and then attempted to shoot her. To say the least, this seems an odd choice. Stopping, she leans over to get her license out of her purse (!!). This allows ROTOR to appear at the driver’s side window and do that monster’s-arm-straining-to-grab-the-shrieking-car-occupant thing. Luckily for Our Heroine, ROTOR apparently wasn’t programmed to bend or stoop down. Therefore his flailing arm can only brush up against the car’s ceiling. This allows the hunched-over Sony to hit the gas and drag ROTOR along with the car until he falls off. (Astoundingly, they got a stuntman to do this gag rather than use a dummy.) Then we’re back to the chase.
At 3:00 A.M., Gregory’s body is found. In his hand is clasped the nameplate from ROTOR’s uniform jacket. (This, of course, is why ROTOR was teleported over to a position directly in front of Gregory as he was dying.) Now, since the nametag raises the question, let’s take a look at something. If ROTOR stands for Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research, which is somewhat nonsensical even as a name for the Lab, then why would the actual robot be called ROTOR? And why was he given a nameplate, other than so as to leave it behind as a clue?
Coldyron, still awake and sitting on Penny’s couch (?), gets a beeper message and phones in. The call is answered by, I swear, “Detective Sergeant John Mango” (!). Mango (hee hee) informs the shocked scientist of the whole ROTOR-on-a-murderous-rampage thing. Despite the fact that he’s not a line officer in the departmental chain of command and that, oh yeah, he’s no longer even with the department, Coldyron successfully orders Mango (snicker) to “sit on this [and] take no action.” This in response to a homicide that apparently was committed by a police officer. An officer, by the way, with a name badge registered under Coldyron’s name in the police database. They shouldn’t be taking orders from this guy, they should be hauling him in for questioning. Proving one of the world’s champion scribblers, Coldyron walks out of shot and seconds later leans back in with a note for Penny explaining that he went to the Lab.
Back to Sony, still driving aimlessly around. Seeing a roadside gas station, she pulls over. Although closed, it sports an exterior payphone. She flicks the coin return lever, picks up the receiver and the operator comes on the line. (??) You know you’re in good hands when nobody making the film you’re watching knows how a pay phone works. She asks for the cops and is connected to the State Police. In one of the film’s more mundanely ridiculous bits, Sony is apprised to remain where she is (!!), despite the fact that the State Police themselves cannot come to her aid. Apparently they have been ordered to allow the Dallas PD to handle this situation. This seems a little odd, given that both Sony’s current location and the actual murder site fall outside their jurisdictional boundaries. Anyone with the slightest understanding of how law enforcement agencies operate will recognize that Coldyron’s ability to call off the State Police is geometrically more ludicrous then his apparent control and command over the city cops.
Replying that sticking around until the killer pops up seems a less than fruitful idea, Sony gives the officer her intended route of travel and drives off. Oddly, though, when she returns to the highway she turns back into the direction from which she originally came. Strictly speaking, this would seem to indicate that when ROTOR arrives at the gas station, which he soon does, he should have passed her on the way there. Whatever. In any case, he now reveals the film’s absolutely most ridiculous gimmick. You see, ROTOR has ‘Sensor Recall.’ This means that, just by removing his glasses, he can literally see events from the (presumably) immediate past (!!). I thought the term ‘recall’ referred to remembering events that were actually witnessed. Apparently I was mistaken. Using this ability, which seems to fall more into the realm of magic than even the most loosely interpreted notion of ‘science fiction,’ ROTOR sees Sony driving away from the lot and resumes pursuit.
Coldyron appears at the Lab and sees the little ROTOR ACTIVATED graphic on the computer screen. He then retrieves the relevant info from the unit, using a typically awkward ’80s Q&A protocol. Which begs the question, why are his computers so primitive if he can construct this extraordinarily sophisticated android? (And vice versa.) Imagine what he could have done had he been equipped with a modern iMac or Gateway jobbie. The computer informs him that ROTOR has become activated, which it seems he could have learned by looking in the now empty suspension tank. Hilariously, he asks the computer “What is Rotor’s duty?” Then he acts horrified to learn that it’s “TO JUDGE AND EXECUTE”. First, uh, didn’t you build this thing? I don’t know, its prime directive seems like one of the things you’d want to keep track of. Second, HELLOOOOO!!!, this ‘directive’ was painted onto the side of ROTOR’s motorcycle!!
Coldyron returns to his office and telephones “Project Chief” Willard. (!!) Coldyron asks his mechanical subordinate “What’cha do with ROTOR after we programmed in prime directive?” Willard nervously stutters, hems and haws in response, because, as you might remember, he’s a Comedy Relief Robot. He eventually recounts the events that have occurred in the Lab in the like eighteen hours since Coldyron quit, and they don’t make any more sense this time around. Willard reports that he looked in the tank and ROTOR seemed the same as always. Coldyron, however, says he should have “checked the suspension readout.” Yeah, I guess that would have been a good idea. I don’t know, it just seems like the Lab could have been run with a bit more structure. Coldyron informs Willard about ROTOR’s activation, leading the robot to ‘hilariously’ tender it’s resignation.
Coldyron calls Sgt. Mango (snort) telling him only that they’ve got a “rogue cop” on the loose. Mango informs him about Sony. Coldyron reminds him that no one else is become involved, a concept which seems to be becoming increasingly problematic. Finally, he calls Buglar to share the good news/bad news regarding Buglar’s demand for ‘product.’ Coldyron proceeds to put all the weight for ROTOR’s running around and killing people on his former boss, which seems a tad self-serving. Whatever Buglar’s sins, he’s not the one who programmed in that whole ‘To Judge and Execute’ thing. He then begins to describe its, shall we say, Terminator-esque relentlessness. “It’d go through a busload of nuns to get to a jaywalker,” he explains. “It’s like a chainsaw set on frappe!” Coldyron promises to deal with ROTOR, but then he’s going to expose the whole mess and bring down Buglar and the Senator. Meanwhile, remember that little toy robot previously established as being on Coldyron’s desk? Well, now it rolls off the desk. Get it? Coldyron’s robot has gone over the edge? Get it?
Sony is now seen parking at the rear of an all-night diner and gas station. She runs through the establishment’s back door and kitchen out to the dining area. Despite the road being supposedly deserted, the restaurant boasts a surprisingly large and mostly middle-aged clientele, especially as it’s supposedly about 4:00 in the morning. More amazingly, and this is where the film perhaps most blatantly crosses over into the realm of fantasy, there’s not a cop in the place. Sony sits down and orders some coffee (!!), although, I don’t know, I myself would probably check back in with the police.
We see Coldyron in his truck. He calls Mango and requests Sony’s location so that he can bring her in. I’m not sure how Mango would know this, but whatever. Meanwhile, ROTOR has arrived at the rear of the diner his quarry is hiding in. Using his Sensor Recall, he re-watches Sony leave her car and run through the kitchen door. Now, since he can see her vehicle parked next to this entrance and with the car door left open, well, I don’t know, you just think he could have kind of deduced the above information. Still, hey, I guess if you have Sensor Recall you might has well flaunt it.
Busting through said door – Sony had locked it behind her – ROTOR strides into the kitchen. (They couldn’t afford to film this, so it occurs off-camera and we just hear the door being broken down.) The fry cook pulls a butcher knife on him, which seems odd, since he must think ROTOR’s a regular cop. Well, that’s Texas for you. ROTOR deals with the guy by pushing his face down on the grill. It’s a good thing the film’s so risible or this might actually be a bit gross. When he’s finished grilling this witness (sorry), he pushes open the door to the dining room. As Sony looks on in horror, he pauses for a while, dramatically backlit by the kitchen’s apparent array of kleig lights. (Although the dry ice fog seems a little much.) Sure, he might be an unstoppable killing machine, but he knows how to make an entrance.
ROTOR sloooowly strides across the room, I guess because his ‘suspense’ circuit has been activated. I’d say it’s like the scene where the Terminator inexorably approaches Sarah Connor in the nightclub, but that’d be like saying that the chain link fence my Mom has in her front yard is like the Great Wall of China. Moreover, I guess that Sony’s own suspense circuit has come on, since she just sits there and watches him approach until the last possible moment. Perhaps she was supposed to be too frightened to move, but, I don’t know, I always thought it was the job of the actor to sort of signal stuff like that to the audience. Sony doesn’t look particularly scared, though. She just looks like she’s waiting for the director’s cue to react.
Since ROTOR is extraordinarily slow and clumsy, Sony makes it to the front door. Here three guys come in and casually respond to the situation by attempting to assault what, again, must appear to them to be a run of the mill police officer. My esteemed associate in the B-Masters’ Cabal, Andrew Borntreger of Badmovies.org, has a section in his reviews entitled “Things I Learned.” I think I can safely say that one thing he’d have learned from this film is that “Citizens of Texas will attempt to inflict grievous harm on any police officer they see.”
Inevitably, the trio attack one at a time, watching calmly while ROTOR dismantles their friends before taking their turn. Per tradition, they go in order of how tough they are. The first guy drunkenly (I think) takes an awkward swing at him and is quickly tossed aside. The second fellow tries some none-too-impressive Kung Fuing, but is outdone by the not-all-that-impressive-either fighting moves of his robotic antagonist. At this, the last opponent enters the fray. He’s a hugely buff body builder type, and inevitable pauses to (literally) tear his shirt off before making his move. He’s no match for ROTOR’s mechanical strength, though, and soon the robot’s (literally) walking all over him. By the way, was ROTOR supposed to have killed all these guys? Because it didn’t seem like it. It’s just that I’m not sure why he wouldn’t execute guys who tried to assault him when he’s trying to kill a woman because she was a passenger in a car breaking the speed limit.
Walking out the front door, ROTOR looks in through an open car window and sees that no one’s in it. (Is this supposed to be Sony’s car? Because she parked that out back, as has been established more than once.) He’s thorough, though, and opens the door and leans into the car to take a closer look, presumably to make sure she’s not huddled under a floor mat. Finding the car still empty, he loudly snarls in frustration. Sort of an odd reaction, one might think, for a robot. We then see Sony, who left the diner minutes ago, still mere yards away and running around the gas station lot. An attendant in a small kiosk calls to her and hides her inside.
Apparently he’s hoping that ROTOR won’t notice that there’s nowhere else Sony could be hiding. Which, actually, might have been the case, but is moot due to the android’s Sensor Recall. Standing maybe ten feet away, and in a position from which he couldn’t possibly have failed to see where she went, ROTOR removes his glasses and re-watches Sony run and hide in the only possible place she could have run to and hidden in. Having established where she went (duh) he approaches the booth and pulls out the attendant through the kiosk’s candy glass window. Actually, he couldn’t have reached in far enough to do this, so the sequence is confusingly edited together in a failed attempt to disguise this.
Sony runs off again (boring!) and this time finds refuge with a truck driver. Upon seeing a police officer chasing a woman, he, of course, immediately pulls a gun and threatens to shoot the cop. ROTOR fires first – maybe because he’s the one who bothers to level his weapon – but the wounded guy returns fire and hits the android. This is shrugged off, but Sony hits the truck horn and temporarily discommodes him in that fashion. By now Coldyron’s made the scene and hauls her to his truck, with the guy playing ROTOR literally feet behind them and walking very slooowly, lest he actually catch them.
He eventually grabs a hold of Coldyron and smacks him one. Sony, however, has crawled out the passenger door of Coldyron’s truck and ROTOR beats the roof of the truck while again crying out in fury. (See previous note re: odd behavior for robots.) Meanwhile, Our Hero recovers and shoots him with what appears to be a revolver, which changes back to an automatic in the next shot. The bullets again have little apparent effect, and Coldyron receives a further pummeling. Following this, he pulls out the little metal doohickey he was shown playing around with at the beginning of the movie. ROTOR shrinks away from this and then leaves to follow Sony, who’s stolen a car and driven off.
The battered Coldyron climbs into his truck and contacts Sony on his CB, good buddy. (Lucky she stole a car that had one, eh?) Here Our Hero exaggeratedly acts all busted up from his fight with ROTOR, though later he’ll show little ill effect of the ‘beating.’ Then, in a weird bit, he cries out and begins firing out of his passenger window. We cut outside and see sparks from shots hitting ROTOR’s motorcycle as the robot rides past. The thing that’s weird is that ROTOR would just now be riding by Coldyron’s parked truck, as we were shown him mounting his bike like two minutes ago. Maybe his Fair Play circuit makes him count to Thirty-Mississippi before starting after them.
Perhaps fearing that things will start coming close to making sense (no worries there, believe me), we get another classically unlikely scene. Coldyron somewhat inadequately informs Sony that ROTOR is a cop gone “renegade.” Then he requests a, uh, small favor of her. See, he’d like to use her as bait. However, he’s not quite ready for this yet. So he’d like her to drive around a while longer – hopefully while continuing to evade her pursuer, you’d think – while he takes off for a “a few hours” and tries to wrangle up some help. Being an obliging sort, and perhaps thinking it’ll make for a bit of a lark, Sony basically says sure, why not. Hmm, maybe that’s why Coldyron didn’t tell her that ROTOR was actually a killer robot, oh, and one that he himself invented. Because, you know, then she might not have decided to help him. Anyway, he instructs her to meet him over by Lake Dallas (for no real reason, it’s just that that’s where the movie started) at 4:00. In the afternoon. In other words, he wants her to keep driving and leading Rotor around for roughly another twelve hours! And she says yes!
Also, not to be petty, but isn’t Sony being asked to drive around for the next twelve hours in a stolen car? How would that work? Are we to believe that Coldyron’s supreme dictatorial powers will somehow ensure that she isn’t pulled over in any of the jurisdictions she’ll be driving through? Or did the filmmakers just not think about this? (I’d put my money on the latter.)
Coldyron next calls the operator and asks to be connected to a number. “In Houston,” he explains. “Texas.” When you’re talking to an operator in Dallas do you really need to explain that you want the ‘Houston’ that’s in ‘Texas’? Hmm. Let me try an imaginary call from here in Des Plaines. “Operator, I’d like a number in Chicago. Illinois.” No, that doesn’t sound any better. Anyway. He gets the answering machine of Dr. Steele, who enters the apartment as Coldyron is leaving the message. It must be said that Dr. Steele breaks a lot of stereotypes. First, she’s a she. Second, she’s rather young for someone who supposedly invented Rotor’s “battle chassis” from this revolutionary metal that can teach itself stuff. She looks to be perhaps thirty, so she must be a regular go-getter. Third, she’s a body builder. And I’m not talking a Rachel McLish-type body-builder here, I mean more of a Lou Ferrigno body-builder. Fourth, she has a big brunette perm with a white skunk-streak running through the middle of it.
Perhaps explaining her various accomplishments, Steele is returning to her apartment from the gym. Presumably she stays up until midnight inventing futuristic devices destined to run amok, sleeps three hours and then heads out to the gym for a few hours of weight training before returning to the lab. Coldyron, who she’s never met (what they heck, they’re a hour away from each other by plane), is calling to ask for her help, as she’s the only other expert on their errant mechanoid. Not to mention seriously buff.
We cut all the way to 8:30. ROTOR is in a service station garage, finishing up repairs to his motorcycle. You’d think a robot could fix his super-bike faster, but they have to make it somewhat *cough* plausible that he won’t catch up with Sony until the appropriate plot juncture. Anyway, a mechanic, who doesn’t seem all that concerned that this guy is working away in his garage, enters with a radio playing (sort of) loud country music. Like the horn, the noise causes ROTOR visible discomfort. I’m tired, so feel free to insert your own “painful reaction to country music” joke. He smashes the radio, to which, again, the mechanic reacts in a rather lackadaisical fashion. I must say, he’s a very centered individual.
Rotor then grabs cables hooked up to a battery recharger and refortifies his energy supply. Or something. Whatever happens when you grab jumper cables, touch the leads and the screen turns to a negative exposure, that’s what he does. This isn’t exactly a cutting special effects technique, by the way. The last time I remember seeing it was in the laser-blast scenes in Larry Buchanan’s Zontar, The Thing from Venus, which was made over twenty years before this. This site finally gets a reaction from the mechanic. Oddly, it’s not the reaction I had, which was to snort, roll my eyes and mutter “Oh, bru-ther!”
Unfortunately, he instead is assigned a ghastly little comic relief sequence where he falls over some stacked tires, yells “Feet don’t fail me now” (don’t worry, the guy’s white) and jumps into the bed of a departing pick-up truck. Also, and I don’t want to get picayune here, but when the camera’s in the garage it’s all sunny out, but when it follows the mechanic outside it’s all cloudy. And then back again. Weird weather they have down in Texas. Anyway, ROTOR climbs back on his bike and resumes the hunt.
Coldyron is at the airport (Hey, American Airlines, you might want to talk to your Product Placement manager) waiting for Dr. Steele to arrive. She comes through the gate and they shake hands. Fans of bad clothes will be much entertained by the horrible dress Steele has draped over her massive frame. The sad thing is that, given the film’s apparent budget, chances are that the actors provided their own clothing. Which means that the woman playing Steele might actually own the dress in question. Yuck. Coldyron then drives her to a hotel. Along the way, he muses that this isn’t the best occasion for them to meet. She replies that he already feels like an old friend. “We got to know each other’s papers and mathematics pretty well,” she notes. Wow. If anyone’s ever summed up the idea of ‘friendship’ more elegantly, well, I don’t remember it.
They spend the trip complimenting each other’s work, all while dancing around the fact that the end result is now running around killing people. “Your designs for the combat chassis are the most brilliant I’ve ever seen,” Coldyron schmoozes, having presumably looked over many another such design. “It was nothing without your own brain matrix,” she replies. If the film were wittier I’d suspect that they were in fact trying to subtly pin blame on each other for this fiasco. However, any such nuance would be well outside the perimeters established here.
Now, as they track down the result of their respective fiddling, they turn philosophical. “He’s out there,” Coldyron notes. “We made him, and he’s doing what we made him for.” This observation is treated as if the situation were somehow ironic. Instead, you just nod and go, “Yeah, maybe a non-lethal robot would have been a good idea, at least until the kinks were worked out, you morons.” Meanwhile, Steele, an obvious graduate of the Ed Wood Jr. Academy of Portentous Soliloquies, says her piece. “In Science, there’s no room for human error. There’s no place for it in Law. We built the perfect lawman. One who could walk into the Streets of Blood, the Cities of Fire, the, the Edge of Destruction and function perfectly, again and again. And already, look what’s happened…Human Error!” By the way, I’m going to have to ask my friend Liz over at the And You Call Yourself a Scientist! site about that whole ‘no human error in Science’ thing. I’m not sure that’s right.
She agrees they must bring ROTOR in, although, as she asks her erstwhile partner, “You know it’s impossible, don’t you?” This brings up the whole and rather obvious issue of some sort of failsafe mechanism. Don’t worry, the film’s way ahead of you. Coldyron agrees about the impossibility of their task, “except for this.” Here he brandishes the thin cigarette-lighter type doodad. “The deactivation key?” Steele asks, an instrument in which she seems to place little faith. As a typically confusing coda to the conversation, Coldyron muses that, “Maybe like you said, impossible, but…let me ask you, Steele…can we bring him in?” Huh?
Let’s go back to the deactivation key thing. As we’ll learn, the key must actually be inserted into a slot somewhere on ROTOR’s body in order to work. Is this really the route you’d take on this particular issue? Wouldn’t a radio frequency or something you could project from a distance, ala a garage door opener, have been a better idea? Or maybe a key command you could enter into a computer somewhere? And it’s not like I’m Mr. Engineer or anything. Luckily, ROTOR’s just as dumb as his designers. Sure, he shrinks away from the key whenever the script requires him to. However, it obviously never occurs to him to weld a plate over the insertion point or even just fill the cavity up with caulk or something.
Since they have plenty of time before attempting to save Sony, assuming she’s still alive, that is, Coldyron takes Steele to a hotel. Here she can get a nice room, unpack her things and change into clothes more appropriate for robot hunting. In case you’re wondering, this means a muscle shirt and camouflage pants. (By the way, The Lincoln Hotel? In Dallas [Texas]? You might want to talk to your Product Placement manager.) The time isn’t a total waste, though, because Coldyron takes the opportunity to launch another of his self-contradictory conversational couplets. “I’ve done my homework already,” he informs his colleague. “Let me ask you something: Can he be stopped?” Well, if you’ve done your homework, then why are you asking…oh, never mind. Steele appears equally flummoxed and decides to try some obfuscation herself. “I don’t know,” she replies. “When I stack ’em, they stay stacked.” Ah. Well, then.
In fact, she plays the game as well as he does. “We’re not knocking over tin cans, here. This is reality.” Yes. Good point. Then, in a moment of pure Kismet, Steele learns that her room number in the huge hotel is 222. See, that’s also ROTOR’s badge number. Oh, the irony. Learning this, she asks for another room. “There’s no use tempting reality too much!” she exclaims. (??) Up in the room Coldyron tactfully turns his back while she dresses, although he can’t take ignore the opportunity to begin pretentiously yakking away. (See IMMORTAL DIALOG.) In a jaw-dropping moment, he quotes Milton (!!!). He finishes by asking “Is it his fault he is what he is, or is it ours?” Uh…yours. Take my word for it.
Then it’s back out to hit the streets. You know, they must still have a lot of time to burn before it’s four. Maybe they can stop for a nice brunch or something. Back in Coldyron’s truck, he continues to prattle. “We have no backing…no back up,” he says, perhaps stumbling over his line. “I don’t know what’s happening. Except for this: I know he’s not on an ongoing program. Something in the molecular memory of the chassis alloy, it’s affecting the brain matrix…” See, I told you, he’s putting it all on her. Here’s my theory, though: Coldyron programs the same way he talks, and that’s why the robot is so screwed up. Imagine trying to decipher protocols expressed in the manner of his creator’s speech. Egads.
Like I said, though, Steele’s as bad. They now engage in a dialog (see below) so moronic that even Coldyron admits that he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Steele shrugs. “You’re the brains,” she declares. “I’m just the brawn.” Is that why he called her in on this? Not because of her scientific know-how, but because she spends too much time in the gym? Whatever.
Cut to Sony, still driving randomly around. The time is 2:30, or nine hours since Coldyron asked her to stay on the road. Think about what she’s been through, and you tell me how likely this is. At this point she drives through an underpass, on top of which ROTOR lies in wait. Now, as I understand it, Dallas is a big city. And thus the area surrounding it, in all directions, would be quite larger, I’m thinking. Yet ROTOR just happens to be waiting on this overpass that Sony just happens to drive under. How convenient. ROTOR is so excited that he again pops a wheelie. (Literally, you perverts.)
Still in the truck, Coldyron and Steele work over their strategies. “What if I forced his substructure plates apart,” she asks. “If you got that close,” he replies, “you could use the key.” (See my previous note about having to get right next to the robot in order to disable it.) “If I got that close,” she returns, “finding the keyhole would be the last thing on my mind!” I’m not sure what that means, but, uh, don’t they know where the keyhole is? I mean, having built their target and all? Anyway, they blather some gobbledygook about there being a dangerous electrical discharge if the plate-separating thing were to happen. Given this, Coldyron enjoins her not to attempt her plan. Now, I’m not a scientist or anything. Still, if they’re worried about her being electrocuted, well, wouldn’t some rubber gloves and rubber-soled shoes drastically reduce the chances of that occurring?
ROTOR is now driving alongside Sony’s car. (Which means that he’s been right on her tail for the last hour and a half without managing to catch her. I guess we’re not supposed to have thought about that, though.) Now comes perhaps the most humiliating moment in robot cinema history. For no apparent reason, other than monumentally poor driving, ROTOR suddenly drives off an embankment. This trashes his bike. We can tell, because the film crew set a small fire in its general vicinity. Luck is with our tenacious villain, though. For here Sony pulls over to the side of the road and heads off on foot (!) to the rather vague rendezvous point assigned earlier by Coldyron. Sony, I should mention, is wearing sort of a one-piece bodysuit sort of deal, along with a flapping red sweater. It says much about the film’s ability to generate suspense that my sole thought as she ran through the woods was, “Why don’t you take that sweater off? It’s going to catch on something.”
We now see the sign for ‘Cain’s Fishing Lodge.’ Gee, what a sly Biblical allusion. Said marker is composed of three green-colored boards with the text painted in white. This is perhaps two feet in length, and nailed to a tree in the forest around the lake. Now, this is the kind of film where they don’t expect you to remember anything. (As we’ll soon see further evidence of.) So apparently they didn’t think anyone would recall that Coldyron used this small piece of signage as a landmark, and that Sony said she knew where it was. Looking upon it now, though, the idea that anyone but Daniel Boone would be able to remember it’s location — in the unlikely circumstance that one would have ever seen it in the first place — seems, shall we say, somewhat fanciful.
Sony soon reaches the shore of the lake, near a conveniently empty rowboat. Having nothing better to do, she looks around and then sits to wait for Coldyron to show up. Luckily, her rescuers are nearby. Rather nearby, as we shall see. Having tracked ROTOR’s power surges — don’t ask — they leave the truck and “head cross-country.” Meanwhile, Sony is getting antsy (do tell). She climbs into the boat and begins to paddle out into the water. However, the craft’s towline goes straight and *gasp* we see ROTOR tugging on the other end. He pulls her back to shore, informs her that she’s an “accomplice” in “a major traffic violation” (which, need I point out, makes no sense whatsoever) and unholsters his weapon. Then he leans over her, slooowly drawing a bead on the woman all of two feet in front of him, and finally…
…is shot by Steele, who’s gotten behind him with a shotgun. Proving perhaps the most moronic character in the film, which is quite a boast, she then drops her weapon and engages her creation in hand-to-hand combat. I’m guessing she’s like, “Screw it, I didn’t spend all that time in the gym to wuss my way out of this.” Still, her decision seems odd, as she of all people would know of ROTOR’s super-strength. As they battle, Coldyron hauls Sony up the hill to the road, where his truck sits. I should point out that the present location of his vehicle in no way matches where it was established as being about a minute ago.
So Coldyron and Sony are in the fore of the shot, while ROTOR and Steele are seen behind them. Oddly, their ongoing struggle appears to be occurring in slow motion. It honestly looks like they filmed the actors blocking out their fight moves and then decided, hey, good enough, no need to film it at full speed or anything.
ROTOR gets the drop on Steele. She’s saved, though, when Coldyron runs back down with the deactivation key. “This concludes the drill,” he says, trying to fool his admittedly none-too-bright creation. However, ROTOR is having none of it. He shakes his head and shoves the barrel of his pistol right up Coldyron’s nose. Our Hero, however, is able to move his head out of the way before ROTOR can shoot. (!) ROTOR, it must be said, has the worst reflexes of any mechanoid in cinema history. Steele leaps back into the fray, having somehow retrieved the shotgun she dropped earlier and well down the beach. Again, though, she chooses to fire a mere shot or two and before dropping the gun and rushing her opponent. In a bit no doubt meant to be poignant and stuff, she manages to bare-handedly tear ROTOR’s chest innards apart. However, she pays the ultimate price for her heroics, succumbing to either his back-breaking bear hug or the aforementioned fatal electrical discharge. This ‘effect,’ again, is achieved by inserting a negative exposure of the shot.
While this occurs, Coldyron has (duh) been unraveling a length of that self-exploding primer cord that they established earlier in the film. Gee, didn’t see that coming. Coldyron has Sony tie one end of the cord to the truck. He then uses a separate length of the stuff to fashion a loop, the far end of which is anchored to a tree off to ROTOR’s left. The looped portion, unsurprisingly, is meant to be a snare. ROTOR, however, refuses to step into it, as Coldyron has somewhat less than brilliantly left it laying out in plain sight. So, that’s right, Coldyron rushes him. As he gets his ass handed to him, Sony sits up in the truck kibitzing. Eventually, though, she thinks to hit the horn. (See the Road not taken… in AFTERTHOUGHTS.)
ROTOR stumbles, naturally, right into the snare. Here we get the scene that best reveals the film’s overall contempt for its audience. As Sony keeps blowing the horn, Coldyron throws a number of lassos (from one rope, apparently) around ROTOR’s various limbs. Oddly, the two lines thrown around his arms are pulled taut from either side of his body. Then Sony begins to back the truck up. ROTOR, now improbably boasting a separate line on each leg (how the hell would that happen – his right foot was flat on the ground the whole time) and arm, is stretched out ala a drawing and quartering. Needless to say, this is edited in such a way as to not overly belabor the fact that you can’t make five lassos – at one point he had one around his neck — out of two lengths of rope. Still, it’s pretty obviously impossible.
Coldyron runs back up the hill, warning that ROTOR’s electrical discharge will set off the primer. First, how convenient. Second, how would he know? Third, why would this only occur after ROTOR was conveniently roped a number of times? Anyway, cut in the slow-motion BA-BOOM! shots as ROTOR goes up in flames.
Here, flashback completed, we cut back to Coldyron and the detectives in the interrogation room. Let’s take a second, though, and reexamine some of the film’s opening scenes. First, remember the hunter that said, “[t]his old boy just killed a motorcycle cop”? Well, wouldn’t you think he’d have remarked upon the fact that said ‘motorcycle cop’ was blown to bits? I don’t know, that just seems like a detail you’d mention. Also, even if Coldyron and Sony are just stumbling on the road in reaction to the explosion, then where’s Coldyron’s truck? From where it’s parked as shown here, the couple who found them in the beginning of the film should have parked right in front of it. Yet it didn’t appear anywhere in shot.
Anyway, having said his piece, Coldyron informs his interrogators that he’s washing his hands of it all. “I got a ranch,” he notes. “I got a horse. I got a pretty girl.” Boy, that Penny is one lucky woman, isn’t she? Then he leaves, heading out into the parking lot as day is breaking. However, Buglar appears behind him with a shotgun and shoots Our Hero down. (!!!) He then stands over the body for one last bon mot. “Justice served,” Buglar observes. “C.O.D.” (?) Now, if I’m following this, this all is occurring in the parking lot of Division Headquarters of the Dallas Police Department. Admittedly early in the morning, but out in the open and in broad daylight. Anyway, whatever, the fix is in, yada yada.
We cut to *cough* Oxford University (!). We hear Buglar’s voice as Brett Coldyron, Our Hero’s nephew, reads a letter from him. His uncle died in the line of duty, he’s told, and his papers and effects will be forwarded. Then we hear Brett’s voice over the animated robot footage from earlier. We learn that aside from Coldyron’s journals, Brett has received a “generous cash inheritance.” (No mention of the ranch, though.) As he talks of his plans to continue his uncle’s work, the animation is replaced by what is presumably a new model of ROTOR, one designed to look like Dr. Steele. This is identified as ROTOR II, and presumably heralded a sequel, one which sadly never came about. With this chilling scene, we cut to the end credits, accompanied by the awesome “Hideaway” song from earlier in the movie.
It’s fitting that the very end of the film, like all the rest of it, serves to raise more questions than it answers. Why would Buglar murder Coldyron to cover up the ROTOR incident and then allow his ‘papers’ to be sent to Coldyron’s nephew? (And what happened to Houghtaling and the interrogating detectives and the others who knew the real story? I guess, technically, Sony was only told that ROTOR was a rogue cop, but you’d think she’d have her suspicions.) And wouldn’t the Dallas PD own the research, given that it was publicly funded? And what about the stuff that Steele was responsible for? Her heirs or employers would own all that technology, right? And how the heck would the next ROTOR end up looking like Steele, anyway? Neither of the Coldyrons had ever met her. Did she herself design it to look that way (meaning that Brett also received all of her research materials, too)? And why would she? Wouldn’t that be a tad weird? (On the other hand, there is Eve of Destruction, so…)
Sadly, with the lack of the promised sequel, these questions will never be answered. Let’s all have a drink, my friends, for what might have been. This one’s to you, Cullen Blaine, wherever you are.
Giving credit where it’s due:
This is the kind of film where you expect additional oddity from the credits. And sure enough, ROTOR provides in spades. Let’s begin with the listed character names. A typical hallmark of a Bad Movie is that the names of supporting characters often aren’t mentioned during the film. In rarer cases even main characters remain anonymous. So it’s sometimes funny to see how they are listed in the end credits. For instance, Sony, who again gets top billing and thus is presumably the film’s lead character, isn’t assigned a last name. However, her quickly-murdered boyfriend is fully identified as “Greg Hutchins.” Or take Coldyron’s girlfriend. During the actual film, her name is only referred to once, when she’s called “Pen” on the note Coldyron leaves her. In the credits, though, she’s ‘Penny Gayle.’ Why they bothered assigning her a last name, one never referenced in the film, is left to our imaginations.
Other character names listed include Moulie, Mokie Killion, Kipster, Grotes and Glorioso. Meanwhile, in case you were wondering, the ‘Gunman/Robber’ was played by “Leo.” (Any relation to ‘Leon’, the guy who played Jimmy in Bats?) Also, the jive black/Indian guy was called Shoeboogie in the film, a moniker that goes unmentioned in the credits. Meanwhile, the multi-talented Brad Overturf not only played Moulie, but the Gas Station Cashier, one of the three “Diner Toughguys,” and was one of three men to play ROTOR. And the aforementioned scriptwriter/production designer Budd Lewis played Dr. Langley, who’s perhaps the guy doing the Columbo impression. Finally, of course, Willard The Robot gets his own credit.
Perhaps the oddest tidbit is the revelation that many of the main characters were physically played by one actor but voiced by another, like Darth Vader. (Well, OK, maybe more like Ro-Man.) Coldyron and Steele, for example, were ‘played’ by Richard Gesswein and Jayne Smith. However, they were voiced by Loren Bivens and Georganna Barry, respectively. Other such performers, including the ubiquitous Budd Lewis, are listed but without reference to which characters they gave voice to. However, in any case, we do learn that many of the vocal talents were provided by member of the prestigious Adam Rourke’s Film Actor’s Lab.
Back to Mr. Lewis. Aside from acting, both physically and vocally, writing the actual script and being the production designer, he also was the Art Director and Special Effects Coordinator. He also was one of the three just plain Producers of the film, along with Cullen Blaine and Richard Gesswein, the body actor for Coldyron. Also, I can’t help but notice that one Corrie Lewis is the Script Supervisor, an Associate Producer and played “Betty.” Meanwhile, Clark Moore played Houghtaling and was one of the trio of ROTOR players (for the record, I think Carroll Brandon Baker played the ‘real’ ROTOR, the one whose face we saw), while a Stan Moore was the Unit Production Manager and a Randy Moore was in charge of the Firearms. The latter also wrote the featured tune “What You Do to Me,” and co-wrote and provided the male voice in the duet “Hideaway,” along with co-writer/singing partner Cindy Smith. Remember the twosome who sang that “Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird” Medley? Think along those lines, only slightly less talented.
There are really too many of these to go into at much further length, but here are a couple of the most obvious examples. First, the whole thing about ROTOR’s brain matrix being that of Coldyron’s goes absolutely nowhere. They spend a lot of time (sort of) establishing this Doppelganger theme, and then doing absolutely nothing with it. Steele has this whole bit were she tells Coldyron that he must use his own faults against ROTOR (see below in IMMORTAL DIALOG), who would also share them, and again this goes nowhere. Then there’s the deactivation key, which is often referred to but really at no point comes into play. In fact, we never even learn where the insertion slot was. Especially illogical is Steele’s suicide attack against her creation. If she intended to get close enough to grapple with ROTOR, then why not use the key? It certainly seemed a better plan than her plate-separation plan, which got her killed but which really didn’t seem to slow down ROTOR much.
The Road not taken…
I’d like to point out that, although I’m not a genius robotics scientist or anything, I myself would’ve gone to a sporting goods store and bought some air horns and earplugs. (After all, they had all day to do this while Sony was leading her pursuer around.) Then, when they arrived at the lake, they could have blown the horns, incapacitated ROTOR, and used the key on him while he was helpless. Actually, a boom box playing a country western album apparently would have worked, too. Admittedly, this is a rough outline and probably could have be smoothed out a bit, but it’s still far better than anything ROTOR’s creators come up with. One of their plans, after all, gets Steele killed and the other only works because the film ignores the fact that it’s impossible.
The Director’s Cut:
Assuming anyone ever bothers to check my review against the film’s Imperial Entertainment Corp. video release, they will notice that the cameo by the Columbo-like scientist mentioned here is cut down to a single line. For the record, the scene is longer on the copy of the film that my brother recorded off of TV. My first thought was that Imperial shortened this sequence because it was so moronic. Then it struck me that if that were the case they would have edited out the entire movie. So I guess that Imperial just used a clipped master print to strike their video off of. This, needless to say, is a horrible shame. Should the film ever come out on DVD, we can only hope that these priceless moments are restored.
Friday, 4:55 P.M. Dallas.
Vacationers driving out from the city arrive near Lake Dallas. An explosion is heard, Coldyron appears and is captured. It is now nightfall. The time isn’t identified, but…
The cops have appeared on the scene and arrest him. It’s now 7:30 P.M. Meaning that nightfall in Texas occurs sometime between, say, 5:30 and 7:00.
10:00 P.M. Coldyron is being interrogated at Division.
Flashback to Thursday morning. The alarm goes off at 5:00 A.M. Coldyron has time to get up, shower, dress, consume a modest breakfast, read his newspaper, amble around outside, saddle up his horse and ride around his ranch, blow up a stump, ride back to the house, get into his work clothes, climb into his SUV and drive down the highway into the city…
9:00 A.M. He arrives at work. He conducts a conference, exchanges insults with Buglar, quits and calls his girlfriend to invite her to lunch.
1:30 P.M. The chain of events that unleashed R.O.T.O.R. commences.
4:00 P.M. Coldyron and Penny plan to make steaks for dinner. Shortly thereafter Coldyron breaks up a robbery at a local mini-mart.
8:00 P.M. Coldyron is released by the cops.
Friday, 2:00 A.M. Gregory and Sony get pulled over by ROTOR. The chase begins.
3:00 A.M. Gregory’s body is found and Coldyron is apprised of the situation.
Circa 5:30 A.M. Coldyron finds Sony and damages ROTOR’s bike. Asks Sony to stay out on the road as bait for the next ten hours.
5:45 A.M. Coldyron calls Dr. Steele in Houston.
8:30 A.M. ROTOR fixes his bike and resumes the chase.
Steele arrives in Dallas and is taken to a hotel to change into something more dangerous. Time unidentified.
2:30 P.M. ROTOR sees Sony and the chase resumes.
4:10 P.M. Sony arrives at the lake. Climatic events lead us back to the top of the Timeline.
Cue the drum machine as Our Hero Dr. Capt. (or is that Capt. Dr.?) Barrett Coldyron lays down with the exposition:
“Two days ago I was considered one of the leaders in the field of Police Robotics. Today I’m thought of as a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein. My objective was pure enough: To make the streets of the city a little safer. Where gangs of punks, dope dealers and the rest of society’s scum could be effectively controlled, and hopefully eradicated. A controlled army of police robots could stop the slaughter of the hundreds of policemen who sacrifice their lives every year in the protection of those they serve. But how do you stop a killing machine gone berserk, with only a go button and no compassion? This battle may have been lost, but the war continues. There’s just too much at stake to give up now. A way must be found to protect society from itself…”
Coldyron is interrogated by two hard-bitten, cynical detectives, apparently using the Bad (Acting) Cop – Worse (Acting) Cop technique:
Woman Detective: “You know that this is an unofficial debriefing. Officially not an arrest questioning. Then please state so for the record, Doctor! Unofficially.”
Man Detective, sneering: “Officially!”
Woman Detective, agreeing, or something: “Officially.”
As Steele changes into her battle togs, Coldyron takes the opportunity to engage in a typically ambitious, if murky, soliloquy [Note: This is accompanied by menacing shots of ROTOR, to, you know, add to the effect]:
“Remember what I said at ROTOR’s christening? First prototype of a future battalion, on the battlefield highways of the future. He’d be the Judge, Jury and Executioner. Now I’ve got to wonder, were we playing God, breathing life into our artificial Adam? Or have we lost sight of Paradise? What was it Milton said? ‘Did I request Thee, Maker, from my clay to mold me Man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?’ Is it his fault he is what he is, or is it ours?”
Coldyron explains that the molecular memory of the battle chassis alloy is interfering with the brain matrix and…did I really just type that? Anyway, if anyone out there can translate this into English, please let me know:
Coldyron: “He’s programming himself! He has more potential than we ever dreamed.”
Steele: “Oh, God! The brain matrix! It’s modeled after your own lower brain functions! Without the higher functions to control them…”
Coldyron: “A brain without a heart. A conscience without recognition. A will without a soul.”
Steele: “If I miss, you’ll be fighting your own base instincts. To combat pure will, you’ll have to use pure illogic.”
Coldyron: “What do you mean?”
Steele: “You will have to allow yourself to fail. Use your failure against him! Your failure, is his failure. Your weakness, is his weakness. Then, only then, can you do something.”
R.O.T.O.R.is also available for rental at Dante’s Infernal Video Store. I should mention that while extremely funny, the review there is also more profanity-laden than stuff here tends to be. This isn’t meant as a criticism, merely as a comment.