OBLIVION: A One Way Ticket To Boot Hill (With A Laser Gun)
Charles Band has always gone for quantity in a big way. Whether you’re talking about his Empire or his Full Moon production companies, Band has never been afraid to pull the trigger and he filled theaters, video stores and pay cable stations with all manner of genre productions. Unfortunately, his push for quantity is often so intense that it overwhelms the “quality” part of things — and as a result, there are a lot of Band productions that fail to do justice to their oft-interesting ideas due to sloppy craftsmanship.
Case in point: Oblivion. Years before Cowboys & Aliens, this little genre-bender mixed the western and science fiction genres. It features a cast packed with familiar faces: Julie Newmar, Meg Foster, George Takei, etc. Unfortunately, Oblivion happens to be a very dull movie despite these attributes because it takes the path of least resistance any time conceptual inspiration or inventive storytelling is called for.
The problems start with the script, which combines the least interesting western clichés with the least interesting sci-fi clichés. It takes place on a distant planet, in the town of Oblivion — which happens to look exactly like an old western-town movie backlot. The story begins with Marshal Stone (Mike Genovese) getting shot down by Redeye (Andrew Divoff), a lizard-faced baddie who aims to take over the town with his band of outlaws. The only law left in town is (Foster), a cyborg who is rendered helpless by Redeye’s cache of a mysterious futuristic element that is worth more than gold.
Things change when the Sheriff’s estranged son, Zack (Richard Joseph Paul) comes home for the funeral. Along for the ride is Buteo (Jimmie F. Skaggs), an Indian that Zack saved from a giant scorpion attack. It seems he was left for dead by one of Redeye’s henchmen and he’s got revenge in mind. Unfortunately, Zack is reluctant to take action for reasons he won’t describe… and this inspires Redeye and his thugs to push their bad behavior further. Thus, the town’s brave souls must band together to fight off Redeye — and Zack must triumph over his mysterious problem to join in.
On the surface, Oblivion has a lot going for it — a game cast, good stop-motion effects from David Allen and nice production design & costumes. Unfortunately, the execution falls flat. The creative team behind the film couldn’t decide if they were making a straight genre-mash or a satire, so you get an unwieldy mishmash of tones. For instance, Buteo makes wisecracks when Zack saves him from the scorpions… but this is followed by a grim scene where he recounts the tale of how his family was killed. Reversals like this happen often enough to give the audience whiplash and the wavering tone becomes frustrating after a short while.
To make matters worse, every plot “surprise” has been done before (you’ll roll your eyes when a scene reveals that gold is worthless on this planet). They do come up with a decent reveal for why Zack is reluctant to fight — but then the writers break the rule created by this reason several times. It doesn’t help that the humor is intensely bad, especially when in-jokes are involved: for example, Newmar frequently references her Catwoman past by hissing and Takei gives the worst performance of his career as an over-the-top alcoholic doctor who spends most of his time growling Star Trek puns in a dinner-theater “southern” accent.
In terms of acting, Paul isn’t bad as the lead but is hopelessly bland — this was a regular problem with lead actors in Full Moon productions (the same can be said for Jackie Swanson as his love interest). Foster and Divoff do okay work when the script isn’t forcing them into bad camp-humor situations. It’s also worth noting that all of Divoff’s villainous sidekicks are annoying and unfunny, especially Musetta Vander as Divoff’s whip-toting main squeeze — she camps it up like a drag queen in every scene she’s in.
Finally, Sam Irvin’s direction is as indifferent as every other aspect of the film: he can’t control the film’s wonky tone, allows several actors to wildly overplay and gives the film a humdrum visual style. Like the script, his direction never takes the opportunity to do anything unique with the material. Irvin makes the simplest, least demanding choice at every turn and the movie lacks energy as a result.
In short, Oblivion has a cranked-out feel that suggests everyone thought throwing zap guns and alien makeup into a generic western would produce an instant cult movie. It didn’t and this film is best left in the straight-to-video ghetto with a lot of the other Full Moon productions.