This review has been a long time coming. In fact I had sent a copy of this obscurity to Matt over at the DTV Connoisseur for review, which he did here. I'd randomly tripped over this film during an internet search many years back, watched an online copy and fell in love. Robowar was the movie that opened my eyes to the world of 1980's Italian Hollywood rip-offs and continued my love affair with the amazing director of schlock, Bruno Mattei (credited here as Vincent Dawn). I've reviewed his awesome Strike Commando series and Brent Huff's fantastic Cop Game before; but Robowar is, as far as I'm concerned, the jewel of Bruno Mattei's very shiny crown.
Robowar is essentially a Predator rip-off, but with parts Terminator, Robocop and Filipino jungle war action madness to boot. Reb Brown and his team of mercenary fighters are recruited by the military to hunt guerrilla fighters in the jungle - OR SO THEY THINK. They are picked because they are the best of the best; and because of their nickname of B.A.M - Bad ass mother-fuckers. The mission is of course a ruse, as the B.A.M. soon find out that they are sent to stop an out of control robot called Omega 1, a prototype droid that has gone amuck in the jungle, once they notice that guerillas start getting shot at by firey red laser death just as the B.A.M. are.
Reb Brown is fast becoming one of my favourite actors of the 80's. Sure he's no thespian, but man does he have fun in the roles. From Yor the Hunter of the Future, to Sgt. Michael Ransom in Strike Commando, Dave Ryder in IMDB Bottom 100 movie Space Mutiny and here as Maj. Murphy Black, Reb Brown yells, shoots and beats up dinosaurs straight into the warmest cockles of my heart. He doesn't get as many great lines in Robowar as he gets in Strike Commando, but he does yell a lot and mow down half the jungle with his machine gun so that's fine by me. He also struts into this movie on a boat wearing a blue tank top with a PICTURE of a boat on it. Amazing.
The characters in Robowar are carbon copies of Predator's; you get the double-crossing officer that sends them on this mission and accompanies them, revealing the true mission half way through. There's the beefcake with a giant gun (Romano Puppo, Cop Game). The guy that wants to take on Robo with a knife (Max Laurel, Cop Game). The wise-cracking guy that dies early (Jim Gaines, Blood Hands, Strike Commando 2). And... well, we get a guy in a beard smoking a pipe. This is the single funniest image I've ever seen in an action movie and I present it for you below. Oh and they also rescue a girl that was being chased by the militia for sport (Catherine Hickland from Sweet Justice and Witchcraft, with Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff!).
The robot itself is absolutely hysterical. We are treated to it as early as the opening credits where we see through its eyes in Predator/T-800 vision and its incoherent robotic babble. ON TARGET ON TARGET. RECEIVE RECEIVE. FIRE FIRE FIRE. There is some contention out there in Internet-land that the robot is saying GREASY GREASY, which if true, is the funniest thing I've ever heard. The closest example of a droid that sounds like this would be the non-Number 5 robots (i.e robots 1 through 4) from the Short Circuit movie. If one of them shouted GREASY GREASY when firing red laser death at Number 5 I think I would have lost it.
And the robot's costume. Hahaha. It's the cheapest mix of a motorbike helmet and bondage suit leathers you will ever see. He has wrist mounted lasers which, I have to say, actually look halfway decent when being fired (that firey red laser death again). With respect to other effects in the movie, they are all practical and most of the time massive explosions of unarmed huts. OH and the music! The theme song to Robowar is pretty fun, but the best song is this power-rock ballad that's actually quite a fast song, and is played solely when the B.A.M. are SLOWLY CREEPING THROUGH THE JUNGLE. The misuse of this song is brilliant; it's the kind of song to play to a kickboxing match and not when soldiers are trying not to make the leaves rustle to loudly.
The key difference to Predator is the reveal of the Omega 1 - stop reading this paragraph if you don't want to know the answer - as it just happens to be Reb Brown's old Vietnam war buddy under that suit, who he thought had died (cue flashback) By the end of the film the robot is tired of wrecking havoc and looks into Rebs eyes, lowers his mask and in a very "I cannot self terminate" pre-homage to Terminator 2 (who says these Italian rip-offs cant inspire future Hollywood blockbusters!) says "DESTROY ME. DO IT.", handing him a detonator remote. Reb then jumps down the waterfall that's in every Bruno Mattei Filipino jungle movie and the Omega 1 blows to bits.
his isn't just sci-fi silliness, this is an all out action extravaganza. After all, it's a ripoff of three of the greatest 80's action movies made so you would expect the explosion-quota to be high. Some of the scenes are frame-by-frame accurate to Predator (see the video below the trailer for comparisons) so there are moments when the B.A.M. lay waste to the jungle with automatic weapons, throw grenades and knives at militia members (complete with lines that even Schwarzenegger would reject) and try to take out the robot by whatever means possible.
So yeah. Robowar. You'll have an absolute whale of a time with this and I was giggling with schoolboy glee remembering the best parts of the movie as I typed up this review. Best movie ever. An absolute crying shame that this is not on DVD. I'd love for Midnight Legacy to make this their next release - are you listening guys? I might just watch it again now.
This is not available on DVD, not in any legitimate fashion anyway. There were a few VHS releases around the world but the Japanese one is the best as it's widescreen. It took me a long time (and a not unsubstantial amount of money) to track down an original tape, but for most people going "grey market" will be your best option. The DVDR's of the Japanese tape will have burned-in Japanese subtitles but aside from that, it's a pleasing picture with clear sound. Runtime approx. 90 minutes.
eBay, on Japanese VHS, for a princely sum.
Comparison to Predator:
"Don't Move." (not as good as "Stick Around").