Robot Jox (1990)
Robot Jox (1990)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.

Release Date: November 21st, 1990 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Stuart Gordon Actors: Gary Graham, Anne-Marie Johnson, Paul Koslo, Robert Sampson, Danny Kamekona, Hilary Mason, Michael Alldredge

 


 

50

years have passed since a nuclear holocaust almost wiped out mankind. Now, war is outlawed, with all territorial disputes between the remaining two world powers settled by gladiatorial combat – using enormous, humanoid machines, called Robot Jox, controlled by a single pilot housed in the upper-torso cockpit. When disagreements arise, an arena in Siberia becomes the battleground, where highly trained warriors live or die for their nations, complete with cannons, lasers, mechanical-hand-to-mechanical-hand showdowns, and buzzing referee aircraft.

Commissioner Jameson (Robert Sampson) and Commander Tex Conway (Michael Alldredge) are consternated by the continued losses of Federation allies, as combatant Hercules (Russel Case) becomes the latest soldier to die in battle. Confederation nemesis Alexander (Paul Koslo) has claimed a great many lives, proving to be a most formidable opponent (clearly representing a Cold War opposition). To avenge his fallen comrade, Federation champion Achilles (Gary Graham) – whose real name is Jim – is tasked with the latest duel (this time over the sovereign state of Alaska), climbing into his space-shuttle-sized robot to face off against Alexander in a Death Valley stadium as roaring fans in bleachers place bets and cheer on their favored fighter.

Interestingly, although traditional armed conflicts no longer exist, the proxy games provide comparable opportunities for espionage, media upheaval, collateral damage, corrupt officials, and bureaucratic tribunal decisions. Substituting politics for guns doesn’t change the backstabbing, corruption, and trash-talking. Other amusing yet underdeveloped concepts crop up, including the breeding of test-tube babies, which are designed specifically to be fearless and superior as robot pilots (Athena [Anne-Marie Johnson], the first female pilot, is the most publicized of the “tubies”); governmental promotion and rewarding of reproduction to repopulate the world; the near extinction of certain foods, including sources of meat; and the poisoned air, requiring all citizens to wear masks to filter contaminants.

However, many of the post-apocalyptic ideas are quickly sidestepped for the sake of a light romance subplot, training montages, and giant robot action. From a Charles Band production, one can expect cheesiness – and “Robot Jox” certainly delivers when it comes to generic dialogue, comically flimsy sets, mismatched futuristic visuals, and laughable villains. But it does succeed in presenting a few impressive stop-motion skirmishes with monstrous mechanical contenders. And the score (by Frederic Talgorn), though better fit for a ’50s Western, is upbeat and catchy.

Sadly, the decision to have the Jox fly into space and to transform into different bodily arrangements are nonsensical stretches, while the occasional special effects shot doesn’t hold up as well as the models and miniatures. What the film really needs is a harder edge (like the direction taken in “Starship Troopers”); there may be brief violence and a co-ed shower, but “Robot Jox” would’ve proven to be far more engaging with harsher language, greater bloodshed, and maybe even a sex scene. This is the kind of sci-fi tale in want of dependable components of exploitation, especially with a story and direction by Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” and “Dolls”). But at least the final scene is unexpected in a pleasant way.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10