Robot Jox (1990)
WRITERS: Story by Stuart Gordon
Screenplay by Joe Haldeman
DIRECTOR: Stuart Gordon
STARRING: Gary Graham as Achilles
Anne-Marie Johnson as Athena
Paul Koslo as Alexander
Robert Sampson as Commissioner Jameson
Danny Kamekona as Dr. Matsumoto
Hilary Mason as Professor LaPlace
Michael Alldredge as Tex
QUICK CUT: In the near future, after the world has beend devastated by nuclear war, conflicts are resolved by one on one gladiatorial combat. With uh, giant piloted robots. Because that's a thing.
Achilles - Our hero. The best robot jox that ever was. He's won all his fights, and is just one more fight away from retirement. He's a bit hard-headed, but has a goodness inside him, somewhere, when he's not being an arrogant jock.
Athena - One of the new batch of test tube babies that are being designed as basically disposable jox, rather than wasting our own normal people, plus they can be made better through genetic engineering. Her personality is a little bare since she's been grown and raised in the environment of training.
Alexander - Our villain, of an unspecified Eureopean/Asian country, but boy if he doesn't look and sound very Russian!
Tex - The only other robot jox that has ever survived all ten contracted fights undefeated. If you can't guess, he's Texan. He's big, he's blustery, he wears a cowboy hat. Stereotype, hoooo.
THE GUTS: Another Full Moon movie? Another robot movie? Must be time for another Sci-Files or something, I guess. Ah well, it's still Charles Band, and still cheesy. Let's dive right in.
While the credits roll, we get some exposition on the state of this distant future world. It's after World War 3, and war has been outlawed. Yeah, because that's enforcable. "You can't bomb us, that's against the law!" "Oh yeah? Who's gonna stop me? I just nuked Switzerland too, sucker!"
All the nations of the world have consolidated into just two alliances... psssh right. We have enough trouble consolidating 50 states into a whole. Anyways, when there's a dispute, they have single combat between their champions, in the ruined wastes of other nations that got the short end of the nukes during the last real war.
Oh yes, and this combat takes place in giant mechanised robots piloted by humans. Get ready for Battletech and Gundam jokes, people.
As you can tell, this is...completely absurd and unrealistic. But there it is, we know what it is, we can either accept this bizarro world and move through it, or walk away. Guess what we're doing here at Trisk?
Once more into the breach, dear friends...
We join a fight already in progress and uh...this movie actually LOOKS good. The production values are pretty high, the mechs are solid, the photography is pretty good. Keep in mind this is from 1989 or so. This did NOT have a huge budget, so what they pulled off here, is...amazing, really.
One of the pilots has been defeated, but he's in bad shape. He yields to his competitor, and the judgment comes down for Alexander to stop, he's won. But since he's wearing the black armour, and thus clearly evil, he uses his robot's foot to stomp down upon his defeated opponent anyways. Classy!
We cut from the stompening to the good guys, and you can tell they're good because they're dressed all in white. With occasional red. But mostly the white is your tip off. Oh, and one of them is a Texan, so this must clearly be the alliance that America is in. And thus good. USA! USA!
They're yelling over the fight they just lost, and how they should have sent in their star fighter, and our hero, Achillies. But they're saving him for the fight over Alaska, since he's the best, and we don't want to lose the polar bears. Er, oil.
Achillies gets back to training, fighting some other warriors, despite our being told he's the last one. See, they're training up the next generation, so trying to make the 'last' one seem important kinda falls flat.
Once the fighting is done, we meet Professor LaPlace, developer of the world's first test tube babies, the future of the Robot Jox program, bred to be the best of the best. Or as they're called, GenJox. ...No. Never call them that. Ever again. And cue the racism against the new subspecies of mankind. The behaviour about making *ahem* donations is so...silly. By 1990, we were well into sperm banks, and using prime stock for kids. I just don't get this, other than painting our hero as a raging asshat.
Later, Tex - no really, that's the name of the guy in the cowboy hat - is speaking to the new recruits and showing them around. One of them points out that the Jox don't really need all the guys at home base doing tactics and tech, and everything. The pilot COULD just do it all alone. Which is a pretty fair point, really. But no, Tex just tells him that the pilot would lose. No reason WHY, just that he would. Certainly and unquestionably. Uhh, okay/
Athena, the token female pilot, brings up Tex's last fight where he had no tactical reason to win the battle, and he says that it was just a lucky shot that turned the tide. Well gee, that kinda shoots his argument down. You would think it WOULD do that, but it's just kinda brushed aside.
We get some brief comedic bits with the general populace watching the news and betting on the upcoming fight for Alaska. I love how the fate of our nation's stability and borders are now being wagered upon. Can you imagine if people bet on the war in Iraq? Yeek. I am curious about Alexander having 0-0 odds. How does that work? What would that pay out? Why bet on him?
There's this amusing bit where they make the future version of 'good luck' - or maybe 'break a leg' is more appropos - as they keep saying, "Crash and burn" to one another. It's important to note that this is the name of ANOTHER Full Moon movie. Also starring giant robots. Also on my to do list.
Anywho, it's the day of the big fight, and for some reason, this one is being watched, live, by people, right next to the robots. Uhh. The last one was in the ruined wastes of Siberia. Why is this fight taking place on the Wrigley Field of 2344? The desolation makes sense, what with giant robots. Lasers. Bullets. Debris. This is...insane. And I can only imagine the cost of shipping these behemoths around the world. They later explain that the people sign waivers and know the risk, but wow.
Now, there DOES seem to be telemetry between the human suit and the robot...but how does it differentiate between flipping switches on a console, and moving the arm? Why isn't the hand flicking wildly in the air as he's pushing switches? When he's using the joystick to fire weapons, why isn't the robot's hand clutching dead air, and looking silly? That's always bugged me about these things.
The fight isn't half bad. The stop motion is decent enough, some okay action, considering limitations of the tech, and there's a nice little subplot about Alexander countering Achillies' moves with ease due to spies. And it looks better than Power Rangers, at least...
For some reason, the referee forbids further use of long-range weapons. Seriously, no reason. Just...because. Okay. I guess that's just how the game is played.
But it IS nice once we go hand to hand, and the robots can really grapple. Kicking, punching, shoving. Good stuff, really.
Achillie's gets knocked over, and hits his head in the process. He manages to recover enough to slice into Alexander's leg, toppling him over too. But the bad guy launches his fist, and gasp! Surprise! It loses control and heads for the bleachers! Wow, if only some humble movie reviewer had called live audiences at robot death matches a terrible idea!
The good robot gets back on its feet and uses its body to block the fist. But all he manages to do by that is knocking his mech back onto the bleachers. Crushing them entirely. Well, that's a loss all around, isn't it?
I *do* like that they don't underplay this tragedy. Hundreds of people just got crushed by a roof AND a giant robot. When Achillies climbs out of his fallen Deathscythe and looks down, he sees all the death and destruction. It is a VERY serious moment, and not one you would expect in such a movie. It is a tragedy, and treated as such.
Since this event has put the whole question of the victor up in the air, and 300+ people died, a hearing gets called. Our side tries to defend Achillies' heroic actions trying to stop the fist, and the use of said fist being outlawed at that point in the match.
The comittee finds the fight inconclusive though, and there will be a rematch, in the same location, one week later. Hopefully, without spectators this time, yes? Alexander seems pleased by this, at least because he didn't lose Alaska for his side. Or get fined for murdering hundreds of innocents. Can we look into that?
But the big bombshell comes when Achillies announces he will not be fighting. He served out his ten-fight contract, and after what he witnessed, what he caused, he doesn't want to fight anymore.
This naturally doesn't go over well. The tube newbies argue over whether he's a coward, and Achillies' boss tries and talk him out of it. And by 'talk', I mean he tries to use legal wrangling to keep him around. And we get the even bigger, out of the blue, bombshell that Achillies is illiterate. THAT was random.
Our fallen hero hits the local bar, and the lens slathers on the vaseline to soften the picture up. He argues with the newbies a bit about whether he should have even bothered saving the spectators, since they knew what they were risking. In fact, the knowledge that he saved them even knowing they had signed releases, and no one else would have bothered, kinda ups his hero quotient. And then Alexander walks in.
That goes about as well as you'd expect. One of the newbies challenges the guy, thinking he might be the next one to fight him in a robot. But the bad guy just brushes him aside, until the kid grabs his shoulder. You do not touch the shoulder, pal! The kid almost loses his hand in the process, until Achillies intervenes, more than ready to finish with fists what they started with rockets.
But Alexander isn't going to fight our hero unless it's for his country, and without his robot, so Achilles passes out drunk. The next day, he wakes up to find Athena sitting on his bed, his clothes removed, and the biggest reminder of the night before being his throbbing head.
They talk about the usual idioms of luck, and fear, and confidence, with regards to winning. Athena calls him out on his cowardice, not understanding fear and blah blah blah... She leaves, and they make up in the very next scene when he apologises and hands over his lucky piece. Worn out philosophy, for a few minutes of tension.
So Achillies leaves the life of fighting behind, and heads back home to his brother and family. It is all so very domestic and boring. If you didn't already know where the movie was going to go, you would think there is NO way he's sticking with this. Don't worry, every time someone gets out, something keeps pulling him back in!
Back in the land of interesting things, the selection process from the tubie newbies has begun. The first test is a sadistic little thing with a bunch of pipes arranged all haphazardly towards the ceiling, like Escher's jungle gym. They lead towards a hole in the ceiling, and the first one through wins. Oh, and the room will shake, there are flashing lights and sounds, and the bars will randomly try to sabotage you. There is a good chance you will fall at any given time and break something. Good luck with that!
And that's the only contest they had to go through. That was it. Climb through the hole in the ceiling and BAM you're the new pilot of a walking brick of metallic death. But it's a moot point, as once Achillies sees Athena is the new pilot, he rushes back to take his old job and pilot it himself, so long as there are no spectators.
Not that they give us much of a reason. He just rushes back, as if he says no one will fight in his place.
Later, Achillies is prepping for the fight he wasn't going to be part of, but doesn't get any new weapons updates. Matsumoto tells him that there is a briefing which he will receive on tape, right before the match. Neither he nor Tex are pleased with this, but it's for security reasons to try and stop the leak. I've heard of worse ideas.
In fact, it's not a half bad plan to leave Tex out of the loop. See, that lucky shot? Not so much luck after all. He turns out to work for the Confederation, playing the part of a hero, the perfect spy, because, um... No one would suspect him I guess. The logic isn't terrible, but the mechanics are a bit dodgy. Since most of the stuff he's done has ended up with the bad guys losing, to build his cover.
He gets Tex to do the whole bad guy confessional thing, all the while recording it, and his death, for later revelatory purposes. He tries to convince Tex to go back to his old self, the good self, but all Matsumoto gets is shot in the head. With that out of the way, Tex calls the Comissioner to report the spy being found.
Things momentarily look even bleaker when Athena shows up on the day of the fight in Achillies' quarters. She pulls a gun out and shoots him in the back. Fortunately, it's just a sedative, and she just wants her chance to prove that the tubie newbies are worth the trouble.
You know, for someone who is supposed to be dosed up with who knows what, he actually manages to fight pretty well. AND against a genetically modified, perfected human, to boot. He dodges kicks, gets a few blows in, and goes way longer than anyone who SHOULD be knocked out would! She does manage to finally beat him though, at least long enough to get out his door and disable the electronic locks.
I love that nobody notices that Achilles suit of armour is all the wrong sizes, and he walks funny.
Back in Achilles' room, he uses a remote control to summon his flying car, crash it into the nearest wall, and get himself out of his room. Ahh, the future.
Athena's busy stealing the robot, and they try to talk her down, stop her from using the lift to leave the robosilo, and even send armed men to stop her. Armed men with the orders of shoot to kill. See, that's the problem with test tube kids, they're disposable. She stops most of them though, and their bullets are useless against the robot's armour. So with the lift dead under the robot's feet, Athena uses its abilities to climb out of the pit.
The Comissioner tries to call off the fight, since the robot is not being piloted by their choice. But apparently, the referees don't care about such things, since the pilot identity is of no concern to them. So uh, if a confederation pilot steals our robot, walks it on the field, constituting a challenge...and then just sits on the ground while his friend from the Confederation smacks him around... That's perfectly legal? Who came up with these rules, Calvin and Hobbes?!
Well...that bit of stupid aside, they decide to do the best they can to help Athena, and have her pull up Matsumoto's secret tape for the secret weapons. The robot has been equipped with a blinder and an exposition beam, as it reveals what happened to the guy, and who Tex really is. He escapes, briefly, and jumps to the bottom of the silo, killing himself before anyone else can get the pleasure.
So the fight begins, and it's more pretty decent stop motion action which I can't really complain about. Grab the popcorn and enjoy, because this shit is easily the best stuff in the movie.
Alexander pins down Athena, and...okay, it's a little silly here. The fist of his robot starts pumping up and down, punching the other robot, and the bot starts bouncing like it's being dribbled. They should've just left it stationary and let it act like a jackhammer, pummeling away. But no.
With Athena unconscious, Achilles rushes out to be the hero again, which is good. Since the moment Alexander sees the pilot is NOT whom he thought it was, he gets ready for more stompifying.
Alexander COULD just make squishy time with all the little fleshbags, but he's more interested in properly fighting Achilles, actually giving the guy enough time to get into the robot, and get in control of it.
The refs are ready to declare the fight in favour of the USA...er, alliance, after all the illegality in this match. Or whatever. But Alexander wants his fight, so he ruins it for his entire confederation of nations. Ahhh, ego and bravado.
And squashing the ref's craft doesn't help his case, I'm sure. So, this will be a fight without rules, without judgment...pour the butter over that popcorn, folks!
...Then the robots shoot off into space. Well, that escalated quickly. But you know what? It's a change of venue, makes it a unique fight on that regard alone, plus ups the stakes again. AND bonus points for no sound as things explode in space!!
But Achilles' robot gets damaged pretty quickly, taking out it's heel, and loses its ability to fly well. It's not long before it is hurtling straight back to terra firma.
I honestly wish the space stuff had lasted longer, that was fun. But now we're back to Earth, and we find out that Achillie's is handy-capable, as his robot's legs transform into the world's largest wheelchair so it can still drive around and shoot ass.
There's some decent combat, as rockets are launched right at Alexander's groin. The bad guy grabs the disabled bot and flips it on its back like a turtle, leaving it pretty helpless after it survives the impact. And then...uh...
ANYways, the saw slices through the cockpit, and Achilles runs for it, his opponent gloating all the while. He starts trying to employ his favourite stomsecutional move some more, but Achilles keeps dodging.
He starts to climb his way up the robot, but then sees... Okay, this is a brilliant bit of callback and foreshadowing. Earlier in the fight, Athena managed to slice off one of Alexander's arms. Now, Achilles remembers what one of those hands did before, climbs over to the limb, and rigs it up so it will launch the fist back at Alexander, in a NICE bit of poetic justice for the first tragic fight.
Alexander survives his robot's destruction though, and now we truly are down to fighting mano y mano. Or pipe-o y mano, as the case may be...
Much fighting ensues, and it's nothing great, but pretty servicable. Nothing cool, but a solid little fight that does what it does well enough. Achilles eventually talks Alexander out of it, there's no need for anyone to die. They had their fight, it's over, let's walk away and live. So, the movie ends, with the bad guy not being very dead at all. And just talked out of being all punch, for no good reason.
Video: This was a surprisingly good looking movie. It has high production values, the effects are good, the picture is bright, sharp, and pretty clean. It is just shy of being a high end, professional looking movie that you almost would think was in theatres at one point. Someone clearly cared when converting this to DVD.
Audio: A very acceptable stereo mix. As always, having the robots smash around in full surround would have been awesome, but what I got was a clean audio track with clear dialogue and action.
Sound Bite: "IT'S RAINING!" Just for the sheer bizarreness of it. Achilles shouts it out as he finishes off a sparring partner. Such a strange moment.
1 - First death at 2:30, Pilot of the first robot, stomped on by Alexander.
2-300 or so - Crushed by Achilles when his robot falls backwards into the stands.
301 - Matsumoto, shot by Tex for discovering he's evil.
302 - And then Tex commits jumpicide
Best Corpse: Matsumoto has quite a memorable death. Plot reasons, it's a good shock to the system, and he gets a niiice blood splatter on the wall behind him.
Blood Type - C: Not a lot of gore, but like I said, a nice blood splatter. And the wounds on people when they get them do look good. And I give bonus points for the robot effects.
Sex Appeal: Almost completely naked Achilles!
Movie Review: This movie is a big ball of cheese. You can tell they wanted to be a little bit Rocky IV, for the scifi direct to video crowd. The story is nowhere near as good. The acting is pretty bad, to barely workable. Graham isn't half bad in that regard, but he is the star. The story is pretty straightforward, and it does have a few good storytelling moments. They give some proper time to the tragedy, there is a slight arc to Achilles, although we don't really give him enough character to really get a handle on that. It has big ideas it doesn't quite pull off, stays firmly in the realm of camp and never quite escapes that. But it isn't a terribly made movie either. Three out of five flying remote control cars.
Entertainment Value: I remember seeing this as a kid. I was also pretty sure I was going to wince a lot while seeing it again today. But you know what? I was pleasently surprised at just HOW much I got into it, how much I was enjoying the movie. It doesn't aspire to greatness, it knows what it is, and carves out this nice little spot for itself and lives there. The story is pretty decent for this sort of movie, the action is really, really fun, and well done considering the budgets and time period. I even found myself rooting for people from time to time. It only lacks in what we've got today, and honestly? I'll take this over another Michael Bay Transformers movie. There's some badness here, but at the same time, there is a lot of FUN. Pure and simple. Very much a popcorny, guilty pleasure movie. Grab a bucket, pop it in, and just enjoy some robot fighting you can actually follow! Four out of five crotch chainsaws.