Man, Bruno Mattei sure loved making movies. It’s there in every frame he ever shot; his passion for film is responsible for countless classics like…okay classics is such a loaded and pliable word depending on one’s outlook. But he sure made enthusiastic films, eager to please; and most importantly he made movies that he thought audiences would want to see based on what they already loved. Case in point: Robowar (1988), a Predator “homage” mixed with a dash or two of Robocop that ends up being uniquely Italian. And if you think anyone other than Severin Films would gift you a Bruno Blu you need a timeout in the boiling jungles of the Philippines.
Where does one even start? Mattei and his frequent cohort Claudio Fragasso (as well as his writing partner and wife, Rossella Drudi) headed to the Philippines to make two films, both from Drudi’s scripts: this one, and After Death (aka Zombie 4) which Fragasso helmed. The problem was the production company only had enough funds to equip one, so Robowar shot in the daytime and after dark After Death used the equipment. A neato fact to be sure, but one with very little bearing on the results; both films are exactly what you would expect from the auteurs – frequently incoherent, fast paced splatter genre-mashes.
As for this bad boy: We open as groupings of American helicopters are gunned down in said jungle by a government cyborg called Omega One that has gone haywire. A team is chosen to go in and destroy Omega One (even though they don’t know what the mission is yet, nor do they find out until later in the film); the best of the best, the team goes by the acronym B.A.M. – which stands for Big Ass Motherfuckers, in case you were worried about a lack of subtlety – composed of the finest soldiers that America (and Italy, apparently) has ever seen not named Chuck Norris.
B.A.M. is just supposed to hang at the beach while government lackey Mascher (Mel Davidson – Strike Commando 2) goes looking for something; this isn’t enough for the trigger-happy troopers and they soon make their way inland, where they come across a village taken over by the Viet Cong (I know it was filmed in the Philippines, but I’m assuming they’re in Vietnam), and decide to rescue the American teacher Virginia (Catherine Hickland – Witchery) and the children imprisoned within. Shouldn’t be a problem with Maj. Murphy Black (Reb Brown – Howling II…Your Sister is a Werewolf!) leading the way – except B.A.M. knocks out not only all the Viet Cong, but the kids seem rather lifeless too. Oh well, close enough.
Now with Virginia in tow, the team runs into Mascher who has run into Omega One, still as offline as ever and looking for blood. Can the team (meaning probably just Black and Virginia) defeat the robot man thing before he short circuits them all?
The muscled shadows of Dutch, Dillon, et al loom large over Robowar, especially as this was released only a year after Predator; I have to wonder if Mattei, Fragasso, and Drudi threw in Robocop as a way of distracting from the duplication. Surely they must realize that now we see not one but two movies being paid tribute? (Oh, let’s throw in Aliens as well with the slimy government tag along, shall we?)
No matter really; the Italians love to put out their version of whatever is swimming in the American zeitgeist stream; Action films were all the rage, so why not boil them down to what they felt were the essentials: enough bullets to fill a grain silo with lots of dead bodies to show for it. Do you need 90 minutes of JV Predator action? Of course you do! And when you’re done, there are enough features from Severin to fill another silo:
In addition to a really solid 4K scan from the original negatives, Severin has loaded Robowar with the above interviews, everyone offering up anecdotes from the set, and most praising the work of the Italian filmmakers and fellow thespians. The only exception is Dulaney (who plays the pipe smoking Papa Doc, the least dangerous of the recruits), who has nothing good to say about Davidson, a rumored pedophile. Everyone is in good spirits, with Fragasso and Drudi as usual sparing no details or feelings about their work; these features are like their personal diaries and they’re priceless.
I have left out much of the shenanigans and ludicrousness of Robowar, because it truly is a film that deserves its place in the pantheon of great Italian lunacy. Just sit back, match up these characters with their more famous counterparts, and revel in the audacity of Mattei; he makes a good case for originality being overrated - or at the very least, unnecessary to be enjoyable.
Movie Score: 4/5, Disc Score: 4/5