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Robot Jox (1990).

August 20, 2010

The Scoop:
In the distant future, 50 years after a nuclear holocaust, war is outlawed and all territorial disputes between the two great global superpowers are decided by man-to-man combat between soldiers in giant mechanical suits, called “robot jocks.”

It’s just the sort of under-budgeted claptrap that producers Charles and Albert Band built they careers on, and the film manages to be somewhat entertaining despite its rather significant limitations.

During a match for control of Alaska, the champion of the Russian-ish Confederation, Alexander (Paul Koslo), uses an illegal weapon that nearly kills a group of spectators. The champion for the American-ish side, Achilles (Gary Graham), tries to save them, but winds up killing them anyway. This prompts a crisis of conscience for him as he prepares for his rematch with Alexander. Meanwhile, a young hot shot (Anne-Marie Johnson) tries to challenge Achilles’ position as the top jock, and his coach (Michael Alldredge) and weapons designer (Danny Kamekona) get tangled up in the search for a spy in their midst.

Slap fight!

Yet for all this sound and fury, not much seems to happen, aside from silly robot tricks. (Crotch-mounted chainsaws, anyone?) Fight, exposition, some yelling, another fight, more exposition, more yelling. And repeat. It’s all handled somewhat clumsily, with silly dialogue, bad stop motion animation during the robot fight sequences, and the sort of Cold War theatrics we’ve come to expect from cheap 1980s action movies.

Screenwriter Joe Haldeman and director Stuart Gordon reportedly locked horns throughout production over their visions of the story. Haldeman wanted to tell a serious, cautionary sci-fi story while Gordon wanted to create something more kid-friendly. The result is an odd mishmash of simplistic kids’ fare mixed with some darker elements.

In short, it’s the perfect brain candy for late night cable TV.

Best Line:
There are a lot of howlers here, but it’s hard not to keep quoting the jocks’ good luck mantra, “Crash and burn!”

Side Note:
“Robot Jox” is film that finally killed off the Bands’ prolific production company, Empire Pictures. The father and son team of Albert and Charles Band found success in the 1980s with cheapie productions like “Ghoulies,” “Re-Animator” and “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama,” which became cult hits with the emergence of the home video market. “Robot Jox” was the company’s more expensive production to date, and during filming the lira collapsed in Italy, where the Empire was headquartered. The unfinished film sat on the shelf for two years before Epic Productions bought it from the bankrupt Empire and finished and released it.

After the dust cleared, Empire would continue to exist for a few more years, mainly distributing the occasional European film for the U.S. video market. Meanwhile, Charles Band would land on his feet, forming the new company Full Moon Entertainment, responsible for such 1990s video fare as “Subspecies,” “Puppetmaster,” “Oblivion” and a host of related sequels.

Companion Viewing:
“Rocky IV” (1985), “Rollerball” (1976) and “Starship Troopers” (1997).

Stomp Tokyo.
1,000 Misspent Hours.
The Unknown Movies.

Take a Look:
The trailer:


A whole bunch of the silly bits, all in one clip. (Spoilers!):

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