This sequel-but-its-not-a-sequel to Robot Jox — marketed in the overseas markets as Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn — unlike its predecessor, foregone a U.S. theatrical release and went straight-to-video. As with Roger Corman creating Forbidden World and Space Raiders for the sole purpose of not so much to tell a compelling story, but to maximize his $5 million dollar investment in Battle Beyond the Stars by recycling that dopey Star Wars cash-in’s sets and special effects, Crash and Burn recycles the impressive Dave Allen and Ron Cobb stop-motion animated robots from Robot Jox. Just don’t hit the big red streaming button with the expectations of another anime-mech battle of the robots: at its core, Crash and Burn slaps a sci-fi coat of paint on the plot of Friday the 13th, with that film’s supernatural, woodsy killer, replaced by a James Cameron-inspired, unstoppable, synthetic desert killer.
To make sense of this new, its-not-a-sequel Band-verse: Let’s assume that the post-fifty years-after-the-nuclear war new order created by the two, new world superpowers from the Robot Jox timeline — the Common Market and the Confederation — suffered an economic collapse. That, coupled with the world ravaged by the greenhouse effect and an out-of-control sun creating “Thermal Storms,” allowed for the rise of the powerful Unicom Corporation controlling the world’s marketplace. Blaming the economic instability and collapse on the world’s technological dependency, Unicom banned all human usage of computers and robots. (In this new-verse, the mech-robots were develop for mining operations.)
While we have a pinch of The Terminator here, you’ll also notice an Orwellian pinch of the influential, “ancient future” novel, 1984, with scattered pockets of citizenry operating the “Independent Liberty Union,” a loose resistance movement in authoritarian opposition. One of the last free-speech strongholds against the corporate rule is a battered, over-the-air Public Access television station housed in an abandoned industrial facility, operated by Union sympathizer Lathan Hooks (Ralph Waite of TV’s The Waltons), a one time media executive who moonlights as a revolutionary. And, in a pinch from Alien — if you remember that the Weyland-Yutani Corporation infiltrated the Nostromo’s human crew with a cyborg to harvest alien eggs — Unicom manages to plant Quinn (a great Bill Mosley of Dead Air), a Sythnoid-cyborg operative (he’s the station’s Chief Engineer) among the station’s staff to kill Hooks and shutdown the station.
Keep your eyes open for the great work by a familiar cast of characters actors: John David Chandler of Drag Racer is a scruffy-creepy gas station owner; ubiquitous TV and film character actor Jack McGee (Brad Pitt’s Moneyball) is a slobbering talk show host; Megan Ward of Encino Man is Waite’s granddaughter and studio engineer; a perfectly-stoic-for-the-role Paul Ganus is very good in an early role (and one of his few leading-man roles) as Tyson Keen, a Unicom fuel courier who takes up the with TV station-based rebels after his departure is waylaid by a thermal storm.
For a Charles Band production-edict patched together by producer David DeCoteau (Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama) with a script by J.S Cardone (The Slayer, Outside Ozona), the production quality is high (courtesy of Band’s inventive repurposing of a rusted processing plant that reminds of Ravagers similar against-the-budget architectural redeployment). In addition, the acting on all quarters is solid, Band’s direction is tight and suspenseful, and Cardone crafted an interesting “ancient future” by way of convincing techno-speak and a well-fleshed sociopolitical backstory for a nicely-layered twist to its Alien-cum-Terminator-cum-Friday the 13th plotting. And while the Dave Allen 120-foot robot we came for doesn’t show up until the last throes of the third act, Cardone and Band earn bonus points for — instead of putting the words “July 2030” on the screen to advance the plot, they made a sensible, creative choice to have John Davis Chandler’s character swat a fly that lands on a dated calendar. And, instead of a text scroll or voiceovers (the bane of my screenwriting existence), they have Ganus’s Unicom courier watch Waite’s newscast on a television in the gas station to get us up-to-speed as to “the future” of Crash and Burn. (And since this is all in the Full Moon family: Ted Nicolaou, the director of the studio’s Bad Channels, The Dungeonmaster, Subspecies, TerrorVision and The Dungeonmaster, serves as the editor, here.)
All in all, Crash and Burn isn’t a bad Full Moon flick; it’s one that rates right up there with their vampire variant Subspecies as one of the studio’s best. Well, okay the sci-fi’ers Arena and, especially, the space westerns Oblivion and its even better sequel, Oblivion 2: Backlash, are pretty cool shots from the Full Moon canons, too.
There’s a couple alternatives to owning your own copy of Crash and Burn. Of course, used VHS tapes are bountiful in the online marketplace, with the first DVD version released in 2000 by Full Moon. Then, under the “Charles Band DVD Collection” box set, it was reissued in 2006 with other Full Moon titles. The most recent reissue is a 2011 double-feature DVD with the third, loose sequel, Robot Wars.