Robowar/Robot da Guerra is the most shamelessly unoriginal and near incoherent rip-off of Predator that exists, and for that, I love it dearly.
The obscurity of this gem has been lowered a bit since Noah Antwiler's recent review of it on the Spoony Experiment. Directed under Bruno Mattei's Vincent Dawn alias, Robowar stars cuddly brick shithouse Reb Brown as Major Murphy Black (better known as "Killzone" according to an unnamed officer in the beginning) and his squad of Vietnam vets, 'BAM', short for "Big Ass Motherfuckers". It mightn't make much sense but these guys pretty much all are shoot-and-ask-questions-next-month anyway; the Motherfuckers include Cpl. Neil Corey, Alfred "Papa Doc" Bray, Chuck Norris-lookalike Larry "Diddy Bopp" Guarino, Sonny "Blood" Peel and Quang. As you might expect, they're carbon copy clones of the men from Predator, though they are transcendentally likable in their own right.
BAM have been dispatched to a non-descript island on a non-descript mission, coupled with a fairly tubby soldier named Mascher, who is in on the details of their mission, he's just not telling. For that, BAM are pretty much out to kill anything that moves, including corpses (how dead people make a bush rustle is anyone's guess). Preceding all this though is a sequence involving two guys in a helicopter yelling into their radio about something going wrong, down below, a series of first person perspective shots filtered through an amber pixellated screen show people and buildings being blown up while electronic jibberish rambles on. As you would have probably guessed, this chaos is all being caused by the most singularly impressive robot to consist of just a guy in biker clothes with various pieces of plastic painted black glued on. This robot is Omega 1, designed to be the most indestructible and unbeatable weapon in existence, and is armed with some heavy laser weaponry. Quite hilariously, Omega 1 speaks in nothing but unintelligible drivel with only fragments of its utterances making a bit of sense, however, if you can read the language of the subtitles this film was released in (Japanese and Greek to my knowledge, others probably exist), you'll be able to understand the smack it spouts.
There is a subplot involving Murphy and the boys of BAM wiping up the guerillas they discover on the island and rescuing a woman who is about to be tortured (this woman is only named in the credits, revealed to be called "Virgin"), but the main focus is that Mascher was involved in the creation of Omega 1 and is now trying to get it back without revealing info on what it is exactly (and there is a reason for this, but we'll get into it later), a bit of a haphazard tactic, especially if the robot is supposed to be invincible. Omega 1 takes out all of Murphy's men including Mascher, who tries to disable his creation by getting in close with a remote detonator. Before it boils down to Murphy's fight with it, he learns from a tape Mascher left with him that Omega 1 is actually an old friend of his, Lt. Woodring, who was badly wounded in Vietnam, so he was grafted into a cyborg. The final showdown involves Omega 1 being rugby tackled by Reb Brown (breaking from character names for a moment because a robot being rugby tackled by that man is awesome alone), dowsed in napalm and then exploded with its own laser weapon, Murphy and Virgin now need to get off the island.
But wait! Omega 1 somehow survives the explosion (indestructible is right, Mascher would be proud) and chases Murphy as Virgin swims to the boat they've signalled. Eventually, Murphy is confronted at the top of a waterfall, but Omega 1 hands him Mascher's remote device and in a (surprisingly) slightly touching scene, begs a teary-eyed Murphy to destroy him after revealing Woodring's charred face beneath the helmet. It's true that this film is devoid of artistic merit (not exactly a bad thing as it's entertaining as all hell), this scene is actually done fairly well for its focus on Murphy's face and for not using any music. Anything resembling a bit of depth though is immediately flushed away when Reb roars as he jumps down the waterfall and into the pool below, but this film isn't exactly meant to be 'good'.
Being released in 1989, Robowar is as cheap and as unoriginal as many of these films came; a lot of scenes are direct copies of what was seen in Predator, right down to Reb hurling a knife into an enemy's stomach and delivering a cheap one-liner while winking; the audacity alone puts Arnie to shame. Much of the dialogue is usually nonsensical and mostly hilarious, it sometimes feels like the actors were not working along with the script properly or as if the script was asking for things they didn't have. No one in this movie is a real actor, but for what it's worth, they do a serviceable job, making it more entertaining, not that there's much drama to be had, even if the characters are faced with their friends dying (the quality becomes quite laughable in the few times drama does rear its head though, save for Murphy's brief moment atop the waterfall).
The character of Mascher though is fairly likable as he's both a scientist and a soldier, so the idea of him going after his own work rather than sending someone else is appealing, that and he seems to be played by the only moderately decent actor in the movie (too bad though he was played by Mel Davidson, someone who was notorious for being an asshole and a paedophile on Filipino film sets). The trigger for Lt. Woodring being involved is quite poorly done; Corey finds Guarino's arm and Quang picks up a dogtag from his hand, which is revealed to be Woodring's; was Guarino holding on to it for whatever reason or did the robot leave it there? Either way it's a basic excuse to make mention of the character. The film revels in its redundancies and inconsistencies through Omega 1; the robot wields a whopping big laser gun around even though it has three wrist-mounted guns that all seem to do the same thing, it also carries a knife at one point. Toward the end of the film, Omega 1 loses its gun only for it to magically reappear in its holster, which it struggles to pull out due to malfunctioning, why couldn't it have just used the wrist lasers at that point?
The action is plentiful and even if little of it is constructed very well, it's funnily satisfying; BAM have no sense of ammo conservation but they seem to have an infinite amount of bullets as they unload into everything they see, even if their tried-and-true method fails against Omega 1. The highlight is when they storm an enemy base; shit gets shot up and shit gets blown up, among other brawny action, it's simplistic but it delivers.
The synth score tends to be repetitive but some pieces actually sound quite good, there's even a decent rock song in the credits (in the Japanese version, it appears twice, once in the credits and once in the middle of the film), however, its name or performers aren't listed at all. A soundtrack apparently was released, but I'll be damned if I can find anything on it. The Japanese version seems to contain a few ad libbed lines, amusingly though the voices saying them sound nothing like the character who is supposed to be talking. As with most productions involving something mechanical when being released in Japan, there is a small schematic diagram, either included on the box or released in promotional material, if you didn't guess already, Robowar somehow has one on a promotional flyer as if it's really supposed to interest people in its genius mechanical design.
It should be noted that the end credits get Peel and Guarino's names mixed-up, and calls Reb Brown's character "Marthy" as well as calling Papa Doc "Arthur", instead of Alfred. Robowar also seems to be damned with some hideous poster art; the one most used in Europe features a robot that just barely resembles Omega 1, with an out-of-proportion head that is sometimes cut off by the blades of a helicopter in the distance. Not only that, but it wields a crossbow that doesn't appear in the film and holds it at an angle that shouldn't be possible with the way the fist is balled. Only the Japanese VHS cover looks somewhat attractive, though there is one that goes all out and even rips off the Predator font.
Taking place in a jungle that is far from exotic with gun-nut characters and a plot that steals liberally from Predator as well as pinching a bit from RoboCop, bad movie lovers can't go wrong with Bruno Mattei and his one-robot Robowar. I would probably pick this any day over the many charmless action movies produced nowadays.
-VendavalEste, 09 September 2009
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