Robowar (Bruno Mattei,1988)

by Douglas Buck December 28, 2019 3 minutes (681 words) Blu Ray

A group of rough-riding commandos (led by the lunkheaded, kinda likable — if more than a tad thespian-challenged — Reb Brown) on a mission (of which its ultimate goal I never could figure out) in an unnamed jungle island, fight it out with some hostile jungle guerillas and save a volunteer hospital worker (Catherine Hickland)… only to find themselves getting picked off, one-by-one, by a half-human/half-machine, government-created killing machine.

Having born witness (with my secret cinematic cabal, naturally) the inept charms of the profoundly budgetarily-challenged 1989 “Aliens” rip-off Shocking Dark from long-time, low-rent Italian shlockmeister Bruno Mattei as part of our ‘all things “Alien” viewings (with “Dark” being a sort of “Aliens”/”The Terminator” hybrid), figured why not pick that nearby Mattei-directed Robowar from four years earlier off the pile of unwashed blurays and drop it in the player. While the film isn’t an “Alien” rip-off, but instead an obvious Predator knock off, that’s fine, as the “Predator” series, for better or worse, did cross over with the “Alien” franchise (simply consider it was empty-headed hack Paul W.S. Anderson who acted as creative force behind the monster teamings and you’ll understand how it was mostly worse, rather than better).

Characters head off-screen in one direction when everything says they should be going the other. Locations that should be far away, suddenly reveal themselves right next to each other — sort of like those amazing alley shoot-outs from behind trash cans in the old Police Squad television series, in which a long shot reveals them as shooting at each other from opposite sides of the same trash can (of course, the hilarious Police Squad did it for laughs!). The actors delivering dialogue in this stilted, absurdly mannered style that had me wondering (as I did with Shocking Dark) if Mattei wasn’t perhaps desperately (and misguidedly) trying to create, realizing how little he had to work with, some kind of cult Rocky Horror phenomena. Endless padding of the grim-faced soldiers moving through the dense exotic jungle, followed by the less than riveting Al Festa electronic score, for reasons I still have no idea why. A supposedly ‘indestructible’ war-machine robot that looks like a guy in a black suit, striking me as a forerunner to the man stuck in the cryogenic suit in irreverent Montreal filmmaker Pat Tremblay’s enjoyably clever Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass.

Let’s be serious here. Is Robowar great? Of course not. Good? In perhaps some oddly mind-reeling way, with the added spice of a few decent explosions, mindless quasi-action, some luridly amusing close-ups on still simmering melted bodies and the inclusion of a few welcome regulars from Italo-exploitation fare (namely, Massimo Vanni and Romano Puppo)? But not really.

And yet… watching the clumsy, entirely perfunctorily constructed experience that is Robowar (I counted two inspired shots in the entire film, moments that so stood out, one of our film cabal mused if perhaps Mattei had given a talented family member a chance at a directing a few shots), I thought… you gotta hand it to Bruno Mattei.

No mere lack of filmmaking talent (other than those healthy dollops of low grade sleaze and nasty perversity in his 1977 Naziploitation effort Women’s Camp 119 and some of his Women-in-Prison films), or shamelessly derivative material, or diminishing budgets (no matter how miniscule) ever slowed this guy down. I mean, he was still making (what I assume were pretty atrocious zombie) films right up until the day God, in his infinite wisdom, chose to plant the fateful banana peel for the unsuspecting Mattei to slip on into the hereafter.

Robowar, so soon after Shocking Dark made me steel my resolve… somebody has to support a guy with this much chutzpah in the face of anything approaching good taste (or quality). Maybe that’s just an excuse for me not to feel ridiculous watching those thirteen films of his right up there on my shelf. Then again, I can always blame Severin for that. They’re the ones who keep finding another of his films to put out.

Robowar (Bruno Mattei,1988)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

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