Robot Wars was the third and final giant robot film made by Charles Band's Full Moon Entertainment. Like Crash and Burn this is also sometimes titled Robot Jox 2 (or Robot Jox 3) in other countries even though it has nothing to do with Stuart Gordon's earlier film. Although the film does manage to have giant robots fighting (unlike Crash and Burn) it's still a little bit of a bait and switch. There's only actually about ten minutes of fighting at the end and you'd hardly call it a battle let alone a war. That said, it at least has a clearer plot and more sense of fun than Crash and Burn. Yep, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
The film is set in the year 2041. Drake (Don Michael Paul) is the pilot of the last remaining giant robot - a scorpion-looking thing called MRAS2. He uses it to ferry tourists back and forth, through the bandit-ridden desert, to a "perfectly preserved" ghost town from 1993! During one journey he is forced to carry a foreign diplomat Wa-Lee (Danny Kamekona) who the Eastern Alliance (read: America) are looking to make friends with. However Wa-Lee has other plans and uses his soldiers to take control of the MRAS2. Drake and his friend Stumpy team up with archaeologist Leda (Barbara Crampton) who thinks that the ghost town may have another robot hidden underneath it. Can Drake, Stumpy and Leda find it in time to stop Wa-Lee's plan to blow up the Eastern Alliance?
I quite enjoyed Robot Wars despite the fact it's got a slow moving plot. I think it helped that even though there's a not much robot fighting there are at least loads of shots of the MRAS2 walking about and it is integral to the story. When you look at it moving you have to wonder why it's being used as a transport vessel though. It moves about 5 miles per hour and jostles it's passengers so much they have to wear seatbelts and stupid-looking bicycle helmets. Still it's a great looking robot and the effects are really well integrated. Hats off to David Allen again. I particularly liked that the passenger hold has windows looking out. It helped the sell the illusion that the robot was more than just a stop motion toy.
The acting is a minor step up from Crash and Burn. Don Michael Paul is the main hero of the film and he does an okay job. He kind of reminded me a little of a pudgy Don Johnson*. They use the same gag that Stallone used in Cobra with his character. He reveals at the very end of the film his first name is Marion. (Couldn't they have thought of another amusing female-sounding man's name?). Barbara Crampton is decent as Leda but she doesn't get much to do. Yet again, it seems that women aren't allowed to drive robots. Danny Kamekona made a pretty weak villain. The trash talking he gives Don is terrible - "Peek a boo, I see you" - and the way his robot is dispatched is kind of disappointing too. I wanted to see it explode or have it's limbs ripped off but instead Don just fires a laser at it's belly and it deactivates which was kind of a let down.
The film has some fun with the idea of a ghost town from 1993. It was obviously just a way to cut down on the film's budget by being able to shoot in a regular town without having to dress it up all futuristic-like. The film gets a lot of mileage (and good will from me) for going down this route. There's a silly (or is it prophetic?) in-joke where the tourists walk past the town's deserted cinema and the marquee reads that Puppet Master 54 is playing**. That gave me a little chuckle. I wish all Full Moon films could deploy a little wit and humour like this from time to time.
Overall Robot Wars is a fun little diversion. You need to go in knowing that there isn't going to be wall-to-wall robot fighting to fully enjoy it. It's disappointing that Band didn't make any more giant robot flicks. I guess the problem was that David Allen's beautifully crafted stop motion had been ousted by the CGI of Jurassic Park. And unfortunately the high price tag on CGI didn't gel with Band's budget approach to movie-making.
*Fun fact: Don Michael Paul directed Steven Seagal's hilariously titled prison flick Half Past Dead in 2002.
** Which is all wrong because only four Puppet Master movies had been released by 1993.