Robot Wars (1993)
Don Michael Paul (Drake), Barbara Crampton (Leda), James Staley (Stumpy), Danny Kamekona (Wa-Lee)
“In our distant future, a nation at war will discover its strongest ally has become their deadliest enemy. And now two rival champions must battle for supremacy in the ultimate killing machines.” – Trailer Guy
So Crash and Burn was billed as a sequel to Robot Jox which turned out to be a filthy lie as Charles Bands’ film was more of a robot slasher movie than a giant robot smackdown. But there’s another film billed as Robot Jox 2, IMDb even lists it as an official sequel. That movie is Albert Band’s (father of Charles) Robot Wars. Robot Wars is still not a sequel to Robot Jox, it connects in no way to the events of that film though there are hints of wars fought between giant robots in the past and while the robot fighting is greatly a exaggerated part of the film, it at least does have robots figthing (Robot Skirmish would be a much more apt title.)
We open on the future where Earth is a barren wasteland separated into three empires. We have The United States (which is now much smaller), the Central US, and The Far East who is our ally. Travel through the wasteland is handled by the last mega robot, a giant mechanical scorpion operated by star pilot Drake (Don Michael Paul.) Drake is your typically cocky smart-ass with an impish grin and a curmudgeonly disposition.
After an attack by a group of Centros, Drake highly advises his superiors against using the robot to transport tourists and to not trust the far-East ambassador Wa-Lee. Meanwhile, a scientist played by Barbara Crampton is sniffing around a potential conspiracy by the Far East and the Centros to take control of the robot and join forces. This turns out to bear fruit as there is a secret garrison of Centros hidden in Crystal Vista (an authentic 1990s ghost town which conveniently saves the production money on not having to build futuristic sets for a good chunk of the movie.) Sure enough, Wa-Lee commandeers the robot and wreaks havoc and it’s up to Drake to find a way to stop him.
The kicker is that Drake’s sidekick/mechanic Stumpy (James Staley) heard an old story from his grandfather about another mega-robot that was hidden when the line was decommissioned. The robot is supposedly buried underneath Crystal Vista, and in largely working order. Naturally the story is true, robots war, it’s a whole thing.
Robot Wars is not a bad movie but in the trinity of this, Robot Jox, and Crash and Burn, this is the inferior film. Albert Band has a much more kitschy and kid-friendly set of sensibilities than his son or even Stuart Gordon, so this movie would already feel like it was for kids even if it wasn’t rated PG. Robot Wars doesn’t have much scope or depth, at best it feels like a fairly well-made TV movie.
That’s not to say there aren’t good qualities to the film. The robots are lovingly rendered with a deft combination of rod puppets and stop-motion animation and it all looks wonderful. There’s only one robot battle in this movie and it’s neither as long or as flashy as the fights in Robot Jox, but it’s still a great action scene. The way the robots look entirely different (though the hereos’ robot looks a lot like a modified version of the robot from Crash and Burn) is a welcome detail that makes the match-up more interesting.
Drake is a cliche but he’s charming and Don Michael Paul brings a lot of likeable qualities to the cocky maverick. Stumpy is also great and he and Drake have a delightful onscreen chemistry. While the character is comedic relief he’s also obviously one of the few people Drake respects. The undercurrent of trust and mutual admiration beneath the dialogue really makes their scenes together work.
Nobody gives a bad performance and Barbara Crampton is quite good, though she and everyone else beyond our main characters make little influence on the storyline other than telling us what’s going on. There’s not much b-plot of note and the film just spends a lot of time actually showing us stuff that Drake is figuring out on his own. Wa-Lee is an okay villain, he’s obviously evil from the beginning and Danny Kamekona goes over-the-top with his acting but he’s not bad.
I’m really not finding a lot to say about this movie. Robot Wars is inoffensively mediocre. It’s far from a bad film and it’s really very short, the cast is good and the characters are fun, it just lacks quite a bit in the way of substance. Even the backdrop of the post-apocalyptic world in which the story takes place is pretty bland and forgettable. It’s a good movie but you could easily go through your entire life without seeing it and not miss out.
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