I’ve recently discovered the joys(?) of Asylum Studios films on Netflix. The business plan of Asylum, as I infer based on their catalog offered, is based on hoping that someone’s mother will see Transmorphers: Fall of Man for $5 at Wal-Mart and hope they got a deal on that movie their kid wanted so badly. I still hope to see Snakes on a Train someday to see how closely it follows the plot of the classic Samuel L. Jackson thriller. Now that I have caught a few of these, I wanted to talk about them but not waste a lot of time reviewing each one of these gems of flotsam, so I’ve compiled them all here in brief.
Note: Minimal research reveals that these films are known as “Mockbusters,” and are pretty much what I sussed out above.
Asylum Films- Four Brief Reviews
Princess of Mars (2009) appears to be a first for Asylum films: a pre-rip off, as Disney’s John Carter of Mars film has yet to be seen. While the title promises much Traci Lords, who wisely skipped to the end by donning the Slave-Leia garb right away, the movie focuses instead on the fact that John Carter can jump really high on Mars. I mean really high. He does this often to reiterate the fact that Martian gravity ain’t got shit on Earth gravity. Carter spends most of his time battling and then befriending a race of desert dwelling lizard people, comic book hero style, who then aid him in defending the titular Princess from a kidnapping plot by some other space goons. I think, anyway. I find that a staple of Asylum’s writers is an intricate and half-formed plot, like maybe they got bored and decided to wrap it up early.
My first disappointment was the inaction of Princess of Mars. I had to assume she would be kicking a lot more ass than none. John Carter’s unimpressive displays of jumping go on way too long and just seem to exist to fill out a feature length runtime. Much of the movie, about the Princess of Mars, dedicates itself to Carter integrating himself among the good people of Frogtown. Anyway, this movie was dull and confusing and only gets an extra half star because I can’t in good conscience give it less when Traci Lords dresses up as Slave Leia. 1 ½ stars
Asylum’s Sherlock Holmes (2010) makes a number of bold choices early on to distinguish itself from the big studio release of 2009. Where that film focused on the deeply complicated relationship between Holmes and Watson, as portrayed through the charismatic performances of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, this film chose two men from whom the eye retreats to convey a relationship of fizzling quality and intensity. Like I said, it’s a bold choice made by the filmmakers. Or they had no one better they could afford, which seems doubtful, because these two actors are nearly impossible to pay any attention to no matter what they are doing. The other choice, which is brilliant, is Holmes’ new nemesis: dinosaurs. A series of poorly drawn dinosaurs attack the poor of London, eating one man completely off screen, leaving not even his shoes, which was very convenient for the animators and props department.
The film opens in London, to a clear view of what appears to be Washington D.C.’s Capitol Building, with a withered old Watson regaling his nurse with his greatest untold adventure. Holmes investigates these attacks throughout the film, which are part of a larger scheme to destroy the British government. In the meantime, Holmes confronts the man he believes responsible, Spring-Heel Jack, whom I recall to be not a man but some sort of demon actually, but whatever. If you look too deeply into the details of these films you’ll only frustrate yourself. Oh, also he’s Holmes’ brother for added effect. Plus, he’s dying and has his own diving-suit inspired Iron Man armor. Holmes, ever the reasoning genius, punches this. The main thing about him, though, is that the actor, Dominick Keating, immediately stole their scenes from Holmes. He looks vaguely familiar but the actor playing Holmes may as well not even have been in the room when they were together, making his casting look like an even bigger mistake in comparison. I generally steer away from criticizing the cast but this man just did not have it in him to portray a character that outsized and was unable to hold his own against the villain of the film.
The rest of his inspired plan revolves around a fire-breathing mechanical dragon. Holmes’ solution is to chase it in a battered hot-air balloon. I forget how but he takes it down while Watson busies himself battling a steampunk robot woman. Holmes spends a good deal of these scenes in a cramped space pretending to be badly jostled. None of this is remotely as great as it sounds. I give credit to the film for adding as much nonsense as possible to the story to make it passable; dinosaur cloning, advanced robotics and a Guy Fawkes-like attempt to destroy Parliament should have made for at least an entertaining train wreck. It did not. I think in this instance, while nothing about the movie was good, the lack of interest falls to the casting. If someone over the top had played Holmes it would have been a much different film. Ben Syder’s somnambulant performances ground the ridiculous proceedings to a halt more than once. What could have been… 1 ½ stars
Transmorphers (2007) proved to be the least memorable of the bunch. Ostensibly a Transformers mockbuster, this is actually a straight up rip-off of the Terminator franchise that subs in alien invasion for time travel. One robot transforms, or “transmorphs,” into some vehicle in the credits to confuse you. This was obviously a thrown in moment with nothing to do with the rest of the plot. Spoiler: the humans win. 1 star
Transmorphers: Fall of Man (2009) gets a little more serious about stealing from the Transformers. Several vehicles do turn into robots in the cheapest-possible-CGI tradition of Asylum. A friend of mine just learning computer design does better work than this on his home PC. This is actually a prequel, with the Transmorphers invading Earth in their innocuous cell phone forms. They indiscriminately murder people to carjack them, though it would seem easier and more subtle to just steal parked cars to me. All of this leads to basically Maximum Overdrive happening. T:FoM does have two coups going for it: they managed to convince Bruce “I was fucking TRON” Boxleitner to stay in about half the film. Also, they found Jennifer Rubin somehow and convinced her to be in the whole thing. Oh, and Dick Van Dyke’s grandson wrote and stars for what that’s worth. I will give the movie this: it’s better than the first one. 1 ½ stars
I can’t exactly recommend any of these, even to bad movie fans like me. I will say this, though: if you watch these, bring some friends, get your MST3K quips cracking and maybe alter your consciousness a little to help things along.