A lot of films from Charles Band’s Empire Films days are fondly remembered. Stuart Gordon-directed efforts like Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dolls lead the pack but there are plenty of other nuggets in the Empire back catalog worth digging out — Crawlspace, The Caller, etc. It’s hard to say the same for Band’s subsequent Full Moon Entertainment outfit. Like its predecessor, this company cranked out tons of films but its output feels comparatively uninspired.
Crash And Burn is a typical example of the Full Moon house style functioning at a low ebb of inspiration. J.S. Cardone’s screenplay is set in a dystopian future where the sun is out of control and the government — now a corporation called Unicom — rules the country with an iron hand. Tyson (Paul Ganus) is a Unicom delivery man who makes a stop at a t.v. station run by Lathan Hooks (Ralph Waite), who happens to be highly critical of Unicom. Tyson makes a good impression on Lathan’s granddaughter, Arren (Megan Ward), and decides to rest there for the night when a solar storm makes travel dangerous.
Unfortunately for everyone, there is a killer within the group, which includes techie Quinn (Bill Moseley), school teacher Parice (Eve Larue), obnoxious t.v. host Winston (Jack McGee), and his two porn star show guests (Katherine Armstrong, Elizabeth McClellan) . The killer bumps off Lathan and the others try to figure out who the mystery assailant is, eventually coming to realize the killer is an android sent there by Unicom to protect its corporate interests. The only hope for the dwindling group of survivors lies in an abandoned giant robot that Arren has been trying to reprogram.
Superficially, this should be an interesting movie: the plot blends dystopian sci-fi and a giant robot with mystery and slalk-and-slash elements in a uniquely genre-bending manner. Unfortunately, this plot doesn’t play out in a thrill-a-minute way. Crash And Burn suffers from a problem common to many direct-to-video films: gratuitous chatter. The first hour of the film is laden with dialogue that tells us what the future is like without showing it. It only livens up in the last half-hour, when it throws a dash of gore and nudity to wake up the audience. To make matters worse, you’ll probably guess who the killer is shortly after the first murder is committed.
Unfortunately, that’s where the second major problem of Crash And Burn kicks in: every cool element that pops up in it has been lifted from other, better films. The anti-corporate future stuff comes from the Alien series, the “killer android disguised as a human” stuff comes from The Terminator and Alien and the gratuitous addition of a giant robot at the end seems like an attempt to recycle leftover FX footage from Robot Jox (David Allen’s stop-motion effects are ace as always). There’s even a scene where the survivors test each other’s blood to see who the android is that copies a better and more famous scene in the John Carpenter version of The Thing.
The last nail in the coffin is the pedestrian direction from Charles Band. He frames everything for television, using a minimal amount of camera movement, and both of these choices enhance the “talk-a-thon” feel of the proceedings. Even when the excitement kicks in during the last third of the film, it’s staged in a dull manner. The acting is similarly pedestrian: Ganus makes a wooden lead, Ward is stronger on enthusiasm than consistency and everyone else pretty much fades into the woodwork. Ralph Waite offers the only really good performance and he’s out of the film after the first few reels.
To sum up, Crash And Burn is a reflection of the problems inherent in direct-to-video fodder from this era. When filmmakers know their work isn’t going to be judged by theatrical standards, they’re often tempted to sleep on the job. This is definitely true for Crash And Burn and its derivative, underachiever attitude ensures it will be slow going for even the most patient genre fans.