The idea of artificial intelligence running amuck is an evergreen of science fiction because it taps into mankind’s deepest fears about technology. However, it’s a risky theme for filmmakers to tackle because you have to be careful and precise in your depiction of insidious technology. There’s a thin line between impressive and silly when it comes to depicting futuristic technology and if you lack the resources and/or the vision, it’s easy to fall on the wrong side of that line.
Case in point: R.O.T.O.R. This film’s poster, which doubled as the cover art of the VHS box, sold the potential viewer on a Frazetta-esque vision of a rampaging robot cop. However, the film itself offers up a vision that is much more lo-fi and unexpectedly eccentric. It is the tale of Coldyron (Richard Gesswein), a curiously macho scientist who is developing a robotic policeman for his local police force. Unfortunately, a janitor-induced malfunction brings said cop-bot to life and it is soon shooting up the populace for minor infractions. In short order, Coldyron is chasing down his rogue robot with the mysterious, bodybuilder-sized Dr. Steele (Jayne Smith).
R.O.T.O.R. is a bad movie but it takes such a bizarre, convoluted road to its bad movie destiny that it ends up being fascinating in ways that a good movie could never be. Director Cullen Blaine and writer Budd Lewis worked almost exclusively in t.v. cartoons so this movie has a weird, kid’s cartoon sense of humor, complete with wisecracking robot mascot and a Native American janitor who talks jive. The dialogue suggests they were going for some kind of quirky, animé-style humor, including an insane press conference where everyone asking questions about the cop-bot program mixes comic-book science jargon with weird philosophical non-sequiturs (“Is there some good vibration to its molecular tonality you can utilize?”).
And that’s just the first wave of weirdness in R.O.T.O.R. The plot meanders constantly in its setup, with unnecessary detours like a lengthy montage of waking up and eating breakfast for Gesswein set to a country tune and a romantic lunch montage set to a pukey mid-80’s ballad. The stone-faced performances of Gesswein and Smith are accidentally made surreal by prominent, unconvincing post-dubbing for both. Smith also looks like a futuristic wrestler who wandered in from the WWF. Finally, the titular cop-bot is simply a stuntman dressed in black and his budget-conscious rampage plays at a level of action and effects you normally see in Super-8 movies made by teenagers.
Thus, R.O.T.O.R. is strictly for the bad movie brigade — but they’ll be hypnotized by the straight-faced insanity of its approach to artificial intelligence.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recently released this as part of a 2-for-1 double bill with Millennium. Those who grew up with this title on VHS will be surprised by the crisp, colorful transfer it gets here and the DTS 2.0 stereo track allows you to soak up the dubbed dialogue and dopey soundtrack songs with ease. The one extra for this film is a trailer but as mentioned before you also get a full second film on the same disc.