an Episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000
I’m way behind on watching these new MST3K episodes, and considering I only have a one year subscription to Gizmoplex, I better hurry up! As I mentioned in my previous review, this season is easily shaping up to be every bit as good as some of the classic episodes, with production taking a step back and slowing down a bit. That was a big issue for me in the two Netflix seasons, as some of the jokes were far too rapid fire. To me, it lost the magic of being some guys sitting around hurling jokes at terrible movie and become far more noticeable as a scripted comedy routine. For episode two, Jonah and The Bots are tackling a film called Robot Wars, a disaster of a 1993 science fiction film sometimes misleadingly labeled as the sequel to Robot Jox. While both films came from the same producer, have a few of the same actors, and have similar themes (giant robot battles), their storylines are supposedly unrelated. As far as I can tell, this film was never released in theaters and was basically a direct-to-video cash grab for the studio, and boy does that show!
“The live BACKER PREVIEW SCREENINGS continue with the rough cut of Episode 1302! In the theater, Jonah’s crew watches as an archeologist and the world’s most misogynist robot pilot uncover an international conspiracy to unearth a giant robot, in “Robot Wars” (1993). Meanwhile, the Mads introduce the Simulator of Love, and a new Gizmonic technician arrives.
In the year 2041, the rebel Centros are a plague to the survivors of the great toxic gas scare of 1993. A renegade Megarobot pilot and an archaeologist must team up (despite personal differences, a reluctant romance, and official pressure to cease and desist) to thwart the Centro’s attempts to resurrect a hidden Megarobot, with which they can challenge the prevailing order.”
I guess that in some ways, Robot Wars has some cool stuff including decent mecha designs and some fairly ambitious use of CGI animation in computer monitors and such. The film ends up having the appearance of some of the more popular syndicated TV shows of the time, including shows like Xena Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Costumes look pretty silly, but are actually quite ambitious and definitely go to show off the idea that this is taking place in the future, even though the style has a lot more in common with the early 90’s than something that could conceivably be in like twenty years.
The biggest downfall of this film lies in the acting, and especially in the fact that nobody ever does a convincing dramatic performance when it’s necessary. Everyone talks in one-liners, stilted “witty” banter, and sarcastic quips. It gets somewhat over-the-top to a degree that even the most hammy Joss Whedon Script feels like Citizen Kane in comparison. The film never knows whether to be serious or a comedy at just about every turn, which makes this extremally easy for the Satellite of Love crew to rake this over the coals. That’s not even mentioning one of the most skin-crawling main characters I have seen in quite a while.
Some of the best jokes in the episode come at the expense of the main character Marion Drake as portrayed by Don Michael Paul. The way this character is played is the epitome of what 90s culture seemed to think a charismatic heartthrob was. If he was not sexually harassing every woman he sees, he was constantly bucking orders and pissing his superiors off at every turn. It’s like he wanted to be Maverick from Top Gun, but didn’t realize Tom Cruise didn’t play the character as a giant sociopath. It’s the sort of character that would easily be at home in a police drama where The Captain demands for a hot-headed detective to turn his badge in and leave the force, minus any sort of redemption arc bringing that man out of the gutter.
Also featured are TONS of 90’s reference jokes, keeping in theme with the film. We get videogame references, song lyrics like “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America, and sitcom one-liners. Just like when the show used to make fun of obscure 70’s and 80’s political references (which went over my head as a kid), I’m sure this new version is confusing youngers that were not alive in the 90’s just the same.
The host segments were generally good, especially all the digs at 90’s culture this movie seems to relish in. Since most of the film deals with a post-disaster civilization that was flooded with radiation in 1993, a booming tourist industry pops up where people can tour an abandoned pristine 90s town called Crystal Vista much in the same way modern people tour Pripyat in Ukraine to see Chernobyl ruins. One of the better host segments sees Jonah as a salesman for a timeshare full of this stuff. He tries to entice folks to visit Crystal Vista’s themed attractions such as the Pulp Fiction diner, the Wrath Mountain rollercoaster, M.C. Hammer’s massage parlor, and a movie theater that plays Titanic on an endless loop. He ensures everyone that they will be getting the complete experience, because the internet service is slow 56k modem dial-up.
Another fun segment is a send-off of one of the more confusing characters in the film, a comically inept man named “Stumpy”. The crew honor Stumpy as a shining example of how to be the perfect bumbling sidekick to help prop up a film’s hero. With a hero as garbage as the one we have here, Stumpy did triple duty to get the story moving. Max considers it to be an inspiration for his life.
This is a fine episode, but not the instant classic it could be since the movie isn’t a total disaster like others. Unusually, if a movie is a complete cinematic abomination everyone has more material to work with and you get classics like the Manos episode. Here, this movie isn’t great, but it’s just mediocre, and some jokes were just there to poke fun at the 90’s more than anything. I am intrigued by adding another host, which I know about since she has done previous work on the show, and how that will work from episode to episode. The next episode should be interesting.