Crash and Burn (1990)
Paul Ganus (Tyson Keene), Megan Ward (Arren), Ralph Waite (Lathan Hooks), Bill Moseley (Quinn), Eva LaRue (Parice), Jack McGee (Winston Wickett), Elizabeth Mclellan (Sandra), Katherine Armstrong (Christie)
Ecological Disaster/Totalitarian Government
“In the year 2035 a corporate power will rule our nation with terror, using a secret army of synthetic humans they will destroy all who oppose them. But a small outpost of rebels will fight their killing machine. By reviving a weapon from their past, they will wage the final battle for our future.” – Trailer Guy
So Robot Jox didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger so much as it didn’t really have an ending. Achilles and Alexander learned that killing each other is super uncool and decided to bro it out, but Alexander did try and kill some referees and comitted some form of treason, also the Confederation had a spy implanted on Team Good-Guy. What happens next? Well a year later there’s a movie called Crash and Burn, which happens to be the Jox salute (it’s considered bad luck to say “good luck” so they say “crash and burn” the way actors say “break a leg”) and there’s a giant robot on the cover and everything. The European title is even Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn, so it has to be a sequel, right? RIGHT?! Ha, no.
Crash and Burn does have a giant robot, you can see almost all of its sixty-second screen-time in the film’s trailer. The robot, called a DA-8, is an old mining unit used to dig for Uranium in Mexico. It doesn’t even fight another robot, it just lifts something and then stomps a guy before falling apart. This is some of the most misleading bullshit marketing and Paramount and whoever were involved with this bait and switch deserve all the ill-will sent their way for it.
With that said, I think Crash and Burn is actually a really good movie, maybe even Charles Band’s best movie (certainly better than his father Albert’s own fake Robot Jox sequel, Robot Wars) but it’s not, as commenter Jedi Bobster referred to the genre on the last review, a “Fighty Robot Film.” Crash and Burn is more akin to The Thing, Screamers, or Starship Troopers 2: We Can’t Even Afford Casper Van Dien with a little bit of The Terminator thrown in for seasoning.
We open on an apocalyptic wasteland as our hero Tyson Keen (Paul Ganus) rides his motorcycle up to a small gas station and goes inside. From the start, the movie shows itself to be a masterclass in world building, feeding us morsels of details about how this new world works rather than vomiting up large chunks of exposition through narration or scrolling text at the beginning (hence why I had to pull my “The Story” section from the trailer this time.) Tyson asks for gas and the attendant asks if he wants propane or kerosene, a weird-looking guy with boils and scabs gives him a weird look and the attendant explains that the kid has spent too much time out in the sun and the ultraviolet light has fried his brain.
A television report talks about the ozone depletion and the film’s invisible enemy Unicom, a massive corporate conglomeration that rules the country with an iron fist, banning the use of robots and computers for the purpose of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic stability.” Tyson is headed to a local TV station run by Lathan Hooks (the late great Ralph Waites of The Waltons and Carnivale), a vocal dissident of Unicom and their fascist ways.
Tyson is little more than a delivery boy, bringing some freon that Lathan ordered, but the man mistakes our hero for a corporate drone come to hassle him for his views. Tyson buddies up with Lathan’s 16-year-old grand-daughter Arren (Megan Ward), a tech wizard who instantly develops a crush on him. We meet the rest of our cast of characters: Parice (Eva LaRue), a teacher who does an educational program; Winston Wickett (Rescue Me’s Jack McGee), a sleazy talkshow host who only has a show because his father owns the station; Quinn (genre vet Bill Moseley), the company’s workman; and Sandra (Elizabeth Mclellan) and Christie (Katherine Armstrong), two prostitutes that are guests on Winston’s show. They all end up staying the night in the station (actually an old power station converted into a TV station) as a thermal storm comes in making it unbearably hot and dangerous to be outside.
During the night, a mysterious stranger kills Lathan and, using an old 1990s computer, Arren discovers that his murderer was a synthoid (an android who looks and acts entirely human) who has been existing among them as a sleeper agent the entire time until Unicom uploaded a virus (the “Crash and Burn” virus) which overloads their “no killing humans” circuit and allowed the synthoid to complete its mission. There’s a scene where all the characters sit around the table and take turns cutting themselves to show they bleed which can’t help but feel like a nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Everyone turns up human, but shortly afterward Tyson finds containers filled with human blood in a secret room filled with weaponry and gear.
I’m not even gonna give a spoiler warning, it’s Quinn. If you somehow miss all the shots of Bill Moseley in the trailer and on the film’s cover-art, you surely know that they don’t hire character actors to play boring every-men. Quinn reveals himself at about the midpoint of the movie and his rubber-faced lunacy during this scene is fantastic. This is the only movie I’ve seen where Moseley gets to be the center of attention as a villain rather than a member of a larger group of psychopaths, so for him to become effectively a slasher is a real dream come true for me.
Quinn goes through the complex, picking off characters left and right until there’s only a few left. They attempt to stop him but Quinn is as tenaciously unkillable as a Terminator and manages to follow them out as they try to make their escape in a truck. This is where Arren summons the DA-8 unit which in this context is frosting on the cake rather than the payoff of a bald-faced lie on the part of marketing. There’s of course an ending stinger involving a second android who is seemingly made of paper as its dispatched in seconds even though Quinn was nigh-indestructible.
So this movie is basically the precursor to Screamers (though it’s likely that writer J.S. Cardone simply drew inspiration from the same Phillip K. Dick story) and it’s pretty well crafted. It’s not as tense or as scary as it could or even should be but with Full Moon you have to grade on a curve, this is more in line with an above-average Roger Corman movie than your average straight-to-video fare by Charles Band.
The make-up effects by Greg Cannom and Larry Odien are excellent and the puppet effects (the DA-8 is 100% a rod puppet) by Chris Endicott look amazing. The dialogue is naturalistic and as I mentioned above, the movie knows how to feed you information rather than cram it down your throat like a lot of lesser movies do. Even the acting is pretty solid across the board.
This is the first time I have watched Crash and Burn and I have heard nothing but awful things about this movie from every source I encountered. I think it was a case of promising one thing and delivering on another in much the way of fellow Full Moon film Puppet Master. But much like with Puppet Master, Crash and Burn may fail at being what it promises on the cover but it succeeds at being something else with flying colors. Great effects, good story, a cast peppered with great character actors, Crash and Burn was a treat and I don’t feel it deserves even a tenth of the hate it has engendered over the years.
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“Peekaboo, I kill you!”
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