R.O.T.O.R. (1988)

R.O.T.O.R.

Written and Directed by Cullen Blaine

Run Time: 90 minutes

Tagline: Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

Few movies cry out to be reviewed as much as R.O.T.O.R. This 80′s sci-fi cheap-o movie has absolutely everything that makes a bad movie good:

  • Goofy character names
  • Embarrassing racial stereotypes
  • Odious comic relief
  • Continuity errors galore
  • Plot holes a’plenty
  • Horrible synthesizer music
  • Confused time lines

and the list goes on and on. How could I resist taking a closer look at this one? Obviously I couldn’t.

I would like to note that throughout this review I refer to the ROTOR robot as a "he" and not an "it" because it feels more natural since it’s formed as a male police officer.

Oh, here’s the trailer to get you started…you decide whether or not you want to continue after this:

Still want to continue? Ok…

Open with crawling text which hasn’t been a good sign since, oh, "Star Wars". The fun part is that the scrawl rolls up the screen over what is supposed to be a super-high tech metal chassis of a robot; much like the burned-up metal skeleton from the end of "Terminator". Unlike in "Terminator" where millions were used on special effects, this robot seems to have been made out of scraps of Plexiglas topped by a plastic halloween skull wearing red sunglasses.

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Today’s Headlines

Murder, Rape, Robber, and Arson.

Tomorrow’s Solution…

R.O.T.O.R.

Robotic

Officer

Tactical

Operational

Research

Our objective was to build the perfect cop of the future…a machine programmed to overcome any obstacle, to combat the crimes and corruption which threaten the very existence of our society…but, something went terribly wrong.

It always does, brother, it always does…

Friday 4:55 P.M.

Cut to stock footage of normal downtown traffic while an "Eye in the Sky" helicopter traffic-jockey explains how incredibly busy the traffic is. Note that this traffic report in no way resembles the scene shown in the movie. In fact, the 12 lane highway seems to be at around 20% capacity while the reporter goes on and on about how everything is "jammed up".

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Wow, now that’s some killer traffic!

Meanwhile, a couple is out driving around in the dark. "I’m leaving all my troubles at the office; no phone, no work, just a quiet peaceful weekend at the lake," says the guy. Yeah, we all know what happens when people explain how much they’re looking forward to a quiet weekend…mwu-ha-ha!

Suddenly an explosion occurs! Well, the sound of an explosion is foleyed onto the sound track; we don’t actually see anything blow up. The car pulls up into a cloud of smoke which is most likely from an off screen bonfire fanned by stage hands meant to represent the aftermath of the gigantic explosion. "What the hell?" exclaims the driver upon seeing a battered, bloody man leaning over an unconscious woman. For some reason it’s completely dark out but when they parked the car it was still dusk…maybe it took the driver a few hours to get his door open.

"Call the police!" gasps the bloody man kneeling in the road. The driver rushes back to the car to call 911, but I thought he just said he left his phone at work, so I’m already confused.

Friday 7:30 P.M.

A helpful time stamp informs us that it’s 7:30 P.M. But, is it really pitch dark in Texas at 7:30 in the summer? I guess it as. A policeman cuffs the still-unnamed, bloodied man for his transport to Division. "Buckle up for safety, sir" says one of the detectives. I’m not sure how he’s going to do that since they’ve hand-cuffed him, but it’s the thought that counts.

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Another voiceover introduces us to the man in the back seat, our hero, Captain Coldyron (pronounced "cold iron")…"Two days ago I was considered a leader in the field of police robotics; today I’m thought of as a modern day Frankenstein." Yes, we all remember back in the 80′s when police robotics was in its heyday…ahhh, good times. Well, maybe he meant police robot movies since Robocop was released a year before this one and Terminator just a few years before that. Now, I’m not implying that those other movies "inspired" this one in anyway…but hey, you do the math.

Anyway, Coldyron continues his voiceover as we continue our Dallas stock-footage flyover. You see, Coldyron was working on an army of police robots to fight crime and take humans out of danger…"But how do you stop a machine that’s gone berserk with only a ‘Go’ button and no compassion?" Good question. Thankfully my DVD player has a "STOP" button when I need to take a break from this movie.

Division Headquarters 10:00 P.M.

We finally arrive at HQ where a pair of underpaid film extras, sorry, I mean Detectives, question Coldyron about his involvement with the dead motorcycle officer. Not wanting to incriminate himself, Coldyron refuses to discuss his robotics research which presumably led to the incident.

Female Detective tries to play it nice, but I think she sort of screws up her lines here,"You know that this is an official debriefing…officially not an arrest questioning…then please state so on the record, doctor,…unofficially."

"Officially!" the other Detective shouts.

Female Detective agrees, "Officially."

I hope all that made sense to you.

Anyway, throughout the questioning Coldyron keeps fiddling with a golden key-shaped object (Plot Point!) as we begin our Official Film Flashback:

"Last Thursday my life was a lot easier…," Coldyron begins.

Thursday 5:00 A.M.

Cut to Coldyron’s ranch which provides us with gratuitous padding lasting nearly 3 minutes. You’d think I’d be used to this kind of run-time filler after all the crappy movies I’ve seen but it’s just as boring as the first time. We get to see pretty much every tiny, dull detail of Coldyron’s morning routine: waking up, eating breakfast (coffee for the horse, the carrot for him…Humor!), etc. etc. After a while we see Coldyron riding around on his horse testing a new type of explosive detonation cord. Well, it’s not super exciting, but at least something is happening. Oh, and remember this cord, it’s going to show up later.

Tactical Operations Lab 9:00 A.M.

Now driving to work…wait…Coldyron did all that stuff in the previous scene before even leaving for work!? Good grief, I guess you can safely say he’s a morning person. Inside the research lab we catch a glimpse of odious 80′s hip-hop dude named Shoe Boogie (!) who starts hip-hop dancing with Willie the Obnoxious Comedy Robot. If I remember correctly, there was a mandate back in the 80′s that required all films to have at least 1 moon-walking scene. Yeah, that has to be it.

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Meet Shoe Boogie and Willard. No. That’s not a typo.

Coldyron heads upstairs where he’s to present the latest developments of the "IA1138 chassis" to a team of developers from Dallas’s sister research unit. "We scientists are like the science fiction writers…prognosticators of the future." Isn’t that sort of redundant? Anyway, Coldyron fires up a handy film projector which treats us to a lovely view of R.O.T.O.R…the prize result of nearly 4 years of research.

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"Is this what your research has lead up to?" asks a nearby Wisenheimer, "a tin marionette?"

"Not exactly," says Coldyron. (I’m surprised he didn’t punch him in the face.) You see, a certain Dr. Steele has developed the chassis from "an unknown alloy…simply given an obscure number." (What exactly is an obscure number?) As Coldyron continues his explanations, the crowd watches the movie screen in rapt attention as the camera pans up and down this awesome technological marvel known as R.O.T.O.R. (Thanks to my modern day technological marvel known as a "Pause Button", this shot also reveals the screws holding the tiny robot model together.)

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Now that’s convincing.

A Dr. Carl speaks up next, "What’s your [take] on this unknown alloy? Is there some sort of good vibration to its molecular tonality?"

"Exactly! Watch," says Coldyron as they watch ROTOR begin a sequence of goofy movements that looks like a really bad dancer performing, well, a really bad dance.

"The chassis: how can it animate without gears or motors?" asks another who apparently didn’t see all the, er, gears and motors in the chassis close ups.

"Are you saying this thing can do anything from aerobics to Tai Chi?"

"Right! It can do karate to full-field combat," Coldyron says as we see ROTOR performing some enthusiastic karate chops. This is actually pretty funny; not only because of the rudimentary animation meant to represent state of the art robotics, but because Coldyron’s presentation is a reel-to-reel film which perfectly coincides with whatever the visiting scientists happen to ask about.

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Hiiiii-keeba!!!

"God only knows this is spectacular," remarks another scientist, and I was sure he was going to start laughing, "but what exactly are we dealing with here?"

"Molecular memory and learning. All it needs is a spark: a current of electricity as a catalyst."

(So, you mean just plug it in?)

"The meta itself can learn, and teach itself." Oh, yeah. Sure.

Anyway, Coldyron goofily answers more goofy questions and his presentation finally comes to an end. After the briefing, Division Commander Buglar calls Coldyron up to his office to give him some bad news. "Let’s dispense with the social amenities and just say we did," Buglar grumbles. Uh oh. This can’t be good. Not with dialog like that. Apparently the local cash cow Senator wants a progress report and wants a progress report…pronto! Feeling the heat from, Buglar, without consulting Coldyron first!, promises the Senator that ROTOR will be ready for production in 60 days.

Coldyron insists that this schedule is utterly impossible, and refuses to be bullied despite Buglar threatening to pull him off the project:"You fire me and I’ll make more noise than two skeletons making love in a tin coffin!" After some more back-and-forth with Buglar, Coldyron resigns from the ROTOR project and hands over the reins to his assistant, Dr. Houghtaling. After stomping out of HQ, Coldyron calls his girlfriend, Penny, for lunch to discuss this recent downturn in his fortunes. The lunch scene, purely designed to eat up run time, naturally includes a horrible song called "Hideaway", which is an odd choice of music since they’re eating in a huge hotel restaurant in the middle of town.

Tactical Operations Computer Center 1:30 P.M.

Back at the (cough) Computer Center, Houghtaling struggles to figure out how in the hell he’s going to have ROTOR ready in 60 days while Obnoxious Comedy Robot, Willard, stands by making wise cracks. "Punch in all the impulse codes," Houghtaling orders before heading down to the tank to "trace the circuits by hand." Sure, I guess that sounds scientific enough for me. And get this, Willard hesitates to help because he’s afraid of electricity…but he’s a robot, get it? ha ha

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Dr. Houghtaling: The new head of the world’s most advanced robotic lab.

 

Meanwhile in another lab, a young female researcher is minding her business while Shoe Boogie moonwalks across the lab in an painfully awkward attempt to woo her. Frustrated by her continued reluctance to share her phone number with him, Shoe Boogie removes his Walkman headphones and casually tosses them onto some nearby electrical equipment so he can get a little closer to his prey. The woman eventually leaves in disgust after having endured Shoe Boogie’s futile attempts to pick her up.

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The first thing I agree with in this movie

After shooting off a lame parting jibe in her direction, Shoe Boogie shrugs (I’m guessing rejection by the fairer sex is a large part of his life) and picks up the headphones with his switchblade comb causing an electric spark and…I think you can see what this is all going to lead to.

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Safety protocols? We don’t need no stinking safety protocols!

Later that day we see Coldyron sitting in his truck outside a convenience store. Maybe he’s considering applying for a job now that his career in advanced robotics research has been shot to hell. After a moment or 2 some hoods pile out of a car and saunter into the store. Coldyron, sensing trouble, approaches their car and asks the driver to give him change for a dollar. I’m not sure what all this is about, but Coldyron points out that it would give him extra time to get away if he did because, ugh. Whatever. Hilariously, Coldyron goes over to a newspaper machine and purchases a paper with a handful of coins…but the bad guy didn’t give him any change! OK, now I get it: Coldyron bought the paper so he could conceal his gigantic pistol from the bad guys when he is inevitably forced to confront them. Seeing a guy looking suspiciously watching him from a payphone, Coldyron walks over and promptly begins whooping his ass! Lucky for Coldyron this was the robbers’ look out; what if it actually was some poor dude on the phone? Well, the robbers pour out of the store with a female hostage and a Mexican stand-off ensues. "Easy, Greasy…" Coldyron says to the Latino guy holding a gun to the woman’s head, convincing me that Coldyron should stick to robotics and not hostage negotiation

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After some "tense" banter, Coldyron yanks out his enormous silver spray-painted toy pistol from the newspaper and blows the guy’s head off. In the commotion the woman hostage breaks free and proceeds to kick her captor’s ass with a few well placed pseudo-fu strikes. Coldyron doesn’t bother breaking up the fight between the woman and her assailant; he just watches with a look of professional admiration and remarks "Hey, lady, good job!" when she finally chokes him out. It must be a Texas thing.

Thursday 8:00 P.M.

As we see from the time stamp, it’s now 8 P.M. which means Coldyron has been waiting for the cops to show up for the last 4 hours. I guess crime really is bad in that area.

"Next time, don’t use this," says the local investigator handing back Coldyron his pistol, "the ambulance guys don’t like picking up body pieces with a pooper-scooper." (Wow, he’s so jaded!) "I don’t like it even more," cracks Coldyron in an odd line. The other cop suggests that Coldyron return to the relative safety of the research lab and not hang out in the streets with the "real" cops. To be honest, I found this criticism a bit odd since Coldyron handled himself pretty well in the situation.

Back in the lab Houghtaling and Willard are puzzled by the fact that all the batteries in the lab are drained of charge. (Uh oh…)

"You don’t think…" Houghtaling ominously says while tilting his head in ROTOR’s direction.

"He looks OK to me," Willard reassures him after a thorough 1 second peek into the tank.

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Right after the 2 idiots leave the lab we see ROTOR reach up from his "suspension vault" and remove the flimsy plastic tank top. Using a POV shot with a strange pink tint, ROTOR stumbles around in the conveniently empty police station where he quickly finds the locker room and retrieves his uniform from his locker. (!) I guess the Dallas Police Department thought it would be prudent to make available a locker and uniform even though it’s going to be 4 years before the first prototype is ready. We wouldn’t want ROTOR running around nude in the off-chance of accidental activation, now would we?

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Give him a locker…who cares if he won’t be ready for another 4 years.

With his custom-fitted leather uniform, ROTOR leaves the lab and heads down to the motor pool. For some reason there are rows and rows of plastic chairs set up…why? Who knows. I guess it was to show us how awesomely determined ROTOR is as he pushes his way through the sea of chairs. What’s wonderfully amusing about this shot is that it was obviously much more difficult for the actor to push his way through the chairs than they’d expected as you can plainly see him struggling several times to untangle his feet from the chair legs and continue through the ever growing mass of tangled furniture accumulating in front of him.

R.O.T.O.R.

(Damn!…this was harder than I thought…)

Now we see what ROTOR struggled so hard to reach: his very own super-duper motorcycle standing on display (cordoned off in the middle the garage with little velvety ropes no less). Yep, even though he wasn’t scheduled for over 4 years, ROTOR’s motorcycle is gassed up and has the key in the ignition. A quick rev of the throttle and ROTOR roars out of the completely unguarded motor pool and into the night.

Friday 1:56 A.M.

Cut to a dark highway where a young couple are driving along discussing marriage and such…you know: character development. The young woman in the passenger’s seat, Sony, wants to get a career after her marriage to Soon To Be Dead Guy and blah blah blah. Thankfully, the dialog is interrupted when ROTOR pulls them over for speeding. (You know the dialog is bad when you’re happy to see ROTOR!)

ROTOR dismounts his motorcycle, which must be equipped with side-mounted spot lights given his insane silhouette in the darkness, and calmly struts over to the car. The driver gets out and awkwardly attempts to bribe him. Well, ROTOR quickly judges him guilty for speeding and puts a bullet through his head! Wow! For speeding? Who programmed this thing? Anyway, Sony leans over in her seat and very awkwardly "accidentally" pushes horn which deafens ROTOR and paralyzes him with pain! Let me get this straight: an amazingly advanced robot that is defeated by honking your car horn? Whatever.

With ROTOR holding his head in agony, Sony backs up the car and screeches away, but after a couple of minutes she decides to pull to the side and "talk this over". Yeah, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason that the cop killed your fiance for speeding. When ROTOR eventually catches up, he thrusts his arm through the window and tries to grab Sony. (I guess Coldyron didn’t get around to finishing the "Just Open The Door" part of ROTOR’s programming.) Sensing that rational conversation isn’t one of ROTOR’s strong points, Sony speeds off.

Friday 3:00 A.M.

Cut to see the local cops investigating the crime scene. One of the investigators opens the dead man’s hand and removes a police name tag embossed with the name "ROTOR". So the Dallas police actually made ROTOR a nametag? Well, wasn’t that considerate, trying to make him feel like one of the guys.

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Later that day Coldyron receives a call from Sergeant Mango (!) who tells him about ROTOR’s recent mayhem. Coldyron instructs Mango to keep quiet about the whole ‘crazed murderous robot cop on the loose’ problem. Yeah, you probably wouldn’t want to mention that to anybody. Wiping the sleep out of his eyes, Coldyron heads back to the lab to figure out how to reel in his rogue creation.

Meanwhile, Sony is still calmly driving around even though it’s been over 2 hours since her fiance was blown away. I’ll give her this much, she sure has her emotions under control. Sony eventually stops at a convenience store which is, duh, closed. Is it just me or is ROTOR still trying to catch up to her? Keep up the good work, ROTOR! Anyway, Sony calls the police and reports what’s happened (Good thing she drove around for a few hours first.) The 911 operator tells her to stay put because they can’t send any help to her since the murder took place in Dallas’s jurisdiction. (WHAT?) Wisely realizing that if she does as she’s told and stays put ROTOR will (eventually) catch up to her, Sony drives off.

Hey! What do you know: just as she pulls out, ROTOR arrives and scans the area with his, and I kid you not, "Sensor Recall" which allows him to see what has happened…in the past!!!! I couldn’t help but note that ROTOR has to take off his sunglasses for this feature to work. Must be something in the tinting.

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Back at the lab Coldyron types madly at an old CRT terminal and asks the department’s mainframe about ROTOR’s status. To his dismay, the computer can’t find any information on ROTOR. (Strangely, in the beginning of the film, the last 2 words in the ROTOR acronym were "Operational Research" and have now been changed to "Operations Reserve". Ooops.)

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After some more mad keystrokes, Coldyron discovers that ROTOR is no longer in his "suspension tank" and is "fully activated". With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Coldyron asks the computer one final question: "What is Rotor’s duty?" (Doesn’t Coldyron know? Isn’t he the lead programmer?) The computer responds with the words we all dread: "To Judge and Execute"…"Oh…God!" Coldyron murmurs upon reading this. But why is he shocked? The words "To Judge and Execute" are stenciled on his motorcycle for cripes sake!

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Oh…So that’s his Prime Directive.

With a quick call to Willard, Coldyron confirms that there was a screw up in the lab last night but nobody thought to actually look in the tank and ensure ROTOR was still there. (Actually, Willard says that they did look in the tank but not the "suspension readout"…whatever. I sense a serious breach of protocol here…) With Willard hemming-and-hawing on the line, Coldyron hangs up and places a priority call to Mango. (Mango, really guys?) Mango informs Coldyron that ROTOR has gone nuts and is chasing a woman (i.e., Sony) all over hell and high water. Furthermore, they’ve told her to keep moving until the police get to her. (Why don’t the police just go to her? Better yet, why doesn’t she just drive to the police station?)

"Good. Nobody move until you hear from me," Coldyron instructs, which to me seems counter-productive to the whole "let’s get to her" plan.

Feeling chatty, Coldyron next places a call back to Commander Buglar to tell him, basically: nyah nyah nyah…I told you so.

"It would walk through a bus full of nuns to get to a jaywalker! ROTOR wasn’t ready..its brain functions are incomplete!" Coldyron tells Buglar, insisting that the Senator be informed of the day’s events. Buglar suggests instead that Coldyron take back control of the project and hunt down ROTOR personally.

"OK," Coldyron agrees, "and when I bring him back, I’ll ram him right down City Hall’s throat!" (Ok. But what did City Hall have to do with any of this?)

While Coldyron begins the hunt, Sony parks behind an all night cafe, sneaks in through the back door, finds a table and orders a cup of coffee. (I’m not sure how this could be considered "keeping on the move", but we have to give hapless ROTOR a chance to catch up with her.) In a strange line, the waitress apologized to Sony for having the TV on but they have to keep it turned on until the homecoming parade is over…even though it’s pitch black outside! ROTOR also manages to find the cafe…how? Who knows. Stopping in back, he pulls off his sunglasses and turns on his "Sensor Recall" ability which allows him to see Sony running inside a few minutes ago (you know what I mean). ROTOR busts into the kitchen and is immediately attacked by the fry cook. (If you think about it, the cook doesn’t know that ROTOR is a rogue robot cop; On the contrary, to him it’s just a cop coming in through the back door…and he attacks him with a knife?!) ROTOR dispatches the cook by shoving his face on the grill and I guess somebody thought it was funny to have the guy wear a pair of huge fake front teeth.

R.O.T.O.R.R.O.T.O.R.

As ROTOR leaves the kitchen and struts into the dining area all the patrons flee in terror. (Why? To them it’s just a cop walking in.) Sony, of course, cowers in a booth because the script requires a slight struggle before she runs out the front door. Oh boy, here we go again: in comes a trio of rednecks who immediately attack what to them is just an ordinary police officer! After some lazy fighting, ROTOR beats the hell out of the guys, walks out front and looks inside Sony’s car. Hey, wasn’t her car parked in back? Strange. Maybe she moved it out front to at least give ROTOR a fighting chance…

Oh wait, Sony runs out to the adjoining gas station where the night clerk hides her in his kiosk. I’m not sure why he’s helping her since he hasn’t even seen ROTOR, so Sony must appear to him as a crazed woman running around in the middle of the night. Then again, maybe he’s just thankful for a little excitement with such a lousy job. Anyway, ROTOR uses his awesome rose-tinted "Sensor Recall" which promptly reveals Sony’s true location.

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After ROTOR saunters over to the kiosk, he employs his usual method of apprehending people: stretching his arm out as far as he can and trying to grab them. Sony skillfully evades capture by simply staying out of his reach and crawls out the back door where she runs to a nearby semi-trailer truck. The truck driver, seeing a damsel in distress, hides her in the cab and confronts ROTOR with his pistol. Not to beat a dead horse, but again, to the truck driver this is just a normal cop chasing a perpetrator. Whatever. ROTOR shoots him and he shoots ROTOR back. Exciting. When ROTOR drags himself back to his feet, Sony easily paralyzes ROTOR by honking the truck’s horn. (OK, I’m thinking a serious re-design is needed here.)

But, heck, it’s all good because Coldyron drives up (how did he know she was there?) and exchanges a few punches with ROTOR. Obviously ROTOR can’t be beaten hand-to-hand (but a horn, yes) and quickly knocks Coldyron on his ass before attempting to get Sony by, yes, reaching through the window as far as he can. Using the always successful tactic of simply backing up out of ROTOR’s reach, Sony slips out the other door and runs away. Coldyron tries to buy her some time by shooting/punching ROTOR a bit more, but to not much good. Just as ROTOR is about to slam the crap out of him yet again, Coldyron produces a golden metal thingee which cause ROTOR to stop and pull back. Why…what could this thing be? I hope we find out later…

Keeping in line with the film’s modus operandi:

  • ROTOR tries to grab Sony
  • Arm not long enough
  • Sony’s runs away
  • ROTOR gives chase

ROTOR hops onto his motorcycle and pursues Sony into the darkness. Back at the service station, Coldyron crawls into his truck and raises Sony on his CB radio. (Sony has a CB radio in her car? Turned on and tuned to the same channel Coldyron just happens to be using? Wow.) "The cop’s name is ROTOR…he’s gone renegade," Coldyron gasps, "Just keep moving!" Without much choice (and nothing else in the script for her to do), Sony agrees to just drive around…and around…and around until Coldyron returns with help. After a short discussion of where to meet, they agree to hook up at 4 P.M. at Cain’s Fishing Lodge. Rather unbelievable Sony is familiar with the lodge’s location. I guess it’s because she’s such the outdoorsy type.

Anyway, with Sony driving around as bait, Coldyron places a call to "Houston…Texas". Boy, that was nice of Coldyron to clarify which Houston he was trying to call…and sure enough, we get another time stamp:

Houston, Texas Friday 5:45 A.M.

Welcome to the residence of Dr. Steele. An extremelybuff woman who is, as you recall (or not), the creator of ROTOR’s ultra-secret chassis. (The one made of the "obscure numbered" alloy.) It looks like Steele has just returned from working out at the gym before a putting in a hard days robotic chassis design and it’s only a quarter to six. Tough broad. Steele happens to catch the last bit of Coldyron’s message on the answering machine explaining that ROTOR is out and on the loose and, boy, could he use her help.

Hey it’s another time stamp:

Friday 8:30 A.M.

Cut to a mechanic’s garage where ROTOR is fixing up his motorcycle and treating himself to a little juice from a car-battery charger. Since electricity is ‘cool’, the scene goes all ‘negative’ when ROTOR charges himself up. The local grease monkey sees all this and finds it so terrifying that he flees the scene hollering "Feet don’t fail me now!" and jumps into the back of a random passing pick-up truck. I guess that was supposed to be funny in a Good-Old-Boy sort of way. Ugh…but hey: This was the first random civilian that didn’t immediately attack a police officer.

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After picking up Steele at the airport, Coldyron drives her to a local hotel. This gives the viewer pleeeeenty of time to hear some more back story.

"I feel like old friends. You know, we got to know each other’s papers and mathematics pretty well," says Steele.

Not to be outdone in the flattery department, Coldyron responds in kind, "Your designs on the combat chassis are the most brilliant I’ve ever seen."

"It was nothing without your own brain matrix."

Man, I just love realistic scientific jargon, don’t you?

After some more blabbing, Steele admits that it’s impossible to bring ROTOR in. (So why did you fly all the way to Dallas at the drop of a hat then?!) Coldyron disagrees, and shows her the golden de-activation key. So…maybe they have a chance after all. Regardless, they better speed things up because there’s only 15 minutes left in the movie and I’m getting tired.

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Hot hotel check-in action!

When Steele and Coldyron check into the hotel, they discover that their room is #222. "Great…that’s his badge number," Coldyron wryly notes.

"Superstitious?," Steele jokes as she asks for another room just as well, "There’s no sense in tempting reality too darn much." (huh?)

"Were we playing God, breathing life into our artificial Adam?" Coldyron waxes poetic before going on to quote a few portentous lines from Milton!.

"Let’s go get ‘im!" Steele chimes in. Yeah, let’s cut the crap and get to some more goofy action scenes.

Back outside and driving around, and boy, do I love driving scenes, Coldyron explains to Steele that ROTOR is programming himself as he goes.

"Oh God! The brain matrix is modeled after your own lower brain functions!" Steele realizes, "To combat pure will, you’ll have to use pure illogic!" …and I must admit that she’s smarter than I am because I have no clue what she’s talking about.

"What do you mean?" Coldyron asks.

"You’ll have to allow yourself to fail: use your failure against him."

(Whadda whadda?!)

"Great, but I don’t know what any of that means," Coldyron admits.

"Let’s hope you never have to find out."

So…..huh?! It doesn’t matter whether Coldyron understands how to defeat ROTOR or not? What? Oh…forget it.

Friday 2:30 P.M.

Cut back to see Sony driving under a highway underpass that, surprise surprise, ROTOR just happens to be waiting on. As you can see by the timestamp, it’s now 2:30 P.M., which means that Sony’s been on the run nonstop for the last 12 hours since her fiance was shot. Yeah. That’s believable. ROTOR guns his motorcycle engine and gives chase.

Back with the others, we hear that Steele has come up with a ‘theory’: "What if I force his substructure plates apart?"

"If you got that close you could use the key," Coldyron reminds her.

"If I got that close, finding the keyhole would be the last thing on my mind…"

So, let me get this straight…you need to physically insert a key into ROTOR to deactivate him?! You don’t have a radio-controlled device for this? If I remember correctly, Americans did possess that sort of technology in 1988. (Garage door openers, anybody?) Oh, and Steele doesn’t know where the hole is…and she designed him! Sheesh!

Look! ROTOR has managed to catch up with Sony…again. (How? Ohhh…Recall Sensor; how could I ever forget?) For once Sony actually does something intelligent and runs him off a cliff destroying his motorcycle in the process. (As suggested by the small pile of burning twigs a stagehand places a safe distance from the bike.) For some reason Sony decides that it would be better to set off on foot into the wilderness instead of driving away, because, hey, how else is ROTOR going to manage to catch up with her by the end of the movie?

R.O.T.O.R.

Muh bike! They busted muh bike!

Soooo…Sony runs around killing time waiting for Coldyron. A cut-away shot of her wrist watch reveals that it’s 4:10, which means that she’s been on the go for over 14 hours. Man, I bet she’s getting tired by now. (And she hasn’t even taken a single piss break!)

In the mean time, Coldyron and Steele have tracked ROTOR’s position by charting his "power surges" (just go with it). Coldyron pulls off to the side of the road and decides to hunt him down on foot.

"You don’t happen to know any Indian trackers, do you?" Steele asks in a cringe inducing moment.

"I used to spend every summer on the Indian reservation." says Coldyron says, "Will I do?"

"Ha! I’m like a cemetery: I’ll take anybody," Steele jests in a moment of levity. (Get it? "Any body". Yeah, I thought it was funny too. )

After a few seconds of looking at the ground, Coldyron finds a footprint. "Is it his?" Steele asks. "Well, it sure aint Pee-Wee Herman’s." (Man, talk about a movie dating itself.)

Meanwhile Sony finds a small boat and tries to float out into the middle of the lake without a paddle. And I mean that literally: she just kicks off from the beach and floats about 4 feet. It wouldn’t have made any difference even if she had a paddle because ROTOR shows up and drags her back to land by pulling on the rope Sony still has tied to the boat. Egads, m’Lady…use your brain, eh?

R.O.T.O.R.R.O.T.O.R.

Fortunately for Sony, Steele also magically appears and blasts ROTOR in the back. Instead of continuing to blast him until he’s a pile of scrap metal, she tosses down the gun and starts pummeling on him. (You’d think that, being the actual designer of ROTOR’s substructure, Steele would know just how useless it is to punch on him.) In an odd bit of framing, Steele and ROTOR battle it out in the background while Coldyron helps Sony up to the truck (which is now magically parked at the lake!). Their struggles seem almost slow motion, as if they’re blocking out the fight for the next scene but didn’t realize they were in the shot and the director just decided to keep it.

Running out of options, Coldyron attempts to place ROTOR in a "stand down" mode by tricking him into thinking that all this was just a drill. I guess since ROTOR has "re-programmed" himself, he simply ignores his creator’s orders and shoves his gun in Coldyron’s face. Proving once again that he’s not quite ready for prime time, ROTOR’s crappy reflexes allow Coldyron to duck away and run off before he can even fire his gun. Man, I’d love to see ROTOR go up against the Terminator. That would be fun.

Oh, and again, Steele seems to materialize out of the ether and blasts ROTOR in the back with her shotgun. And again, she immediately tosses her weapon to the ground and starts punching the killer robot instead of blowing him to smithereens. As I expected, this proves to be a Bad Idea as ROTOR easily grabs Steele and commences to squeeze her to death, but before she dies she does get a chance to rip open ROTOR’s chest with makes the scene go all "negative-y" again for some reason. (I guess this was Steele’s "separate his substructure plates" plan that she mentioned in the truck. Wow. Good plan.)

Anyhoo, with Steele keeping ROTOR busy by letting him squeeze her to death, Coldyron produces his ultimate weapon: experimental detonation cord. (Remember that little shot from the beginning of the movie that just screamed PLOT POINT?) Sony quickly ties one end of the cord to the truck (won’t this destroy the truck when it goes off?) while Coldyron constructs a snare on the ground directly in front of ROTOR. The fact that even ROTOR manages to notice the snare speaks volumes about how lame this particular trap was.

R.O.T.O.R.

Horns…a very serious design flaw.

Sony quickly realizes that Coldyron’s Amazing Det-Cord Snare Plan needs a little help and brings into play ROTOR’s greatest weakness: honking car horns. Blind with pain, ROTOR steps into the snare and Coldyron tightens the loop with a quick jerk on the cord. Defying all known laws of topology, Coldyron quickly fashions 3 new lassoes from the single length of cord (magic!) and promptly ropes ROTOR’s arms and neck, forcing him into a helpless ‘spread eagle’ position. Never mind that the lassoes are tossed from completely different directions than the one Coldyron is standing, but I’m wondering just what the ropes are attached to since a couple of them were tossed from the direction of the lake…

R.O.T.O.R.R.O.T.O.R.

Anyway, just as ROTOR begins tearing himself loose his "electric discharge" ignites the detonation cords (I sense another design flaw here…) and BOOM…no more ROTOR. It’s unclear why the detonation cord didn’t destroy Coldyron’s truck as well since one end of it is anchored to the frame, but let’s not drag this out any longer than necessary.

Cut back to "now", i.e., the debriefing room where Coldyron has been retelling this entire story to the investigators. "I’m going to leave my report in my office," Coldyron concludes. "After that, I got a ranch. I got a horse. I got a pretty girl." Wow, is this guy romantic or what?

With his tale at an end, Coldyron struts from the interrogation room and out into the parking lot. To everybody’s great shock, Commander Buglar walks up behind him and blows him away with a shotgun! (I wasn’t expecting that, actually.) Standing over the body, Buglar stares into the camera and in his best Dirty Harry imitation grimly says, "Justice served…C.O.D." ( I have no idea what the whole "C.O.D." thing has to do with anything. Maybe it sounded "street tough" to one of the writers.)

Oh, and third, why kill Coldyron in the first place? If this supposed to be some sort of cover up, what about the years of robotics research, all of Steele’s work, the thousands of others that have worked on this project? Maybe he just had a personal grudge against Coldyron, ok fine, but then if you’re going to murder somebody, maybe you shouldn’t do it 5 feet from the entrance of the Dallas Police Headquarters. Just sayin’.

Fade to, (cough,cough), Oxford University where we see that Coldyron’s nephew, Brett, has received news of his uncle’s death via a letter from Commander Buglar. Corrupt to the very end, Buglar writes that he too grieves at the loss of Captain Coldyron, and that he was a brave man who died in the line of duty and blah blah. There just aint no justice in this world, is there?

As we proceed into the credits (happily), Brett engages in his own voice over explaining how, over time, he studied his uncle’s research papers and gleaned enough to create his own ROTOR…this time a "ROTOR II" in the form of Steele. So this movie ends on yet another bizarre note: how the hell did Brett know what Steele looked like so he could base his robot’s appearance on her? I thought maybe Uncle Coldyron might have had some pictures stashed away in his research, but if I remember correctly they met for the first time on the day of the final ROTOR battle, didn’t they? Ahhh, maybe this will all be clear when ROTOR 2 arrives; but I doubt it.

R.O.T.O.R.

My work here is done.

The End.

Dennis Grisbeck (December 2011)

Afterthoughts

A very entertaining Terminator/Robocop rip-off. Lot’s of 80′s goofiness and, wow, what’s with people in Texas just attacking any random cop they happen to come across?
Unfortunately for us bad-movie lovers, and if you’ve gotten this far in the review I count you as one of them, there hasn’t been any sign of a ROTOR 2 film in the 24 years since R.O.T.O.R’s release.

You made it this far? Really? Congratulations: You can watch the entire movie HERE

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10 comments to R.O.T.O.R. (1988)

  • Guts3d

    “IA1138 chassis” Hmmm… Didn’t “Star Wars” writer George Lucas write his first story called “THX-1138″? It was about a police state, as I recall, but I could be wrong…

    Great review, Dennis! This one was truly worth the wait.

  • Man, Dennis, the things you put yourself through! All those Mega(animal) movie, and now this piece of drek from the 80′s.

    My favorite part has to be the ROTOR modus operandi:

    ROTOR tries to grab Sony
    Arm not long enough
    Sony’s runs away
    ROTOR gives chase

    That often sums up a lot of monster movies, of course, but it’s amazing to see how prevalent it is!

    Great review!

  • @Guts3d:
    Yes, you are correct…I didn’t even think about that reference. Then again, maybe I did realize it, but the reference was so odious that my mind blocked it out.

    Regarding THX-1138, yeah, that is a really cool movie, I think it starred a very young Robert DuVall and Donald Pleasence. Another bit of trivia if I remember correctly: In the original Star Wars (not the shitty one with Jar Jar Binks), when Luke and Han Solo are disguised as Storm Troopers and are “escorting” Chewbacca up in the Death Star they say something to one of the guards about “1138″. Been awhile since I’ve seen that movie, but I remember that much.

  • @Randy:
    Yeah, you know, ROTOR is supposed to be this really kick ass justice machine and all he does is stick his arm in windows and try to grab people…then they get away by honking the horn and running out the other door. Really impressive, eh?

  • John B

    Not to nit pick because you would need a separate server to list all the continuity errors. When R.O.T.O.R. gets his “charge” in the garage all he does is hold the positive and negative terminals!!!!!! They didn’t even arc when he touched them so the charger wasn’t even turned on. Oh my head hurts I actually watched this whole stink burger on you tube.

  • Hank

    This is my favorite bad movie of all time. Between this movie and Walker, Texas Ranger I am led to believe that the people of Dallas will gladly assault every police officer that comes their way. I recently found the man who wrote and directed R.O.T.O.R. on Facebook and contacted him. I feel he has a lot to answer for but he never contacted me back, go figure. I think this movie is even funnier than The Room with it’s awful script, acting, and special effects.

  • Peachy

    It was ‘Sergeant Mango’ that got me. I’m certain that I’ve never laughed so much in my entire life; I’m talking rolling on the floor here.
    Thanks for introducing us to this brilliantly terrible film!

    Pffft… Sergeant Mango

  • Georgia

    Made the mistake of reading this while I was in public. Bad, bad idea. Folks all-out attacking others for no earthly reason totally got me. Laughed till I had tears in my eyes. “Seeing a guy looking suspiciously watching him from a payphone, Coldyron walks over and promptly begins whooping his ass!” and again “ROTOR busts into the kitchen and is immediately attacked by the fry cook.” Augh! Thanks Dennis!

  • In my mind there is just nothing bad that can be said about this film because it’s SOO bad that’s it’s great. In my mind at least. I know a lot of people have been saying that they wish someone would finally go ahead and “riff” this film. A few of my buddies did and loved every second of it. Bored? Check out a mini comp here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSVCWXUa_zc

  • TBG

    Nice review. I’ve seen this one and it’s every bit as hilariously awful as reviewed. And geez, if the script were any more of a word salad, it would come with croutons and bleu cheese.

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