Robot Jox (1990)

Robot Jox (1990) movie poster

director Stuart Gordon
viewed: 04/04/2016

Perhaps under the influence of the 1980’s Transformers, it seemed that there were suddenly a spurt of live-action giant robot movies.  “Seemed” would be the key phrase here because while Robot Jox (1990) was somewhat precedent-setting, it turns out that Crash and Burn (also 1990) and Robot Wars (1993) were  also produced by some combination of Charles and Albert Band and Full Moon Entertainment empire.  Though many of their productions became franchises, their giant robot flicks remained oddly obscure.

While Transformers had many antecedents, it also has had many, many descendants.  In fact, with the advent of CGi, giant robots are legion.  And maybe because of its own stop-motion animation and other practical FX, Robot Jox deserves a bit of credit, rising somewhat above its pay grade.

I want to say that Robot Jox punches above its weight class, but the pay grade is perhaps a more apt metaphor.  Because this is low-budget movie-making without a doubt.  The film looks cheap.  The sets look cheap.  The wardrobe looks cheap.  The actors are C-listers of their day.

And yet, it strives above its cheapness and crapness.  Not necessarily successfully but endearingly it strives to make a bigger, better film than it can possibly deliver.

It’s the far-flung future, post-nuclear war, where the two big superpowers now fight out their issues through giant mecha robots.  Let me give you a hint:  the Russian-sounding guy is the villain.

The robot effects are actually kind of charming.  The bad guy robot is actually kind of cool-looking.  I’m always a sucker for stop-motion, and while it’s neither uber-prevalent nor uber-great, it’s kind of cool and fun.

And the cast, while maybe true C-listers, are actually pretty decent, definitely earning their pay grade.   Most notable is Anne-Marie Johnson, who had appeared in Hollywood Shuffle (1987) and I’m Gonna Get You Sucka (1988) and was a recognizable face from that late eighties era.

The film comes from director Stuart Gordon, he of the great Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986).  He made a handful of films with the Bands in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, from whence came Robot Jox.

It’s not a great movie, certainly.  But there is something here amidst the crapness and cheapness, both qualities of badness and qualities of quality.

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