Monday, February 9, 2009

Robowar (1988)

1988 – Robowar (Flora Film)

[original Italian title “Robowar - Robot Da Guerra”; also released on German DVD as “Robo Man” and on Spanish VHS as "Robo Savas Belasi"]

Director Bruno Mattei Story Rossella Drudi, Claudio Fragasso Screenplay Rossella Drudi Producer Franco Gaudenzi Music Al Festa Cinematography Richard Grassetti Editor Daniele Alabiso Casting Joe Collins Art Direction Vic Dabao, “Bart”/Mimmo Scavia Set Decoration Jun Carlos, Don Reganit Makeup Artist Franco Di Girolamo Production Supervisor Rick Hasserot Production Manager Giovanni Paolucci Assistant Production Manager Luciano Pigozzi Post-Production Dialogue Editor Eugine Luotto Sound Tom Morgan Special Effects Francesco Paolocci, Gaetano Paolocci, Rodolfo Torrente Stunt Co-ordinator Massimo Vanni Assistant Stunt Co-ordinator Dante Abadessa Location Manager Arnel Abaneilla Camera Assistants Arturo Barredo, Orly Bombay, “Raul Mattews”/Raul Filippo Mattei, “Ruben Hundit”/Mauro Di Croce Key Grips “Alvit Hessar”/Victorio Cessari, Fred Maequez Camera Operator “Al Hessar”/Aldo Chessari Gaffer “Bart Hessar”/Umberto Chessari Wardrobe Julie De Guzman Continuity “Liliane Hann”/Liliana Ginanneschi Tailor Lito Mozol Transportation Manager Nelson Palma Gaffer Mario Ponce Stills Billy Ruello

Cast Reb Brown (Major Murphy Black), Catherine Hickland (Virgin), Mel Davidson (Mascher), Max Laurel (Quang), John P. Dulaney (Arthur 'Papa Doc' Bray), Jim Gaines (Sonny Peel), “Alex McBride”/Massimo Vanni (Larry Guarino), Romano Puppo (Corporal Corey), “Clyde Anderson”/Claudio Fragasso (The Hunter) [“Alan Collins”/Luciano Pigozzi ended up on the cutting room floor]

Fred Adelman's review from the Critical Condition website:

ROBOWAR (1988) - You gotta love those Italians. When they see a bandwagon, they are the first to jump on it. This is director Bruno Mattei's (using his "Vincent Dawn" pseudonym) take on PREDATOR with a little bit of TERMINATOR and ROBOCOP thrown in. When the experimental Omega-1 prototype cyborg goes on the fritz and starts killing soldiers in the Philippine jungle on its' first mission, the powers-that-be hire the BAM (Bad Asses Motherfuckers) military group, led by Major Murphy Black (Reb Brown of STRIKE COMMANDO - 1987), to stop the menace. The only thing is, they forgot to tell Major Black and his group what they are hunting and give him a bullshit story about stopping rebels in the territory. The team go into the jungle and find corpses gutted, hanging from trees (sound familiar?). They run into guerilla rebels and have many firefights and in one of those fights rescue missionary worker Virgin (Catherine Hickland). Mascher (Mel Davidson), the only one in the group that knows the real reason why they are there, finally tells Black and his group the truth after they are being picked-off one-by-one by Omega-1. Pretty soon it's down to only Black and Virgin as they try to fight off Omega-1 before they are killed. Black surprisingly finds out (via a cassette tape left to him by Mascher in case of his death), that Omega-1 is partially human (the head and brain only) and was once Black's best friend, whom he thought was killed in the last war they fought in together. Black uses this to his advantage and blows up Omega-1 with a bomb at the top of a waterfalls.

Filled with extreme bits of gore and plenty of bullet hits, explosions and other carnage, ROBOWAR is never boring, even though you will sit there slack-jawed finding all the similarities of the films mentioned above. Reb Brown makes a poor-man's Schwarzenegger, but the rest of the cast, including Alex McBride, Max Laurel, John P. Dulaney, Jim Gaines and Romano Puppo handle themselves nicely, even making some bad AIDS and racial jokes, before being dispatched. Mattei also made the films SHOCKING DARK (1989 and released in Italy as TERMINATOR 2!), a scene-for-scene rip-off of Jim Cameron's ALIENS and CRUEL JAWS (1994), which you can guess is a rip-off of. As far as unofficial remakes go, Mattei delivers the goods, even if you feel a little delirious after watching them. None of these films have a legitimate release in the US (for legal reasons), but can be picked-up at various on-line distributors, including Midnight Video. Also known as ROBOMAN. Not Rated.

Review from the Cold Fusion Video website:

It was 1988. Only a year had passed since Strike Commando had invaded our cinemas and our hearts. Strike Commando fever was everywhere, from guys dying their hair Reb Brown Blonde to an attendance spike at Disneyland following the Strike Commando's heartfelt endorsement of it to a dying native boy. Almost as easily as he had defeated the Big Russian twice on the big screen, Rebbo had become an silver screen icon along side the likes of Trash from Bronx Warriors and Bronx Warriors 2, the adult dwarf who played the child of a woman in Burial Ground and kept trying suckle her, and Dean Jones. Eventually, the inevitable question came up for the team behind Strike Commando - what next?

How do you follow up what is arguably the perfect mix of cheap jungle action, nonsensical dialogue, and Big Russian mayhem? The obvious answer is to make Strike Commando 2 and director Bruno Mattei, never one to turn down an obvious paycheck, went ahead and did so that year. Rebbo, having accomplished all could in the Strike Commando universe, chose to hand off the coveted Strike Commando title to Brent Huff and while Huffbo-mania never reached the heights that his predecessor's did, Strike Commando 2 was (and still) remains the second best Strike Commando movie ever!

If the public thought that this meant the end of the Holy Trinity of Reb, Bruno and idea man Claudio Fragasso, they need not have worried. Just because Bruno shot Strike Commando 2 didn't mean there wasn't time to work on four other films in 1988. And one of those would see his final, most explosive teaming with Reb and Claudio of all! Sparing all expense both in terms of budget, actual execution, and most of all, idea-wise, they concocted a steaming jungle stew of guys shooting stuff, blowing up stuff, and getting the stuff kicked out of them by technology run amok!

Have you ever sat through Predator and thought to yourself how much you'd like to see the same movie, but without the cool space monster, the big name actors, the special effects, and technical expertise of John McTiernan? Did you ever watch Robocop and say to your buddies, "you know what would make this movie really rad? If Robocop looked a dude in a motorcycle helmet, shoulder pads, and black fetish outfit and was lurching around a jungle reducing no name Italian actors to pulpy goo." And once Strike Commando was over, did you stifle a sob whispering, "please God, just one more adventure with Rebbo in the jungle! One more Rebbo mission! I would give everything I am and everything I have just to see his stupefied expression in between scenes of him grunting while opening up on some native with his assault weapon one more time!" Well, I'm sorry for all the atheists out there, but Robowar is proof positive that there is a Big Man Upstairs and he's listening to the pleas of His followers who love low budget foreign rip-offs of successful Hollywood movies! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, Rebbo!

Always looking for ways to improve his movies, or at least make sure they come in on time, Bruno takes the essential elements that made Strike Commando such solid entertainment and jacks them up to eleven! Thus, we have Rebbo in the jungle with his dirty half-dozen or so shooting up the foliage almost from the beginning. Gone are the jungle death matches against Big Russians. Gone are the idiotic, but ultimately endearing speeches about popcorn trees and genies who grant your every wish at Disneyland. Scaled way back is that trademark Rebbo wit that had him laughing in the face of metal teeth. In their place is a harder, grittier Rebbo who is as prone to dropping the f-bomb as he is to dropping some jungle rebel who happens by. While movies like Predator have characters announcing that they ain't got time to bleed, Rebbo doesn't even have time to say it, let alone do it!

Rebbo is the leader of a military team called BAM. These guys are so hardcore that I can't even repeat what BAM stands for! Okay, I'll give you a hint. "Mutha" is somewhere in there. Just before the mission begins, I can only assume that Rebbo is deep undercover on his boat with his teammates since he's strutting around in a powder blue half shirt and matching slacks (with white belt!). I'm guessing he was probably trying to avoid the paparazzi.

Honestly, I can't recall precisely what their mission was. I know that Omega One, the military's newest, perfect, ultimate weapon had a brain fart and starting shooting down our helicopters in the jungle and that it needed to be stopped, but Rebbo and the rest of BAM were in the dark on that. They had an "advisor" attached to their team named Mascher and he turned out to be the creator of Omega One. (Why isn't he called Robowar? Omega One sounds like some type of fish oil supplement.)

Mascher spends most the movie keeping what he knows from Rebbo so Rebbo and BAM have to periodically threaten to shoot and/or slit his throat to get him to parcel out the information. Eventually he reveals a secret about Robowar that threatens to tear Rebbo's very soul apart! Well, at least it induces battlefield flashbacks, but in Rebbo's world that's pretty much the same thing.

Robowar isn't the only problem Rebbo comes up against. If you grew up in the jungle like I did, you know that it's full of deadly intrigue! Every step could be your last! One BAM member gets harassed by a wimpy looking snake. Another steps into a bear trap, no doubt set for those jungle bears we hear so much about. Don't believe me? Check out The Jungle Book - it had a bear in it! Then you have the guerrillas who are roaming around shooting people. This is how Rebbo hooks up with Virgin. Virgin? That's what the credits said. Normally, I'd be prone to making a snide comment about how proud Catherine Hickland must be of this role, but she seems to normally work in soap operas, so the role of Virgin in a Bruno Mattei movie may actually count as a "big break." Plus she used to be married to David Hasselhoff, so she's probably suffered enough.

Virgin though proves to be more than just a blonde bimbo (besides that part is already filled, right Rebbo?) as she is the last survivor of a group of people from the United Nations who were setting up hospitals in the jungle. There's some jabber about a cholera epidemic and moaning about guerrillas destroying hospitals and killing children, but where Rebbo and I really started paying attention was when she said she was a chemist and could make napalm! That's a handy skill to have for a gal named Virgin being ruthlessly pursued in the jungle by an unstoppable killing machine!

Once Rebbo gets the rest of BAM killed off by Robowar, it's just him and Virgin trying to stay one step ahead of the unreasoning deathbot! They take refuge in one of Virgin's hospitals (this must be one that the guerrillas didn't completely destroy - see they aren't that bad!) where Virgin makes napalm from the stuff lying around. Let's see. Dirty bedpan, used hypo, two Vicodin, a rubber glove, and PRESTO! Instant napalm! A gal named Virgin might not have much future as a girlfriend, Rebbo, but you might consider putting her on BAM if you ever re-form it.

Rebbo goes off to lure Robowar to the hospital and the moment we've waited well over an hour for is finally here: Robowar vs. Rebbo! After whupping Big Russian ass twice, you knew the only next logical opponent could be the half human, half cyborg murder machine whose death toll in the movie is unsurpassed! Except by Rebbo's of course. Rebbo was pretty much shooting at anything that moved all movie long. He and BAM must have been carrying a small arms depot in their backpacks as many rounds as they unloaded on the guerrillas, flimsy huts, jeeps, and trees.

Robowar pretty much has his way with Rebbo before Virgin rolls in to deliver some of that hospital acid that's always lying around examining rooms to Robowar's head. Robowar may be an unstoppable killing machine, but a bottle of acid to his head short circuits him and renders him malfunctioning long enough that Rebbo and Virgin can escape the hospital and blow it up. "Thank goodness that's over," says Rebbo! "I mean, if that acid affected him that much, Robowar must be Roboscrap after having his ass blown up in a hospital!" Rebbo must not have seen Halloween II and Halloween IV or he would have known that getting your ass blown up in a hospital is no more than a scraped knee to unstoppable rampaging freaks!

The film ends the only way a confrontation between the worst of modern technology and the best of modern man could - atop a jungle waterfall! But what's this? No punches thrown? No headbutts launched? No curse-filled vows to destroy one another's way of life? No, the battle this time isn't between two people, but between Robowar's high tech upgrade and the last remnants of his humanity. He asks Rebbo to do what Rebbo couldn't when Robowar was Rebbo's best friend mortally wounded on the battlefield before he was turned into this cybernetic monstrosity. He asks Rebbo to kill him! After waiting an appropriately respectful amount of time (5-6 seconds), Rebbo says, "will do!," punches the self destruct button on the remote control, and jumps off the waterfall followed by fiery chunks of Robowar.

If you have any doubts about what you're in for, one of the BAM guys also played the traitorous cyborg Ratchet in 2019: After The Fall Of New York as well as Trash's father in Bronx Warriors 2. Easily another winner from Rebbo and friends. The moment in the film where Rebbo throws a knife at a guy impaling him on a wall, turns to the camera, winks and says, "don't move" encapsulates everything great about the Rebbo-Mattei-Fragasso axis of exploitation. I just don't understand why they didn't call it Rebbowar.

Review from the Horror Theatre Video website:

Bruno Mattei gathered a bunch of B-movie actors, threw them into the jungle, and then ripped off the basic plotline from "Predator", ripped off whole lines of dialogue from "Predator", ripped off the irrelevant action sequences from "Predator", he even ripped off the "who-played-whom"-type closing credits from "Predator"! The only difference is that the monster here is a robot instead of an alien. A very weird experience - check out the "monster's" kiddie voice!

A group of ultra-tough commandos with at least one ‘aka’ each, led by Major Murphy Black go into the unfriendly Philippines jungle in order to investigate a strange military plane crash. Accompanying them is a shadowy character called Mascher, who knows more than he says. There, after disposing of more than a 100 guerrillas that happen to be in the area, they encounter the horror of ROBOWAR…

Without giving away any of the plot, the robot proves very difficult to take down, and most of the mission's commandos don't live to tell about it. It may be "taking" plotlines form other action films, but it doesn't mean it isn't skillful and exciting. Lots of actions, a little flesh, and some blood and gore make this a good bet.

Review from the Trash Online website:

SYNOPSIS: ‘Target missing…On Target…Amplify Signal…Drug Research…Elevation Coordinates…Read My Shorts…Doctor Frequency…Speeding Ticket…RECEIVE…RECEIVE’.

These are (I think) some of the immortal lines that writer Claudio Fragasso (also known as Claude Fragass in some films) wrote for one of the most important characters ever created in an Italian exploitation film. Omega-1, or as the end title screen caption identifies him as: ROBOWAR. BAM (Bad-Add Motherfuckers) a group of ultra-tough commandos with at least one ‘aka’ each, led by Major Marphy Black (I don’t make spelling mistakes, this is the name given in the end titles) go into the unfriendly Philippines jungle in order to investigate a strange military plane crash. Accompanying them is a shadowy character called Mascher, who knows more than he says. There, after disposing of more than a 100 guerrillas that happen to be in the area, they encounter the horror of ROBOWAR…

PLOT: Fragasso apparently knows how to write both hard-boiled (all the exchanges between the BAM and Mascher) and more technical dialog (the airplane pilot refers repeatedly to a ‘breakdown in memory bank’). Where he truly excels though is in his own character : The Omega-1 is the ultimate killing machine, wearing an impressive motorcycle helmet and a black armor and can pop-up anywhere at any time, without getting noticed1. This increases the tension to almost unbearable levels, as you can never be sure who will be his next victim. The ultimate touch is the aforementioned monologue, somewhere between a robot and a surrealist manifesto. Each viewing reveals additional layers of lines and I would strongly advise viewers to see if they can decipher additional lines uttered by the Omega-1. 1: note that the BAM team also has this ability : At some point they encounter a group of guerillas chasing and killing some people. They stand by the side of the road, facing the massacre, have a little discussion on whether they should intervene and after only one woman has survived the guerillas suddenly realize that by now the BAM team is standing next to them ).

END CREDITS: As is the case with the whole film the end credits are unique. Each character is shown with his name and the character’s name appearing on-screen, much like Norman Warren’s INSEMINOID. It should be noted that Massimo Vanni and Jim Gaines have their character names mixed-up. I cannot confirm this, but given that one actor is black and the other white this could be a clever anti-racist message from whoever designed those credits. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that Catherine Hickland’s character is billed as ‘Virgin’ although she is clearly called Virginia during the film.

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