Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Eliminators, a movie I watched as a kid and had the fortune to catch again On Demand over the holidays, held up remarkably well for what it is. I expected to laugh at it but, while I may have done so in places, as an adventure movie it does OK. Like a lot of these kinds of movies from the Eighties, The Eliminators’ plot seems as though it may have been generated by a random encounters table (TM TSR…get used to it. This will be a nerdy review). And it well may have been, because this movie is For Nerds, By Nerds.

The highlight of the film was without question John the Mandroid. Mandroid, a catchy term tossed around in this movie, is the same as cyborg. A rebuilt pilot (of course), John struggles with his murderous programming by an evil scientist, who plans to use John as the prototype for his army of Mandroids. He is introduced in the final stages of testing for this purpose, then ordered to be disassembled. A Japanese scientist (important later) has some moral qualms about dismantling a living person for scrap, though. Mad scientists always hire squeamish assistants. Dr. Quandary helps John escape, but not before being lasered through the heart, giving our Mandroid his Uncle Ben moment. Anyway, back to the Mandroid suit: he has removable/replaceable arms a la Evil Master of the Universe Trap-Jaw, as well as a working half-track lower body, which he can switch out for his robot legs (you were warned about the nerdiness. I forgot to mention the geekiness). The half-track is slow to the point of being ridiculous even when he does use it but it doesn’t matter because it looks BADASS. The Mandroid design team members are the real heroes of the movie.

John breaks into a military base to try to find some help with his hardware issues and picks up the next member of his adventuring party, a Colonel Hunter (I have no idea of what, she never wears any sort of uniform) working in military R & D. She has a pet robot named S.P.O.T., seemingly designed to make a neat toy. She asks John how he managed to get past the guards. “Knock out gas,” he replies. Security in this top secret base is lax, even by James Bond villain standards. A two ton metal man with one glowing red eye manages to sneak in more or less undetected. Hunter, played by Denise “Tasha Yar” Crosby no less, instantly believes his story and falls in with his quest. There’s no time for it but the “initial misunderstanding and big fight before the team up” is one of the only clichés missing from the movie. She also takes the lead at this point, being that she is strong-willed, resourceful and has military experience and John is a Mandroid with memory issues who is easily confused.

In the next role play session, uh, I mean movie scene, our party picks up its next member. Fontana, a smuggler (who in spite of his noodle arms insists on cutting the sleeves off of his shirt) and our next adventurer, is introduced arguing with the Greedo to his river rat Han Solo, Bayou Betty. Tasha Yar walks in and announces that the toughest pirate in the bar wins their fare upriver. A battle royal immediately breaks out, as times are tough and fares scarce. And you thought people on the river were happy to give. Luckily Fontana is smart and sits out the whole thing while Bayou Betty beats the snot out of the entire bar full of stereotypical tough guys. Then he clobbers her from behind and flees with his prize. Bayou Betty gives chase when she wakes but they escape her because, though she may have a superior craft and be a more skilled and ruthless pilot, she did not pack a laser-equipped Mandroid. Them’s the breaks, BB.

Our next intrepid hero to join the party, seemingly at random, is that most essential warrior of the Eighties, The Ninja. Kuji was pretty average for a ninja, though. On a scale of Foot Clan soldier to Snake Eyes, this guy barely rates a Lee Van Cleef. The best part about the guy is the actor’s name: Conan Lee. That name just screams warrior. But Kuji wasn’t just randomly staking out this TerrorDrome. Remember the guy who sacrificed himself for John’s escape? That was- DUN-DUN-DUUUNNN -the ninja man’s pappy! He wants vengeance or redemption for the honor of his clan or whatever it is ninjas want. So he throws his lot in with the Eliminators, which is finally taking shape with his addition. Everyone knows an adventuring party isn’t fully formed with less than four members, Priest (or Mandroid), Fighter (or Ninja), Thief (or Smuggler) and Wizard (or Scientist).

As you will recall, our villain planned an army of Mandroids, to use as an invading force. His end goal is to conquer the Roman Empire. Yep, the man has also perfected time travel. Pretty ambitious guy, too bad he was SO EVIL. Now that they have battled their way into his stronghold, the Eliminators attack with all their might. They do defeat him and foil his history altering and textbook-reprint-requiring scheme, stranding him, in a nifty twist, in the year 4,000 or so B.C. This makes him, as the Hunter so aptly puts it, “the ruler of nothing.” And that’s where the movie abruptly ends.

Given the nature of The Eliminators’ concept and likely target audience, the few female characters come off remarkably well. They neither ask for nor need rescuing in the film, and frequently are better at important tasks than their male counterparts. None of this makes the movie better or worse, but I think it worth noting in a movie so grounded in boy-friendly themes that it didn’t even bother with a romantic subplot. And make no mistake, this is a boys’ movie. Mandroids, ninjas, river pirates, laser-firing robots, Roman soldiers and caveman tribes guarantee that. As Fontana puts it, “What is this? A comic book?” And, yes, save the fact that it’s on film it is a comic book. But that is also the charm of the Eliminators. It is put together with a mixture of attention to detail and silly broadness that only love of genre and a low budget can provide. I don’t like to normally go so deep into the plot during a review but the Eliminators has become somewhat scarce and I don’t know how easily found it is on the internet since I never checked, but if you read this I think you’ll know how interested or not you will be in the film. 3 ½ stars, nicely hokey action/adventure genre piece, and a pretty good specimen of the Eighties too

Advertisements

It was fun to briefly look back on Plastic Man, a show I hadn’t seen since I was just a little kid. I had pretty vague memories of this since it had a much shorter life than its contemporary, Superfriends, and much less syndication. Clearly this was rival animation studio Ruby-Spears attempt to get onboard with their own DC Comics franchise after former employers’, Hanna-Barbara, long running success. And in its manner, Plastic Man succeeds at the template set by Superfriends. Its focus is largely on comedy over straight action and, even in aiming this at a very young set, Plastic Man is occasionally pretty funny. The animation is serviceable, on par for what was being done at the time, but the writing runs dull when it focuses on Plas and his crew. Penny is the worst, generally doing nothing but throwing herself unsuccessfully at Plas, who would rather moon over the always hateful Chief, who belittles and threatens Plas constantly, regardless his level of success. Yeah, it’s a pretty misogynistic cartoon. His other sidekick is Hula-Hula, who must have replaced comics’ Woozy Winks during the Great Ethnic Superhero Drive that brought us Black Vulcan and Apache Chief. He’s useless and blames every failure on his ever-present “bad luck.” That is until he meets with one of his innumerable contacts and becomes the Sam to Plastic Man’s Michael Weston, finding out the dirt on their villain-of-the-week. That brings me to the show’s real strength, its collection of oddball antagonists. Nowhere else are you going to find an anthropomorphic clam wearing an eye patch and a captain’s hat. The Weed seems like a precursor to Tick villain El Seed. The show could be indirectly responsible for a lot of the Tick’s rogue’s gallery in retrospect. Watching them on DVD got old, though, as the plots tend to run together and the jokes kept repeating themselves. I only made it through a couple of discs, skipping the Baby Plas years altogether. Fun is fun but I’ve had enough for now. 3 stars

I went into Bruno knowing that it would not be Borat. I was not aware of how homophobic and aggressively self-infatuated the premise would make the film, however. Firstly the film is about the shallowness and emptiness of seeking fame for fame’s sake. A number of current celebrity pop-topics get addressed (adopting an African child, reality programming as an end goal, fame for simply being famous) but rarely in a meaningful or insightful way. A good comedy is waiting to be made in this subject, possibly even by Cohen. Bruno did not become this film, though. It became Sasha Baron Cohen too absorbed with his own character to work out a way to make said character funny or interesting to watch.

Bruno, the title character, pushes all the obvious stereotypes of gay men well past any bounds for which he aims. The early montage of he and his lover and their sexual activities covered that more than enough, yet he returned to the subject repeatedly and it always goes on too long. More of a funny idea isn’t funnier. And the movie is so blatantly homosexual for shock’s sake alone that I couldn’t help but feel they went full circle as to make it a homophobic experience in itself.

The plot, such as it is, is hardly worth reviewing. It just ties the bits together very loosely. Bruno searches out new ways to regain his fame, which is to say new ways for Cohen to attempt to make people uncomfortable. And he does but rarely in a funny way. For example, he goes to a minister whose mission is to help gay men “recover” from homosexuality. He’s a ripe target who puts himself out there for the skewering. Yet Cohen presses and presses and the man holds up admirably. He never cracks or submits to the anger he must surely have felt. Somehow this minister is not the one who comes off looking absurd. Maybe he should have found a less pleasant target. Bruno camping with some hunters is an even worse example. It seems like he may have been trying to get shot in that bit. And it’s never funny to see him try to get into their tents nude. These guys weren’t even public figures who were asking for it. Where Bruno on the HBO series was brilliant at asking just enough questions to get people to say horrible things obliviously, the film Bruno seems determined to force them out of the subjects by shoving a one-man pride parade in their faces. I was just waiting for it to be over.

I won’t say that I never laughed during this. Several scenes are funny, at least in the beginning of those scenes. The movie tends to ring far more from them than they have to offer. Rarely did a scene finish without my having already lost interest in it, or the joke having grown already tiresome.

The main problem with the film is trying to put an unlikable character (Bruno) into the mold successful for a likeable character (Borat). Where Borat didn’t understand why that what was acceptable in his, yes fictional, realm was out of place in the settings in which he found himself, Bruno does and chooses to openly be an ass. So the comedy of that situation is lost and the main protagonist quickly loses the audience, too. Bruno too closely resembles the character he is intended to mimic, and he never redeems himself. In the movie his shining moment is accepting a normal person who loves him over his attempts at winning back his old life. Conquering one’s own vanity is not quite a heroic triumph. And then it ends on one of the flattest jokes of the movie, a marriage.

Truthfully, I was surprised when I read producer Jay Roach was heavily involved in something as successful as Borat. Bruno is much more the film I expected him to make. Roach, of the Austin Powers movies, is the antithesis of restraint. All he knows is too much, too often. Hopefully Cohen will pare down his next attempt at a character like this and try to explore his subjects more genuinely. 2 stars

I found Observe and Report a very uneven viewing experience. On the one hand I see director Jody Hill has not learned from Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith’s mistakes and Seth Rogen is cast once again as the lead in a film. He is a fine, funny supporting actor. He cannot carry a film, though. It’s just not for him. That said, this was a great character for him and his best performance in several films. Rogen completely owns the role of Ronnie Barnhardt, a listless mall security guard happy to be around his sycophantic staff and lord his minimal power over the shops until a flasher terrorizes the mall parking lot. This brings in actual police detective Ray Liotta to investigate. This disruption of Ronnie’s power structure sends him to the police academy for validation, which he fails to receive. His spiraling world view spins completely out of control from here until Ronnie attempts to redeem himself.

Along the way Ronnie meets a born-again-virgin who vies quietly for his affection and he spurns her for Anna Farris’ self absorbed makeup counter girl. Again, this love triangle ends predictably. Ronnie’s one character non-flaw, which sticks out far too obviously since the rest of his personality is nothing but flaws, is his affection and care for his hopelessly alcoholic mother. The scenes between them have a sweetness but it feels partially forced given every other scene in the film.

The movie did frequently make me laugh. Some of the lines are just ridiculously funny and Rogen hits those notes with the confidence of his Apatow upbringing. He knows how to do this, as does Hill, proven in the Foot Fist Way and Eastbound and Down. Their choice to make Ronnie so terribly sad and unlikeable made for a tough, uphill battle to win the audience over. They fought to a standstill, though. The thing that drives it back down for me the most are the fight scenes. When Ronnie takes on a group of unsuspecting drug dealers with a hidden weapon it comes across as pure masturbation. When he fights the police (sadly to the greatest fight anthem ever, HERO from Flash Gordon) in a similar situation it just becomes embarrassing. This isn’t a John-Rambo-killing-machine unleashed on a group of unsuspecting small town cops; it’s a fat mall security guard with delusions of adequacy. These scenes ultimately made the loudest statement in Observe and Report, that it is far more about living your preposterous middle school fantasies, rather than dealing with your problems as an adult. This also makes the final scene between Ronnie and the coffee girl ring even more false. 2 ½ stars for a film with potential that cuts itself off at its own knees