The renegade robot tomfoolery of Micheal Crichton’s Runaway (1984) — he also gave us Looker (1981) — (look for both reviews this week) and Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall, aka Killbots (1986), bring us to this “ancient future” ditty oft-run to ad nauseam levels during the earliest days of the Sci-Fi Channel before the double-Ys.
In the director’s chair is Mark Rosman, who made his debut with the Film Ventures International’s slasher The House on Sorority Row (1982). He was replaced on his second directing effort, Mutant (1984), by John “Bud” Cardos. As result of his clashing with FVI’s Edward L. Montoro, who produced, and subsequent firing from that Alien rip, it’s the film we remember Rosman for the most amid his 25 directing credits. (Eh, maybe Mutant is more of a zombie rip, or even hicksploitation-esque; who cares, it stinks in spite of its confusing marketing.)
Yeah, if we bought into the antiquated projections of all of the “ancient future” films we’ve reviewed this week — especially Evolver — all of our homes would be equipped with sentient robot scamps. Well, we are . . . but a table-top Alexa (for those too lazy to type or swipe) or a Roomba (for those too busy to vacuum floor schmutz) just isn’t the same as having a Robert Doornick International Robotics, Inc. SICO robot beep n’ boop us a “Happy Birthday” greeting.
Much like today’s smart phones, texting, and live video streaming fully integrating into modern screenplays, these MS-DOS-intergrated, teen-based movies came at us a fast and furious pace with the likes of the video game and computer nerdom of C.H.O.M.P.S (1979), Weird Science (1986), Short Circuit (1986), and to a lesser extent, Wired to Kill (1986). Not even Sly Stallone was immune, if you remember your Rocky films (IV, if you forgot).
If you revisited the films Prime Risk, Terminal Entry, and Defense Play with our reviews during this “ancient future” week, then you’re up to speed on the tech shenanigans of Evolver: we’re dealing with another bright and unmotivated teenager of the (lower-rent) David Lightman variety. While a whiz at computers, Kyle Baxter (Ethan Randall, aka Embry, “The Bass Player” from That Thing You Do!; Mark from Empire Records), much like Michael Brower from Brainscan (1994; reviewed this week, look for it), he’s evolved from hacking school computers-for-grades or bank ATMs to subsidize his allowance: he’s mastered the realms of online video games and virtual reality.
It’s in that VR-world that Kyle wins — after hacking the game — a national VR-Lazer Tag tournament held by Cybertronix, run by Q, aka John de Lancie. His prize: Evolver, a robotic opponent armed with a compressed air gun, which shoots soft-foam balls, to compete in real-life laser tag games.
True to his name, our little not-Johnny 5 doesn’t so much “short circuit”: he “evolves” across each successive game Kyle and his friends play. Now developed with an obsessive, human-driven competitiveness, Evolver’s changing out his soft-foam ammo for ball bearings and begins shooting out the eyes of and killing the school bully. As with JOSHUA before him, it isn’t just a “game” for Evolver, as his programming is based on S.W.O.R.D — Strategic War-Oriented Robotic Device. Oops. Calling Johnny 5 to set: Evolver is an A.I war machine — only he’s pissed off and not even Ally Sheedy can calm him down. And drivers beware: watch out for the flame thrower upgrade that can toast your vehicle.
As with the ten-years’ similar-earlier Chopping Mall with its souped-up, crazed Atari-meet-NES mini-bots, we could go back and forth on whether Evolver is a sci-fi action flick or tech’d up slasher film. And you may like Evolver. Or you may be on the fence. Or you may outright hate it. Me? I paid to see Evolver in theaters on a “date night” and it’s one of the few times my date (we met in a web-design class, natch) and I mutually agreed on a film critique and made it to the “Applebees phase” of the evening. The “chicks and films” thing worked — at least that time.
The proceedings , while outdated and behind the times in 2021 in the Year of Our Gates, Evolver is certainly better that the pixelated CRT monitors brain farts of Brain Twisters (1991) and Albert Pyun-directed Charles Band’s evil video game bum bomber that’s-not-Tron, known as Arcade (1993; yep, reviewed this week, so look for it). All in all, Mark Rosman gave us a pretty decent theatrical flick to kill a Saturday afternoon, or night, as per your own dating rules and regulations.
Rosman is still behind the keys and the lens with an interesting Beatles “What If” flick, In My Life (2021), starring Janeane Garofalo (in the just reviewed Lava) and Kevin Pollak (Outside Ozona). If you’re into the fairy tale romance of Prince William and Kate Middleton — and aren’t we all — Rosman made William & Kate (2011) for the Hallmark Channel and Sun, Sand & Romance with BSG-reboot star Tricia Helfer (2017) for Lifetime.
You can stream Evolver as a VOD on several platforms, but we found a free online stream on Roku for your personal devices.