Editor’s Note: Yes, there was, in fact, a (lost) third sequel — and fourth film — in Stuart Gordon’s mecha-verse begun in 1989 with Robot Jox and continued in 1990 with Crash and Burn, then Robot Wars.
Welcome to the world of the Robo Warriors — a review inspired by an anonymous inquiry via our contact form, in response our reviewing Gordon’s previous films. We also reviewed Future-Kill earlier today, as result of another reader contacting us after our review of Cybernator.
Our readers, God love ’em and the VHS junk they love!
So strap on the popcorn bucket, let’s robo jox this joint!
The always-welcomed James Remar, aka Ajax, from, ironically enough, the end-all-be-all of gang films, The Warriors (1987), but you know him for his most recent work as “Peter Gambi” on the CW network’s Black Lightning in the U.S., stars in place of Gary Graham and Don Michael Paul as our troubled, down-and-out mecha-jock.
Paramount British Pictures, the Australian division of American intellectual property holders to the franchise, Paramount Pictures, contracted Australian director Ian Barry (1980’s Chain Reaction starring Steve “Goose” Bisley of Mad Max fame) to helm a script penned by U.S. network TV scribe Michael Berlin (MacGyver, 1985 – 1992) based on Gordon’s films and, as we will come to discover, an old Gordon screenplay.
However, this time, instead of Stuart Gordon or Charles Band behind-the-scenes we have . . . as our executive producer . . . oh, no, not Cirio H. Santiago? Yes, it’s old Uncle C. of so many of the video fringe delights of the apoc variety (The Sisterhood, Stryker, Wheels of Fire) that we love around here amid the B&S About Movies cubicle farm. The web portal Condition Critical, in their never-ending quest to catalog lost, obscure and bizarre VHS and DVDs of the ’80s and ’90s, gathered up all of the video sleeves, god bless ’em, on their Robo Warriors tribute page — and those covers, cover the plot, or lack thereof, in a nutshell, so we don’t have to (and don’t want to). Also known as — ugh, the title-confusing — Robot Jox 3 in some quarters, and released in the overseas markets in 1996, Robo Warriors didn’t hit U.S. home video shelves and cable television platforms until 1998. (This played on the Sci-Fi Channel before the “Ys”? Okay, if you say so.)
If you read our review for Robot Wars, the third film in the series, we discussed Stuart Gordon’s failed plans to follow that 1993 release with Battle Jox — a forth film featuring dinosaur-inspired mechs. Well, as it turns out, that film actually did get made afterall, sort of — and this is it. Hey, we are as shocked as you are that this film even exists.
Seriously, did you ever hear of this?
We didn’t, at least not until a reader messaged us about Robo Warriors in the wake of our recent “Apoc Week” reviews for the Gordon-Band mech-verse films. And it seems you, nor anyone in the U.S., did, either. Perhaps we did see this on home video shelves . . . and mistook it as a repack of — or even sequel to — the abysmal Vincent Dawn, aka Bruno Mattei, rip puke-pastiche of Rambo, Robocop, The Terminator, and Predator that is Robowar (1988). Hey, it takes strength to pick up another Mattei film, after having to digest the likes of Shocking Dark, and even more so when it comes to the resume of Reb Brown (Yor, Hunter from the Future, Space Mutiny), so we get it. We really do.
However, from the looks of the film’s IMDb and Letterboxd reviews, Robo Warriors became a popular release in Germany and Russia, with feedback from both users and critics in those countries. Go figure, they love U.S.-based product — even when that U.S. programmer is cheap jack-produced in the Philippines.
So, the dinosaurs, i.e., the lizard angle from Gordon’s Battle Jox concept, carried through into Robo Warriors, as man, in the year 2036 (ugh more timeline confusion, since this takes place before the events in Robot Wars) finds themselves subjugated by the (make-up impressive) Terridax, a humanoid-reptile alien race. And the aliens have their own 120-foot mech — that looks like a exoskeleton dinosaur, natch — to do their dirty work. And James Remar is the last of the Earth’s Robot Jox. And Remar and an (seriously) annoying, tech-savvy kid (aren’t they all in these movies) set off into the jungles — like our ne’er-do-well pilot in Robot Wars, who set off into the desert wastelands with an annoying woman — to find the last battle bot buried in the brush. And come to think of it: Megan Ward’s teen in Crash and Burn was mech-tech savvy, as well. Yeah, so it’s like that: recycle, recycle, recycle . . . and never, ever follow the timeline from the previous film. And pull out the old grandfather-tells-a-story trope (Uh-oh, lazy writing alert! My use of “trope,” not the grandfather plot-device.) to set up the mech-verse.
While the production values, in spite of Uncle Cirio in the mix, are high and it certainly looks like a Dave Allen and Jim Danforth joint, the robots — this time — are by designed by Anna Albrecht (Gremlins, Enemy Mine, later Star Trek: First Contact) and Wanda Peity (Val Kilmer’s Red Planet). Why weren’t the Allen-Danforth bots from the other films repurposed, only Uncle C. knows. The apocalyptic, wasteland scenery comes courtesy of the abandoned Clark Air Base, which served as the U.S. forces’ staging area in the Philippines during World War II and the Vietnam War. James Ramar and his Robo Warriors co-star, James With, aka James Wearing Smith, previously worked together on The Quest (1996), which filmed in Thailand and starred Jean-Claude Van Damme and Roger Moore. Ramar and With also worked together on the Billy Zane-starring The Phantom (1996), which Paramount Studios also produced.
Robo Warriors is a film of a time and place. If you were a kid growing up on the tail end of the fading home video boom in the ’90s and picked this up on VHS, it’ll warm those ol’ VCR cockles — as did Robot Jox, the 1989 original does for myself. And while the dino-robot battle in the jungle opening is pretty impressive and James Remar delivers the thespin’ chops and the SFX are improvement over Robot Wars, but . . . ugh. Credit it to my first-time 2021 eyes watching this, but everything spirals into boredom beyond belief until the last throes of the third act kicks in and the alien vs. human bots start kickin’ some poly-carbon ass. But extra points for going old-school kaiju in ditching the stop-motion or CGI animation or putting two guys in mech-suits swinging, slicing, and blasting each other. Yeah, I dig SFX retro-vibes, but as with the previous two “sequels”: it’s all too little, all too late.
Again, a 10-year old tech-savvy kid hookin’ up with a burnt-out mech-warrior will appeal to the 10-year old kid in you that rented this in 1998, but not to the old bastard (moi) streaming this for the first time in 2021 — in Russian, no less. This is totally meant for kids, but isn’t made for kids, as this is all pretty heavy adult stuff in the frames. And I don’t think seeing this in its original English format will help — not even with my years of Godzilla kaiju experience. And it didn’t: A quick call into my bud, Mikey (whose own vinyl and VHS collection out rivals my own, you bastard), who turns out had a copy in his insane tape collection (“I can’t believe I actually have it,” he says.), solved the problem. So, yeah, I watched Robo Warriors, twice, which was once too many times for me, my Uncle Cirio and Bruno memories, be damned.
So, speaking of the Russian dub I watched: There’s no luck on finding any English VODs or freebie streams for Robo Warriors — and the only upload we could find was a Russian dub (there’s a German dub on the ‘Tube, but without audio and Spanish subtitles), but at least you can check it out for yourself on You Tube. To date, Paramount has never officially released Robo Warriors on DVD. In lieu of a trailer, we found this rip of the film’s opening five minutes (embedded below). Again, it’s impressive. And as the YT poster points out, we’ve not only got Stuart Gordon’s influences here, but pinches from the abysmal Battlefield Earth and the incredible Platoon . . . and I’ll even add Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator into the mix. (See, just like Bruno Mattei’s Robowar, get it?) But when it’s a film produced in the Philippines by Cirio H. Santiago, well, would you expect anything more . . . or less . . . than a pseudo-plagiaristic hodgepodge of more successful American films?