Sunday, March 07, 2010

Regional Review: R.O.T.O.R

If you're like me, this poster for Cullen Blaine's "R.O.T.O.R." is a memorable jog down VHS memory lane. No budget to the max and filmed in and around Dallas and North Texas in the late 80's, "R.O.T.O.R" (which stands for Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research) attempted to gain some additional mileage out of the popularity of Paul Verhoeven's "Robocop"- another film shot in Dallas due to its then futuristic downtown skyline. But "R.O.T.O.R" is no "Robocop". With a cast of no names whose performances border on extreme camp and very little action until the final 30 minutes, "R.O.T.O.R" does belong in a very small sub sect of films that use Dallas as a backdrop. I just wonder why it always has to be of a city fatigued by futuristics thugs, rapists and thieves?

Beginning as Dr Coldyron (Richard Gesswein) is booted from his beloved project of creating a superhuman robotic police officer due to bureaucratic impatience, "R.O.T.O.R" lingers on the concrete jungle of downtown and I-35. As something goes terribly wrong with his project and the officer is unleashed on the Texas population, the film's no-budget becomes increasingly apparent as the film turns to night-time scenes "somewhere off I-20 West", locating itself around unspecific gas stations, farmland and Lake Dallas (which is nowhere near I-20 unfortunately). In terms of visual acuity, "R.O.T.O.R" has none of it. The pleasure from this film, though, lies in its so-bad-its-good dialogue and obvious affinity for cheap theatrics, such as a robot whose neck is a dryer hose and spouts off lines like "I think this is how the Terminator got its start." In the right frame of mind, "R.O.T.O.R" can be terrifically entertaining though.

Joining the very limited ranks of North Texas set films- Shane Carruth's "Primer", Wes Anderson's "Bottle Rocket", Mike Judge's "Office Space" and the aforementioned "Robobcop" as the most famous- Dallas comes in a distant third behind Texas filmmaking cities. While Austin and Houston contain firm production companies and outfits of filmmakers, Dallas has a spare filmmaking identity. While "R.O.T.O.R" has done little to advance this cause, it's fun to step back in time almost 20 years ago and see even a bad movie glamorizing my fair city.

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