Monday, October 23, 2017

Hubrisween 2017 :: R is for R.O.T.O.R. (1987)

Dr. J. Barrett Coldyron is a futurist. Unfortunately, the future he envisions isn’t very pleasant. Predicting that society will completely collapse into total lawlessness within the next twenty-five years, leading to a definite spike in murder, rape, robbery and arson, Coldyron (Gresswein) manages to convince his superiors at the Dallas Police Department to fund a special project he’s envisioned to try and prevent this from happening. Thus, the DPD officially opened a Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research/Reserve division -- or R.O.T.O.R. for short, under the direction of Coldyron, whose goal was to create a battalion of robotic police officers: “machines programmed to overcome any obstacle” to combat the crimes and corruption which will threaten the very existence of mankind.

But like with all good-intended plans (-- especially the ones in cockeyed sci-fi flicks), something was destined to go horribly awry. In fact, awry that something has already horribly gone as we open on a battered and bruised Coldyron facing a citizen’s arrest for killing a motorcycle cop. And so, he is taken into custody along with a terrified woman named Sonya (Trigg) found with him along the roadside. Cut to an interrogation room where Coldyron defiantly answers questions about the gory details of this soon to be revealed giant cluster@#%* -- saying the blame for it will go all the way to the top of the department.

From there, we flashback to three days ago, where, after we firmly establish Coldyron’s bona fides as a Texas good old boy, a ladies’ man, a dime-store philosopher, a scientific genius, a passive-aggressive racist, and a shoot-first and ask questions later kinda cop with a really big gun, our protagonist receives a phone call from his Division Commander, Earl Buglar (Hunter), who reveals he is part of a long chain of corruption that’s been skimming funds from the R.O.T.O.R. program since day one. And now, some muckety-muck in the State Senate, who got them all that funding (-- after taking his own cut, natch), wants to ride a law and order platform straight to the White House using the R.O.T.O.R. project as his big campaign stick.

Knowing a working prototype is still at least five years away, Coldyron is told he has exactly sixty days to deliver product or Buglar will find someone else who can. Here, Coldyron calls this bluff and resigns immediately, turning the whole operation over to his bumbling assistant, Dr. Houghtaling (Moore), and his clunky, wise-cracking robot sidekick, Willard -- who may or may not be a distant relative of the Pimpbot-5000.

Thus, it should come as a surprise to no one when, after several dubious dominoes of circumstance all fall into place due to the brazen incompetence of the rest of Coldyron’s staff (-- looking right at you, Shoe Boogie), one of the first generation R.O.T.O.R.-bots is inadvertently activated and escapes from its gestation pod; and then, following his faulty and incomplete programming to serve and -- not protect, mind you, but to pass summary judgement on those who break the law, he goes on duty, finding both his locker fully stocked and a futuristic motorcycle specifically designed for him (-- tagged with a To Serve and Execute stencil), already gassed up and ready to go (-- five years in advance), fires it up, and hits the streets.

Meanwhile, a couple out on the road are having second thoughts about their impending marriage. Now, one half of this bickering couple is Sonya, the woman we met at the beginning of the film; the other is her now ex-fiance, apparently, as the argument over a refusal to quit her job after they’re married quickly gets out of control as he petulantly floors the accelerator in anger when not getting his way, clearly breaking the speed limit as they roar right by the waiting R.O.T.O.R.-bot -- heck, let’s just refer to him as ROTORCOP from now on because that’s easier to type. Anyhoo, ROTORCOP (Moore) pulls them over and asks the driver to step out of the car, who foolishly compounds his speeding violation by attempting to bribe the officer out of a ticket. But then, after citing all of his crimes, ROTORCOP passes judgement and executes the man on the spot, for speeding, by putting a bullet through his head. He then moves to the car, cites a horrified Sonya for being an accessory, draws a bead on her, and prepares to pass final judgment again...

OK, then, Boils and Ghouls, I want you all to sit down, close your eyes, and clear your minds. Now, in your empty mind’s eye, I want you to try and imagine a movie made by a couple of Saturday morning cartoon storyboard artists. And not just any movie, but a movie that’s trying to knock-off The Terminator (1984), Robocop (1987), and Dirty Harry (1971) all at the same time while also trying to be a personal vanity project for the film’s lead actor and producer all while being shot by the same guy running the camera for all the Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) films. And once all of that comes into focus and blows a rod in your neurological paths, only then will you get any kind of inkling as to what kind of giant turd-burger R.O.T.O.R. (1987) really is, was, and ever shall be.

And so, as we run down those responsible for this 90 minutes of misfiring nonsensical nonsense let's start at the top with the director, Cullen Blaine, who had an extensive history in small screen animation, serving as a timing director, layout artist and storyboarder, starting back to the 1970s with the likes of The Superfriends and Return to the Planet of the Apes before tackling Alvin and the Chipmunks, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and Tiny Toons in the 1980s and 90s. And that’s barely scratching the surface as the guy was all over the place, working for Hanna Barbera, Warner Bros., DePatie-Freleng, Fox, Disney, and Saban. Budd Lewis, meanwhile, was equally well-versed in TV animation, working in storyboarding and background design for The Smurfs, Care Bears and The Real Ghostbusters.

And after collating their careers, I believe these two first crossed paths while working on CBS’ Saturday Supercade (1983), which was trying to cash in on the current arcade boom with animated takes on the Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Frogger and Q*Bert games; and from there, at some point, these two crossed paths with Richard Gesswein, and together, they decided to make a live-action movie with Lewis slated to write it, with Blaine slotted to direct it, while Gesswein would handle the financing and take the starring role as Coldyron -- pronounced Cold-iron, which should go a long way in telling you what a pretentious dickhead that character is. For, while I think the goal was to make his character seem like some lone-wolf badass super-genius, every attempt to enhance these notions only made him look more and more like a complete and utter moron.

In fact, all this dickering with the character and plot enhancements would later cause Lewis to disavow the movie completely, saying both Blaine and Gesswein eliminated most of the script’s humor and inserted several extraneous scenes in order to replace parts of Lewis's screenplay they deemed too expensive to film. And I’m gonna assume one of those “extraneous scenes” is when Coldyron foils the gas station robbery with racial slurs and his ‘overcompensating for something’ pistol, where we learn he should stick with theoretical robotics and stay far, far away from any hostage negotiations.

Still, the gist of the plot is a homicidal machine running amok, which comes off rather cartoony -- and considering the source this should not surprise, with one note-caricatures plugged into a big old mess of interminable establishing shots and incompetent action scenes. Yup. From the very beginning we get off on the wrong foot as we open with some spirited but still lackluster stop-motion animation to preview ROTORCOP’s top-secret exoskeleton. 

Now, this "IA-1138 chassis" was developed by a Dr. Karen Steele, who was working in conjunction with the R.O.T.O.R. group. It’s made of an unknown alloy that can move and function fully without the use of gears and motors -- even though we clearly see the thing is full of gears and motors. Here, then, is the first example of some trust issues you will have this film as what we hear is clearly counter-intuitive to what we actually see on screen.

And thanks to some good vibrations in the molecular tonality, this chassis has achieved molecular memory, and so, is able to learn on the fly indefinitely, meaning it can master anything from aerobics, to Tai Chi, to full-field combat. (I’m just quoting folks, but believe me, the animation to try to match this brain-spewing is equally hilarious.) Thus, ROTORCOP is built around a nigh indestructible frame, is self-learning and self-sufficient, all being controlled by the the most state of the art A.I. in it’s brain matrix. And while his colleagues are excited by the potential, Coldyron openly worries that he may also be creating a monster, which, as we’ve already revealed, turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy as despite all the technobabble about how awesome ROTORCOP will be in theory, what we get in reality is a Village People reject with a bitchin’ porn ‘stache, who, despite being on the bleeding edge of robotics can be completely short-circuited and sent into full blown tilt-mode by a single car horn.

Now, Sonya’s the one who figured out this fatal flaw when she panicked and accidentally hit the steering wheel when ROTORCOP tried to shoot her. And as he stumbled around, she burns rubber and gets away. And this leads to a bit of cat and mouse action as ROTORCOP continues to pursue her, employing some amazing tech called "Sensor Recall" that allows him to see into the past to recreate what happened to keep on his prey’s already vacated trail; and yet the damnable thing can’t even seem to manage opening a car door. *sheesh* 

Meanwhile, Sonya tries to stop and call for help but can never get far enough ahead to pull this off. She then tries to seek refuge at a truckstop, hoping for some safety in numbers. Again, ROTORCOP uses his time-displacement powers and tracks her down again, again, taking out some rat-faced fry-cook and a trio of drunken good old boys who try but mostly fail to deliver a patented Chuck Norris flying roundhouse kick. Sad, really. Still, all of this plus the liberal use of her horn and the death of a well-meaning trucker allows Sonya to once more get away.

Meanwhile, several clues and eyewitness reports point to this rogue cop belonging to the R.O.T.O.R. unit. And even though he’s no longer in charge -- in fact, I don’t think he’s technically even a cop anymore, everyone keeps calling Coldyron with updates, who insists they all keep this under wraps because, apparently, despite the mounting body count and property damage, only this dip-shit can handle taking down ROTORCOP -- once he figures out to stop a machine “that’s gone berserk with only a ‘Go’ button and no compassion”. And to buy himself some time, he contacts Sonya via a handy CB radio and convinces her to keep running as bait so his runaway contraption will remain occupied -- otherwise, who knows how many other people he will slaughter with his faulty cease and deceased programming. She reluctantly agrees to this ridiculous demand, and even agrees to meet him at a designated location the following day. And, gee, I sure hope she doesn’t run out of gas before then, you self-serving jerk-off.

Then, after putting a life in extreme danger, Coldyron sure takes his damned sweet time to round up the only other person who could possibly help him, Dr. Steele (Smith); an extremely buff woman topped off with a skunk-striped mullet. And after a long meet and greet, complete with an extended hotel check in, these two head out to try and stop the unstoppable. Luckily, Steele has a few ideas on that once she realizes the defective brain matrix was patterned on Coldyron’s own brainwaves -- well that explains A LOT actually. Seems “to combat pure will you’ll have to use pure illogic. You will have to let yourself fail,” she says. And “use your failure against him. Your failure is his failure. Your weakness is his weakness. Then, and only then, can you do something." Uh, eeoooookay.

Thankfully, they won’t have to rely on that illogic logic as Coldyron produces a metal doohickey that’s already caused ROTORCOP some grief as apparently this is some kind of ignition key that can be used to turn the thing off -- if they can get close enough to insert it. (And I do NOT wanna know where that keyhole is.)

Meanwhile, ROTORCOP has managed to trace Sonya all the way to the designated fishing hole, where she finally gets a bit more proactive by running him off the road and destroying his motorcycle, sacrificing her own car, before fleeing into the woods on foot. And maybe that’s why Coldyron and Steele also abandon their truck to hunt ROTORCOP on foot after tracing his energy bursts or something. But now they must rely on the great Coldyron’s tracking skills -- and at the rate they’re going you might as well write Sonya off. 

But! By some miracle she’s still alive, but barely, as ROTORCOP has her cornered in a tethered boat near the water, when the -- what’s the opposite word for dynamic? I’m gonna go with fruitless. Now where were we? Oh, yes, the fruitless duo spring into action, filling Rotorcop full of buckshot, allowing Sonya to escape.

Of course, Coldyron blows it with the off-switch, leaving it to Steele to combat ROTORCOP hand to hand while that idiot pulls a plan B out of his ass. And what he finds in his ass is some primer det-cord that he uses to lasso ROTORCOP. (It was a thing, back at the beginning, with the character, he was clearing stumps, and AHHHH, just forget it.) But, this move comes too late for Steele, who dies after she tears open ROTORCOP’s fleshy outer shell and is electrocuted by his exposed innards. And soon enough, thanks to some really shitty editing that doesn’t quite make up for the nonsensical staging, Coldyron has got that infernal contraption roped up, stretched out, and prepped to be drawn and quartered once he gives Sonya the signal to floor it. And thus, finally, we find the one thing ROTORCOP does well: exploding.

And so, and so, we have come full circle -- well, except for the asinine final coda; and were you really expecting something else? See, as Coldyron wraps up his interview, he leaves only to get shot in the back by the conniving Buglar in broad daylight, in the parking lot of the police station, for … reasons. I mean, he already made a full confession, right? Buglar’s already been exposed right? Then again, I do not care and am glad that guy is dead. 

And then we get to the even more asinine coda to the final coda, where all of Coldyron’s notes on R.O.T.O.R. wind up in the hands of his nephew currently attending school at Oxford -- well, if the SMU campus was Oxford, sure. This, apparently, was a last second set-up for the possibility of a sequel to R.O.T.O.R. as the movie ends with the reveal of R.O.T.O.R. 2.0, which looks like someone took one of those fancy chassis and stuffed it inside the skin of Dr. Steele. Thankfully, that’s as far as this notion ever, ever went.*whew*

Originally shot under the title Blue Steel, R.O.T.O.R. is a bit of a slog to get through no matter which title card you see it under. Sure, there are few punctuating moments of sheer stupidity to kinda keep you interested but the film constantly fails to capitalize on it’s own cock-ups -- and they are a multitude. It’s all poorly shot, poorly staged, poorly dubbed, and poorly executed from the ground up. And while this thing had the potential to be a rock-stupid but highly entertaining actioneer like Deadly Prey (1987) or Raw Force (1982) or some off the rails personal cinematic vision of your Neil Breen's, Tommy Wiseau's or a Steve Barkett it’s just not there. And while I think there’s just enough stupid to entertain a group looking for something terrible to shred I do not recommend tackling this one alone.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 18 films down with only eight more to go. Up next: Doug McClure punches the Bermuda Triangle right in the face -- after having sex with it. Sort of.

R.O.T.O.R. (1987) Manson International :: WestWind Pictures :: Imperial Entertainment / EP: Frank Arpaia, George Esseff / P: Richard Gesswein, Cullen Blaine, Budd Lewis / AP: Philip Glorioso, Corri Jones, David Newman / D: Cullen Blaine / W: Budd Lewis / C: Glenn Roland / E: Doug Bryan / M: David Adam Newman / S: Margaret Trigg, Richard Gesswein, Jayne Smith, Stan Moore, Clark Moore, Michael Hunter

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