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.

Crash And Burn / Robot Wars [Double Feature]

Crash And Burn / Robot Wars [Double Feature]

It’s the year 2030, and man’s worst night­mares have become an oppres­sive real­i­ty in Crash And Burn. Big Brother has come to life in the form of Unicom, an all-pow­er­ful con­glom­er­ate that emerged in the wake of a dev­as­tat­ing glob­al eco­nom­ic col­lapse. A group of dis­senters has sur­faced to fight Unicom’s autoc­ra­cy and stop the mur­der­ous Synthoid — a human­like robot pro­grammed to kill all those who pose a threat to the orga­ni­za­tion. Starring Paul Ganus, Megan Ward (Dark Skies), Bill Moseley and Ralph Waite (Cliffhanger), and direct­ed by Charles Band.The ulti­mate bat­tle between metal­lic giants begins in Robot Wars when a mali­cious for­eign dig­ni­tary hijacks the last mega-robot on Earth, the MRAS-2, and threat­ens to unleash its crush­ing pow­ers again­st the peo­ple of the Eastern Alliance. There’s only one force mag­nif­i­cent enough to stop the MRAS-2 — a MEGA-1 robot hid­den under the city. It’s up to a rene­gade pilot, his engi­neer and a bril­liant archae­ol­o­gist to revive the MEGA-1 and reestab­lish world peace. Starring Don Michael Paul (writer/director Half Past Dead), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) and Lisa Rinna (Melrose Place).