R.O.T.O.R. (1987) — Pioneering the field of robot cops

“It won’t stop. It wasn’t ready. Its brain functions are incomplete. It can’t think twice, can’t reason, can’t change its prime directive. It’s like a chainsaw set on frappé.”

Justin’s rating: Every film is made better with Shoeboogie!

Justin’s review: Just when you think you’ve seen every gloriously bad ’80s scifi movie involving killer robots, there always seems to be another one out there that’s better than all of the ones you’ve already seen. And that movie is, of course, R.O.T.O.R. It’s the kind of movie that, the more you watch it, the more you feel like someone is pulling your leg, because there is just no way someone made something this deliberately nonsensical while trying to pass it off as serious scifi entertainment.

To people like you and me, it’s a gift of immeasurable worth.

Let me introduce you to Dallas police captain (slash cowboy) Barrett Coldyron — most ’80s hero name ever! — who is booted off his special project when he refuses to accelerate his four-year cop robot program to 60 days for the sake of a pushy politician. Instead, it’s up to his underling and a robot helper to finish the R.O.T.O.R. program and get a working model on the streets. R.O.T.O.R., by the way, stands for Robotic Officer of the Tactical Operations Research (but sometimes “Reserve”). It’s another tortured scifi acronym that brings shame to everyone who reads it aloud.

Well, our good pal R.O.T.O.R. promptly goes berserk when brought online, wantonly executing everyone it finds guilty of breaking any law. This is not desirable for a cop, nevermind a robot cop, and so Coldyron is recruited to chase it down and terminate the terminator.

Now, this may sound kind of doofy but nothing more or less doofy than you’ve seen in other ’80s flicks. The secret sauce to R.O.T.O.R. is its commitment to pure insanity. For starters, your main character is completely ADR dubbed with a different actor, there’s a bizarre (and questionably racist) character called “Shoeboogie,” robots that read comic books, stop-motion to make you cry, a woman with a skunk hairdo, a lead character prone to random bursts of violence, and a spate of Beach Boy references.

The dialogue comes across like this script was shopped around to first-year creative writing students in love with their own faux-profound statements. Everyone here is painfully trying their best and failing utterly to pull off human emotions and pertinent plot points. Every scene makes you feel like you’re a certified genius by comparison. Every action sequence is slow in such a way that you know the director was afraid he’d run out of usable set too quickly.

R.O.T.O.R. isn’t really that imposing of a bad guy anyway. He does try to Judge Dredd it for a while, but he’s easily thwarted by car honking (seriously), doesn’t seem to know how to bend over, and sometimes throws snit fits. I am a little suspicious that this robot disguises himself as a motorcycle cop — something James Cameron did with some other robot movie a few years later. But who actually saw this film to bring a lawsuit against Terminator 2?

Allegedly, scriptwriter Budd Lewis wrote this film intending it to be a Terminator parody, while the filmmakers didn’t understand that and attempted to make it as straight as possible. As a result, this movie is bad. It’s really bad. But it’s bad in a way that makes you want to run out and find others to share it with because it’s a thing of terrible beauty. From the absolutely unbelievable dialogue to leaps of narrative logic that will have you scratching a hole right into your brain, R.O.T.O.R. is never in danger of coming close to making sense or cobbling together a polished film.

I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a movie as quickly as with R.O.T.O.R., but now I know I must bear its movie-babies. Sure, our children won’t be functional humans who know how to talk or evade killer robots, but they’ll be popular on the midnight film circuit and be available to sign headshots.

Didja notice?

  • Really long scrolling opening text
  • An actual car phone
  • “Buttery morning sunlight”
  • And now for a country morning country music breakdown
  • Cowboys love blowing up tree stumps with dynamite
  • Police robots love giving a good fistbump
  • Stop-motion robot dance
  • He wonders if his own creation can destroy civilization? That’s not a vote of confidence.
  • Tiny desk robot!
  • Robots like french fries?
  • This movie absolutely loves its huge time stamps
  • The Indian who is clearly NOT an Indian claiming that everyone else is “racist.” I kind of feel like this foretold 2021 America right here.
  • The convenience store hostage who turns into a martial arts whirlwind
  • ROTOR has his own locker for some reason
  • And he has a ROTOR motorcycle set up too?
  • It’s embarrassing to have a wife who works. Welcome to 1987.
  • ROTOR’s great weakness: car horns
  • And then the robot burned the grill cook to death
  • The guy challenging ROTOR to a martial arts duel
  • ROTOR can see the past
  • So many people die for this woman
  • “Use your failure against him! Your weakness is his weakness!”
  • And our hero is gunned down in the last few minutes by the politician. Sure. Why not.

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