Plenty of films are bad, but only a select few take it to a supreme level of incompetence, breaking all of the rules and logic of how to make a motion picture. R.O.T.O.R is definitely one of these, a film where the creators make baffling choice after baffling choice on nearly every level of the finished product, creating a truly unhinged world where anything can happen.
Made in 1987, this was presumably put together to cash in on the contemporary success of Robocop and the still recent success of The Terminator. The Dallas Police Department has decided that the only thing that stands between them and the end of civilisation is an army of mechanised law enforcers. Their dedicated robotics department is working on a prototype, R.O.T.O.R. (Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research), but when this unfinished creation is accidentally activated, it goes on a murderous vendetta against one woman. Can the machine’s creator, Dr Coldyron (pronounced Cold-Iron) stop it before a bloodbath occurs?
Now if all of that sounds like a straightforward, albeit derivative, film, then that is because I have left out the details, and the details are what make this so brilliant. A few of my favourites include:
1. Every one of the scientists involved knew that the robot could either be a success or a genocidal maniac – but they still went ahead with it anyway
2. Despite it being many years from completion, the robot already has a locker with a perfectly fitting uniform already there for him.
3. The police headquarters parking lot looks like a used car showroom, with a shiny new motorbike, ready and waiting to be ridden off.
4. In case you are concerned you do not know enough about Coldyron and his morning routine the film opens with a ten MINUTE sequence, detailing his love of making coffee, riding horses, giving coffee to his horses and blowing up tree stumps before driving to work
5. Despite supposedly being years away from completing the artificial intelligence, they already have a seemingly fully cognizant droid – a sassy little sidekick called Willard, complete with police cap, a gun, and a back chatting attitude
6. R.O.T.O.R has a moustache
Characters and plot strands come and go seemingly at random, such as Coldyron’s disappearing girlfriend, or the co-creator of R.O.T.O.R who is never mentioned until the last 20 minutes, and just happens to be a muscle bound martial arts expert. These sort of touches give the whole thing a hysterical almost dreamlike feel that is always entertaining.
Then, there is the dialogue, which is up there with the best of the surreal stream of consciousness poetry of Ed Wood. My favourite quotes include “It's like a chainsaw set on frappe”, “Fire me and I'll make more noise than two skeletons making love in a tin coffin” and “The only difference between a hero and a villain is the amount of compensation they take for their services”. If you think I am taking these out of context for cheap laughs, then, believe me, they do not make any more sense in context.
The only truly painful bits are the attempts at ironic self-commentary through lines like “What do you think this is a bad Sci-Fi film?” and “Bet this is how Terminator started”. Thankfully, the rest of R.O.T.O.R displays a magnificent lack of self-awareness by the makers. A never give up and never think things through attitude that is almost heroic and gives this film a well-deserved places in the crapola Hall of Fame.