Today In Post-Apocalyptic Film Reviews

Omega Doom is not the story of a post-apocalyptic hell, so much as it's the tale of a man whose career has gone into the toilet. Rutger Hauer cultivated a fair amount of fame and respect in the early 80s by turning in nuanced performances in films like Blade Runner. But somewhere in the mid-80s he turned a corner. In an effort to become the next big action star, he started doing crappy films with little plot and lots of explosions. It's been all downhill since. Now he's reduced to made-for-cable movies, and shit like this.

I'm not sure how any actor of substance ends up in an Albert Pyun film. Pyun has a reputation not unlike Ed Wood (or Jess Franco) for inflicting nearly unwatchable shit on the viewing public. Personally, I think he's more a Claudio Fragasso-type, lacking the perverted charm of either Wood or Franco, instead reveling in incompetence at a more base level. Which is all the more confounding when you consider that Pyun was once a protege of Takao Saitô. I guess some things just aren't teachable.

There are things about this movie that are unexplainable. For example, the robots' breath hangs heavy in the cold air of the nuclear winter. Why are robots breathing to begin with? I couldn't figure out any logical reason for it. Nor did I understand why there was a robot saloon that served only water. Do robots get thirsty?

Also unexplained is the basic plot. The film is set after a great world war between humans and robots. This is never really made clear in the movie, but that is what it says on the back of the box. Seriously, if you have to rely on box art to explain what's going on, you've failed as a filmmaker.

Not that I am convinced Pyun actually qualifies as a filmmaker. I have come to the conclusion the whole Pyun oeuvre is the result of some sort of money laundering operation. There has to be an international drug cartel or black market arms dealer behind this. Really, it is the only reasonable explanation.

Things start badly. First, there is a quote from a Dylan Thomas poem, which, I think, is supposed to come across as deep and meaningful. But really, it's just silly in a movie about robots, especially a bad movie about robots. Then we're treated to some narration that is, honestly, just plain wrong. I mean, it is incorrect. Our narrator explains how on the last day of the war a robot named Omega Doom (Rutger Hauer) takes a bullet to the head and his memory banks get fried. But, he doesn't take a bullet, no, he gets shot with a laser. That's as plain as day, right there on the screen. Crikey, aren't you even watching what's going on? Two minutes in and the director's already crapped himself.

Cut to some indeterminate time later, and Omega Doom strolls into a Buena Park amusement park. (No, kids, it isn't Knott's Berry Farm, there will be no trip to Camp Snoopy.) Why is this film set in an amusement park? Because, throwing up a sign that says "Ye Olde Europe-land" cleverly masks the fact you've shot your film in Slovakia. What Omega Doom finds in this little makeshift town are two opposing factions of robots.

On one side are the Roms. They're all female, dressed in black with cute little haircuts. Imagine Amelie in the Matrix and you'll get the idea. On the other side are the Droids. They're older models, a bit shabby and look like they've all escaped from a Babylon 5 convention. And just so you don't forget these are robots, despite their breathing and drinking and generally acting human, every time one of them moves, there is a whirring of gears, and as they walk, their feet clunk heavily in the dirt below. When one of them falls down, or gets blown to bits, it sounds like someone is kicking the crap out of a trashcan. Yup, foley work at its finest.

Caught in the middle of this is a servant bot that runs the local saloon, and a decapitated, yet mouthy, robot head known simply as Head. Head serves two purposes. First, he delivers much-needed exposition, explaining to Doom what's going on in the town. Secondly, he is the odious comic relief. He spends much of the movie being kicked around, literally, and when he does find a body his incompatibility makes for wacky antics as he jerks, twitches and generally makes an ass out of himself.

When Doom first meets him, Head is lying on the ground chattering away. It's an effect that is achieved by burying the actor in sand up to his neck, and yes, it looks pretty silly. Head explains that there were once two large factions of robots in the town who've since managed to winnow themselves down to a small handful on either side. They are both looking for a cache of weapons rumored to be buried beneath the amusement park. The plan is to take these guns and use them to wipe out the last of the humans, who are believed to be holed up in Las Vegas.

Presumably, the robots had guns back during the war, but I guess they've all misplaced them, so now they're reduced to throwing Laser Knives™ at one another. At least that's what it looks like they are doing. Almost immediately Doom's Laser Knife Throwing Skills™ are put to the test.

By reattaching Head to a discarded body, Doom has deprived Marko, one of the Droids, of his favourite toy. Two things worth noting about Jahi J.J. Zuri, the actor playing Marko: first, he's the only one in the cast playing up the robot angle, as he walks around stiffly, elbows bent, palms flat. Secondly, he's been in nine movies, all of them directed by Pyun. This tells you all you need to know about Jahi J.J. Zuri, master thespian.

He also seems to be sporting Torque's silver robo-hand from Death Ray 2000.

Doom and Marko square off, having themselves a good old-fashioned Spaghetti Western duel, replete with Leone-type close ups and a pseudo-Morricone score. Instead of six-guns, the two have Laser Knives™ holstered on their hips, and it's your guess which one is quickest on the draw.

With Marko out of the picture, Head is a bit more self-confident, which translates into more wacky antics. Unfortunately, it's like watching Eddie Deezen on crystal, and that just isn't funny. And despite his admonishments to get out of town, Doom enters into an uneasy deal with the Droids.

Doom has agreed to find the treasure, as they keep calling it, and wipe out the Roms while he is at it. Once the plan is under way, Doom meets with the Roms, tells them his plan, but confiding that it's the Droids he's really going to wipe out. Secretly, he plans to wipe them both out. And if this at all sounds familiar, that's because it's the exact plot of A Fistful of Dollars.

So, what we have here is a Spaghetti Western, but with robots instead of cowboys. And once that's established, there isn't a whole lot more about this film to say. The story plays out much as one would expect, with Doom snuffing out his mechanical foes one by one, each kill causing the plot to twist in upon itself in a tightly coiled vortex of intrigue. Well, okay, not really.

Doom does lure one of the Droids to her death, by promising to lead her to the treasure. Doom has also told the Roms to set a trap for the Droid, that way he'll be free to show them where the treasure is. The robots on both sides end up dead, or whatever the mechanical equivalent for death is.

Neither the Droids nor the Roms trust Doom, but their distrust of one another outweighs that, as does their confidence they've each have the upper hand. I was never clear why the robot factions disliked each other so. If the goal of both sides was to wipe out the remaining humans, why didn't they just band together? Whatever motivations may have existed if these groups were human, certainly cannot be found in the robots' programming. Can it? Not logically, no. But then, watching Doom light up a cigarillo like he was Clint Eastwood makes no sense either.

While the story of a buried cache of weapons may by just a rumor, there is at least one person with a gun in town. The barmaid. She found it in the well she dug (you know, so she'd have water to serve to the robots), but thing doesn't have any bullets. Not that anyone knows that. When she starts waving it around, the robots get nervous.

It's up to Doom to save her from the rest of the bots in town who now believe she knows where the weapons are hidden. What isn't clear is why Doom gives a shit to begin with. In A Fistful of Dollars Eastwood had the motivation of money, if he played his cards right, and the opposing families against one another, he'd be able to walk away with everything. Here, Doom has no such incentive.

But, anticipating such a question, the screenwriters have concocted an explanation. It had something to with an old man on a stallion and an outpost of humans hidden somewhere in the mountains. I think. Really, I'm not too sure, it made little sense to me and I hadn't the patience to rewind and figure it out.

Needless to say, Doom snuffs all the Roms out and all the Droids, leaving only Head and the barmaid behind. His job here done, Doom wanders into the sunset and to his next adventure. Fortunately for us, there is no robot version of For A Few Dollars More in the offing.

Directed by Albert Pyun • PG-13 • 1997 • 84 minutes


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