Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Omega Doom (1996)

Revenge of the Nerds, it’s stunning to imagine, is a divisive film.  Primarily, its critics tend to call up the film’s questionable sexual politics as the reason why it’s so awful (and, yes, they are problematic).  I’m sure that, when it was released back in 1984, there were still plenty of people who detested this aspect of the movie.  It’s just that the internet wasn’t around for everyone and anyone to vent their spleen and instigate a hip, mob mentality that usually comes and goes so fast, the people complaining rarely even remember what it was they were decrying, having moved on to the next outrage du jour.  Having now vented my own spleen, no, I have never particularly cared for the crass, assaultive way that women are treated in the film, but it also never stopped me from mildly liking the film for what it is: a crass, assaultive sex comedy.  It was never meant to be anything else, the same as gore films are filled with gore.  To expect otherwise is missing the point (or maybe it’s just me).  Call me crazy, but I always preferred the second film, Nerds in Paradise more, and either way, I don’t hold these films up as favorites by any stretch.  So why in Green Hell am I talking about Revenge of the Nerds in my introduction to Albert Pyun’s Omega Doom?  Because every time I think of the title and the titular character (as essayed by Rutger Hauer), I can’t help but think of the big song number from Jeff Kanew’s magnum opus, just changing the lyrics to amuse my juvenile self.  “We’re Lambda Lambda Lambda and…Omega Doom…”  Don’t try and tell me you didn’t start singing along to that.

During the big human/robot war, robo-soldier Omega Doom (cue music) is shot in the back of the head, wiping away his memories and prime directives (which we can only assume were counter to Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, anyway).  Doom wanders the wasteland doing stuff, while the various remaining robot factions feud over a legendary arsenal (which they call treasure) that will give them the ability to defeat not only their automaton enemies but also the humans who have been crawling back to prominence.

It amazes me how many times Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo have been remade, retooled, re-envisioned, etcetera (I get the why of it; they’re outstanding films outstandingly crafted, and imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that), and Omega Doom (cue music) is yet another stab at the latter of the two.  Doom comes to town, befriends the local put-upon robot who literally always loses his head (named The Head, played by Norbert Weisser), does good for the local put-upon female robotic saloon owner (named The Bartender, played by Anna Katarina), and kind of sort of pits the local robot gangs (The Roms and The Droids) against each other, though really, he just picks them off.  The difference is that, instead of Ronin or gunslingers, these are robots in a post-nuke, post-human/robot-war world, get it?!  Sure, Doom tries to talk the other robots to death before throwing down with them, but eventually that’s what it all ends up being.  I can understand Pyun’s desire to put his spin on Kurosawa’s classic (and Pyun has surely made some classic Action films [Cyborg, Nemesis, Dollman to name but three] in his own right), but I cannot for the life of me fathom how he managed to make this one so confusing and dull. 

The robots all act like humans whenever it’s convenient.  For example, why the hell do robots need to or want to drink water?  Why would a robot open a saloon to serve same?  Why would a robot derive any sort of pleasure from kicking around a disembodied robot head (or derive any sort of pleasure from anything at all)?  Why would robots express feelings like regret or hope?  At least with Omega Doom (cue music) it’s semi-logical.  He was changed by the shot to his melon.  It would make more sense and work better dramatically to have Doom be the only one with emotions, needs, wants and to have him bring these things to the other robots, to change them through their interactions.  The only plausible explanation I can come up with is that Pyun wanted to show that robots are as bad as people.  And again, I have to ask why?  It doesn’t play with the setup of the narrative, and it’s needless window dressing that robs the film of any resonance it could have had (although I suppose it’s gangbusters as an “elevator pitch”).

Omega Doom (cue music) has a purpose, and it’s this that he ostensibly bestows to his android brethren.  He’s there to save them in messianic fashion (the ones he doesn’t destroy).  What’s interesting about this is that his purpose came about due to damage caused by a human.  If anything, his peaceful goals are a defect (or, I suppose, free will, but that’s not nearly as intriguing to me).  One of the first robots he talks to and befriends is The Head, the part of Doom that was impaired.  This is the direction that Pyun should have taken the film, that Omega Doom (cue music) is a brain damaged robot with a messiah complex.  Instead, The Head recalls that he was a teacher (along with providing tons of painfully unfunny comic relief), The Bartender recalls that she serves water (as well as the lyrics to Joy to the World [the Handel version, not the Three Dog Night one]), and Zinc (Jill Pierce) decides to join the good bots for no real reason.

I really don’t enjoy beating up on this film, because it did have a lot of potential, and that’s the reason I’m doing it, though not for too much longer.  The robot gangs just stand around talking to each other or to Doom.  Then they talk some more.  Then there’s a showdown.  Then there are less robots in the gangs.  All this dialogue wouldn’t feel so useless if any of it went anywhere or if it wasn’t all simply wasting runtime until the fights.  And let’s talk about the fights.  There are some bright spots in their execution, but otherwise they are jumbled, scattershot messes.  I can see why Pyun chose to edit them together as he did (whip-fast cuts between awkward closeups and long shots of combatants in silhouette), Hauer not being the most leggiadrous of onscreen fighters (or certainly not by this point in his career).  The director had to find a way to cut to the stunt people as economically as possible.  I can only assume he didn’t cover his leads well enough to allow for longer, clarified shots in these scenarios, or maybe he mistakenly thought this approach would amp up the excitement.  It’s a shame, because I really wanted to like this movie, but neither the story nor the action live up to the title Omega Doom (cue music).

MVT:  Some of the shots in the film look okay.  Unfortunately, they also look so similar as to become nigh-indistinguishable.

Make or Break:  The first scene featuring The Head.  You may feel like you got kicked in yours.

Score:  3/10           

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