Sunday, March 31, 2002

Review: A Walk to Remember (2002)

Even though A Walk to Remember is supposedly based on "the best-selling novel" by Nicholas Sparks (which I'd never read or even heard of before seeing this movie), it manages to incorporate so many cliches from other dramas that it barely exists as a movie on its own. It almost plays like a couple of studio execs parked in a Starbucks and went over a checklist:

"So. Okay. We've got a bad boy who's really good inside, right?"


"A hunky bad boy, right?"

"'Hunky.' Got it."

"And there's this good girl...kinda mousy, but cute...who shows the bad boy that he's really a much better person than he thought?"


"Then there's her dad, who expressly forbids her to see the bad boy."

"Got that covered, too."

"And the bad boy's best friend...he can be a jive-talking black guy..."

"Even though everybody else in town is white as snow?"

"Sure! Why not?"

"Wasn't that character just parodied in Not Another Teen Movie?"

"C'mon...nobody saw that piece of crap."

"Oh. Right. Sorry."

"So. Okay. I think we've covered all the angles..."

"Hold're forgetting something."


"What about the character who comes down with Ali McGraw's Disease?"

"Um...come again?"

"Oh. Sorry. Went old school on you for a sec there. You might know it better as Leelee's Disease. Or maybe the Charlize Syndrome?"

"Oh, wait wait mean, where a character who seems perfectly healthy through most of the picture is revealed to have an life-threatening illness? Where the character actually becomes more attractive as the movie goes on till, obviously too beautiful to continue living, they die?"

"You got it. Is that the perfect touch or what?"


The plot used to string these dusty cliches together with is nothing to swell with pride about, either. The bad boy in question, Landon (Shane West), gets busted by the cops when one of his buddies jumps on a dare from a tower into a not-nearly-deep-enough reservoir and cracks his noggin, only to be dragged to shore by Landon (see, he's not really bad, get it?) while the rest of the punk-ass onlookers, being true friends, split to leave Bad Boy and Drowning Lad to take the rap. Landon has to do community service; the buddy who conked his noggin winds up in the hospital, appears in one more brief scene and is promptly forgotten for the rest of the movie.

While doing various duties to serve his debt to society, Landon runs into Jamie (pop singer Mandy Moore--don't ask me to name even one of her songs, because I can't), a Plain Jane who wears the same funky sweater all the time...oh, and she's the daughter of the preacher (Peter Coyote) at Landon's family's church. And she sings in the choir, she's Mandy Moore, really, so they had to work a couple of songs into the movie when Landon is forced to play the lead in the school play as part of his punishment. (Hey, how come I wasn't "punished" like this when I was in high school?). And who is his costar in the play? Why, Jamie, of course. And Jamie wrote it, too! And since Jamie is played by Mandy Moore, it's not just a play--it's a musical!

Of course, this means Landon and Jamie have to rehearse and stuff, and thus a romance buds (did you SO not see this plot twist barreling at you like a cement truck with its brakes out?), much to the confusion of the aforementioned jive-talking best friend and punk-ass onlookers. Jamie's dad doesn't dig this development too much either, sensing that "thayt boway is trubble." I swear her dad really talks like that--it's like Peter Coyote developed his accent for this movie by watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, even though nobody else in town (including his character's own daughter) sounds remotely like that. At least you can spot him as Peter Coyote, though. That's more than can be said for Darryl Hannah, who is virtually unrecognizable as Landon's mom. (One member of the small group I saw A Walk to Remember with pointed out that, with her shoe-polish-black hair, she bore a striking resemblance to Phil Hartman's "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" character from Saturday Night Live--cruel, but true.)

A Walk to Remember does have its cute moments, like when Jamie tells Landon that one of her wishes is to be in two places at the same time, and he sort of makes that wish come true, or when he takes her on a nighttime picnic in the best-lit cemetery I've ever seen. And Shane West and Mandy Moore give straightforward, earnest performances, doing as much as they can with what little Karen Janszen's script gives them to work with. At least Mandy doesn't embarrass herself like other pop divas have recently. (Yes, Mariah and Brit-Brit, I'm talking about you. Now, sit down. You're blocking my light.)

Too bad their efforts are wasted: By the time the movie gets around to the revelation of the disease, the audience has long since ceased to care. And since the disease in question, leukemia, is very real and very serious, it would have been nice--and more interesting--if it had been depicted in even a somewhat realistic way. Hell, even "disease of the week" TV movies do a better job of portraying major illnesses than Janszen (who co-wrote The Matchmaker starring Janeane Garofalo, and co-wrote Free Willy 2 starring, um, Willy) and director Adam Shankman (who also inflicted The Wedding Planner on moviegoers) do. But that would have required somebody along the line--Sparks, Janszen, Shankman, anybody--to actually care enough about the characters to put some thought into them and the crises they face. And why do that when there are so many cliches to plunder? I mean, I'm no expert on diseases, leukemia or otherwise, but I'm pretty sure you don't become more radiant the sicker you get. No. Really. You don't.

It's a shame that a movie called A Walk to Remember is so entirely forgettable. But it is.

Saturday, March 30, 2002

Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

I was about eight or nine years old when I first saw George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. I may or may not have been a reasonably bright kid, but I must confess that I didn't get it. Not at all. I couldn't understand: what was so scary about people being chased by...other, really slow, really pale people? I watched the whole movie, shrugged and went back to my Marvel comics and my GI Joes.

A year or so later, I saw Night of the Living Dead again. It was playing on a local UHF station, flickering out at me from a black & white portable TV my brother and I shared in a small room just off the kitchen. It's been said everything can change in the blink of an eye, so just imagine what a year can do for the mind of a young child. More intelligence. More experience. More awareness of the world. But there are prices to be paid for awareness: I now understood perfectly what Night of the Living Dead was about and, before it had even run its full length, I turned the TV off and left the room. Shaking.

That night I dreamed of them, the ghouls with disheveled clothing, shuffling step and moist, wide, starving eyes. And many nights since as well. Sometimes they even caught me, tearing me limb from struggling limb. Some say you can't die in your dreams, while others maintain that the "ability" to die in your dreams is indicative of a highly creative mind--not something you think about much when you're watching your arms and legs being carried off in various directions, food for the stumbling, undead masses.

Many years passed before it was possible for me to stay in my seat and watch, without covering my eyes or averting my gaze, every last frame of Night of the Living Dead. In fact, it took watching it with a friend who, to her credit, found a great deal worth laughing at in Night before I felt even moderately comfortable sitting all the way through the movie.

And to be honest, there's plenty to mock in Night: Most of the acting is amateurish (maybe because most of the actors were amateurs); the music is lifted from other movies, most noticeably Teenagers from Outer Space and The Hideous Sun Demon; there are a few outstanding continuity errors (day becomes night awfully fast--like in the space of one edit--and one zombie who has long hair at the start of the movie has clearly gotten a haircut by the conclusion); and the special effects aren't terribly special.

This movie doesn't even have a particularly original concept. Similar scenes of zombie frolic had been used in Invisible Invaders and in The Last Man on Earth, a mediocre Vincent Price movie based on Richard Matheson's legendary vampire novella, I Am Legend (which was later adapted again as the awful Omega Man with Charlton Heston).

The story of Night is pretty familiar now: Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner, who was also one of the film's producers) go out to the country to visit their father's grave. While there, they're attacked by the first of many, many zombies, who kills Johnny and chases Barbara to a deserted house where she meets up with Ben (Duane Jones, easily the best actor in the film), a truck driver who's fought his way through the undead hordes. Other survivors pop out of the basement (including Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman as a bickering husband and wife), realistic radio and TV reports try to make sense out of the mayhem (at one point, it's proposed that radiation from a probe to Venus is somehow responsible, but this is dropped quickly and never referred to again), and the zombies attack in graceless waves.

What lifts Night of the Living Dead above its flaws and meager budget is the style, conviction and realism Romero and crew bring to the whole thing. The stark black & white cinematography is more suggestive of documentary than of fiction; the escalating tensions among the survivors--especially between Jones and Hardman--ratchets up the strain on the audience; and the lack of a happy ending hearkens back to the EC Comics Romero enjoyed so much as a child (and would later pay more direct tribute to in Creepshow).

Then there are the living dead themselves: ever-present, shuffling, decomposing, hungry for the flesh of the living. They never tire, never wander off, never give up. The pressure never ceases. And when they do actually snag some skin to munch on, the movie gets downright grisly--although, after so many years of sequels, remakes, spinoffs and ripoffs that were far more graphic and gruesome, Night can now play on broadcast TV with no edits whatsoever.

Night of the Living Dead remains the stuff that nightmares and still, after all this time, packs one hell of a punch. Watch it with friends--and leave the lights on afterwards.

(NOTE: Because Night of the Living Dead has been in the public domain for so long, many truly nasty-looking prints can be found on both VHS and DVD. The only print worth owning-or even viewing--is the beautifully restored, digitally remastered print available through Elite Entertainment. They released it on video in 1995 through Anchor Bay and more recently put the same package out on DVD. Forget the rest--this is the best.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The Horkin' o' the Green

"When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey. And when I drink water, I drink water." Barry Fitzgerald, "The Quiet Man"

I don't like to go out drinking on St. Patrick's Day.

It's not that I don't like drinking. Oh, no. Anybody who knows me knows that I like to throw back a few and could share epic sagas of liquor-induced antics:

Like the time in college when, after attending a party where the drink of choice was pink lemonade mixed with grain alcohol, I chucked off the Belmont subway platform on what is now known as the Blue Line.

Or the many evenings spent debating literature, eating Tombstone pizzas and playing whichever pinball machine wasn't broken at the Step-Hi Lounge on the corner of Harrison and Wabash (don't bother looking for it--the city long ago paved "paradise" and put up a parking lot).

Or the time I screamed "MONKEYS!" at the top of my considerable lungs on Clark Street at three in the morning (a long story, but one which involves, appropriately enough for today's topic, Baileys Irish Cream).

Or the evening I spent bar-hopping with a tall, pale vegetarian who I had an enormous crush on, but remained only friends with...that is, till I wrecked the friendship by accidentally sending her an e-mail detailing what a tool I thought her boyfriend was. (Note to self: always check the "To" line in e-mail before hitting "Send").

Or the many evenings spent in Cardozo's, a subterranean bar near City Hall, with multiple friends, including another whose friendship I lost through errant e-mail. (Yes, I'm an idiot--why do you ask?).

Drinking while having a great time (or in certain cases, a time I'll likely repeat for eternity when I wind up in Hell, as I almost certainly will) is one thing, as long as it's not a thing I do, say, every day. And trust me, I don't. I don't even get drunk every time I go out drinking. (This has always been a point of concern for me because, as noted on these pages before, my father was an alcoholic, and it wound up sending him to a premature end.)

But most folks who go out on St. Patrick's Day--and, for that matter, New Year's Eve--do so for the specific purpose of getting gassed. And the prospect of tossing back green-dyed beer for endless hours appeals to me about as much as the prospect of tossing up that same beer, that same green dye, and every other unholy thing in my stomach up for endless hours does.

In fact, I can only recall two occasions on which I've gone out on St. Patrick's Day. The first came when a friend was fired from his job at the publishing company we both worked at in Evanston. He was hooking up with a friend from out of town, and he had a serious need to drown his sorrows. So we three went to the late, lamented Everleigh Club on Halsted Street, ate corned beef sandwiches, drank beer (NOT the green variety), watched Bob Knight's Indiana basketball team lose in the first round of that year's NCAA Tournament (hmmm...a Bob Knight team getting kicked in the first round...what a shock) and solved the world's problems over the course of the evening.

The other occasion also involved the same friend and Indiana basketball. Again, going out to get drunk wasn't the main point of the evening. Again, Bob Knight got his ass handed to him in the first round of the Tournie.

For every other St. Patrick's Day, I've been at home. Sometimes, I have a drink or two. Sometimes, I don't. But at least I don't have to step over puddles of other people's dinners the way I did one New Year's Eve spent at Goose Island Brewery. I don't have to deal with drunken teenagers with plastic bowlers on their heads and shamrock temporary tattoos on their reddened cheeks. I don't have to fight my way through crowds covered in varying shades of green.

So this year, I bought a sixer of Guinness and a pizza and watched The Quiet Man (mmm, Maureen O'Hara). There's something peaceful about watching Guinness settle in a pint glass--like watching one of those sand sculptures you see in gift shops, only you can drink it when it's done. And there's something comforting about watching The Quiet Man--okay, I know Ireland isn't really like that and fine colleens can't be readily spotted crossing the fields with the light of the sun dancing in their hair (were it that such were true), but it sure looks great in Technicolor, doesn't it?

In short, I had a quiet night. There's a lot to be said for that. And the cleanup afterward is so much easier. A pint glass, a plate, a pizza cutter. And not a pool of puke in sight. Just the way I like it.

Monday, March 18, 2002

Review: Resident Evil (2002)

Most movies based however loosely on video games--from Street Fighter to Super Mario Bros. to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within--are light on plot and even more slight on character development, but at least are usually at least visually arresting. The latest video game to make a run at the big screen, Resident Evil, somehow manages to go one level lower, though: not only are its characters one-dimensional and its plot tissue-thin, but much of its look and feel has been cribbed from other, better horror movies like Aliens or any one of George Romero's Living Dead flicks.

The plot is such: the Umbrella Corporation--which, according to the somber voice-over man who insists on speaking to the audience even though every words that comes out of his somber mouth is on the screen in big, bright red letters, has products in 90% of American homes--is engaged in nasty biological and viral warfare experiments in a complex called "The Hive" located half a mile below the ridiculously named Raccoon City. Of course, the deadly T-Virus gets released in the Hive, and the artificial intelligence computer Umbrella has watching over the complex, "The Red Queen" (who appears throughout the movie as an annoying little holographic girl), goes apeshit and kills everybody inside. This is unfortunate, as one of the side effects of the T-Virus is that it animates the dead and turns them into flesh-craving maniacs. Oops.

Enter an Umbrella-sponsored commando squad that intends to go down to the Hive to figure out what the fuck went wrong. (Why? Can't the Umbrella Corporation communicate with the Red Queen? And as we see in the first few minutes of the movie, there are, like, a million cameras in the Hive watching everything everybody does. So why not watch the tape at a safe distance?) They drag along Alice (Milla Jovovich), who is apparently an employee of Umbrella hired to guard the "emergency entrance" to the Hive that the commandos are using now. I say "apparently" because the Red Queen, in her infinite wisdom, gassed Alice with some kind of nerve gas, so that she can't remember who she is. (Will somebody find the dipshits who programmed the Red Queen and fire them, please?) The commandos also find a cop at the emergency entrance, and Alice's "husband"--also an employee of Umbrella--down in the train leading to the Hive, and drag them along as well. Now, doesn't this just sound like the most well-oiled military operation this side of Custer's Last Stand or what?

Once inside the Hive, the commando force resolves to shut down the Red Queen who, for whatever reason, doesn't kill them as soon as they walk in, even though she knows they're there and tracks their every move. They do manage to turn the Red Queen off, getting a bunch of commandos knocked off in a bloody (figurative and literal) obvious trap. Unfortunately, in the process of shutting down the computer system, they unlock all the doors and let all the zombies and various other genetic experiments loose. Brilliant.

From there, the movie becomes little more than a shoot-'em-up, with Alice, commando Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) and a few guys, all of whom look pretty much alike (what, was the Umbrella Corporation busy cloning lantern-jawed brunet males, too?) trying to outrun the living dead--who like to gather in small spaces and charge out all at once, almost like they're having huddles to plan strategy and are being perpetually interrupted by those pesky, gun-toting alive people--and get back to the surface before the Hive is permanently sealed.

This may make Resident Evil sound like insipid, so-bad-it's-funny stuff, but trust me: it's not. The characters are all recycled cardboard, just targets to be turned into Zombie Chow. Even Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, who managed to get their names above the title of the movie in the ads, aren't given much to do. Milla looks adorable throughout, running about in a slinky red dress and patent-leather knee-high boots--just the thing you want to wear when going into a hazardous-materials situation, right?--but she spends most of the movie having flashbacks to the time before the Red Queen gassed her ass or executing Matrix-style flying kicks. Michelle Rodriguez is even worse off: her character is thoroughly pissy even before she gets chomped by a zombie. And considering how quickly Rodriguez's star had been rising because movies like Girlfight and The Fast & the Furious, she might just want to leave Resident Evil off her resume.

Even the lack of plot and characters to give a white lab rat's ass about would be tolerable in the movie were at least scary or funny, but it's neither. The "jumps" are telegraphed so clumsily that the audience knows what's going to happen minutes before any of the characters figure it out--like the trap that (literally) cuts the cast in half, or the flooded room that the antivirus may be in, which is the same room the cast passed earlier and saw a dead body floating in; what do you think the odds are that that same dead body will pop up to threaten them later? And while I have great affection for flesh-eating zombies, they're not used to good effect here. In most of their scenes, they attack in large groups, like waves consisting of flailing arms and clacking jaws, which manages to make them less threatening. In Romero's first two Dead movies, he confined his living characters to small, well-fortified spaces, while the dead were free to roam in the open, thus underlining for the audience just how fucked the living really were. Romero's last zombie epic, Day of the Dead, turned the zombies loose in a large underground complex where experiments were being performed (sound familiar?) and cut down on the scares substantially.

More shocking, though, is how little humor there is to be found in Resident Evil. Most participants in the "shoot-the-monsters-in-the-head" genre understand how ridiculous and riddled with clichŽs it is and work around these challenges by injecting healthy doses of snark. A good example of this approach is John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, which also dealt with flesh-hungry combatants chasing down a small band of gun-toting good guys. Carpenter's film, though, is laced with smartass comments and winks at the audience, as if he's saying, "Sure, this is derivative shit, but we're having a good time with it, so you should, too."

But the wisecracks are very few and very far between in Resident Evil, and nobody seems to be having a good time--not the actors, not director Paul W.S. Anderson, and certainly not the audience. And if Resident Evil isn't funny or scary--if it's just an exercise in joyless, derivative film making--why, exactly, did they bother to make it at all? And, more to the point, what need is there for anyone to see it?

Monday, March 4, 2002

The Screening Room

My earliest recollection of seeing a film on the big screen goes back to 1970 or so, when Mom took me to the Congress Theater in Logan Square to see The Wizard of Oz. The Congress still stands at the corner of Milwaukee and Rockwell--its facade covered with terra cotta faces, its interior dark and cavernous--though it hasn't shown a movie in years. It occasionally hosts concerts, like this past New Year's Eve, when there aren't discussions of gutting it and turning the building into (guess what?) a condo development. But back in 1970, the Congress was a second-run movie house just a few blocks away from Grandma's house.

I only remember the two of us being there, but that can't be right. Rarely have I ever had a theater "to myself": The time I saw Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas with a couple of co-workers, one of whom I had a huge crush on (and her insistence that I sit next to her even though we were the only people in the theater didn't help a bit); the time I saw the X-Files movie at a theater in St. Joseph, MI with an ex-girlfriend who fell asleep during the movie (lucky her); and a recent showing of Glitter with Red Sercretary (there were six people in the theater, including security). But memories are odd things. They create their own realities. So even though the Congress may have been packed to the balcony with nostalgic moviegoers, I can only recall Mom and me being there.

I have no idea to this day why Mom chose that particular movie to take me to. Maybe she thought that, despite the presence of the Wicked Witch, the talking trees and the flying monkeys, The Wizard of Oz was still, in the end, a "family" movie. Maybe she just thought it was a nice Mom/son thing to do on a weekend afternoon (as it must have certainly been, considering that she was working third shift in a plastics factory during the week). Or maybe she was, in her own way, preparing me for eventually entering the work force and dealing with management (again, the flying monkeys). Whatever her reasons, though, she took me to the Congress, we watched the movie, and my love of cinema was born.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in Chicago, where not only where there movie theaters within reasonable reach (not as many as in Mom's day, when--according to a laminated page from one of the daily papers from the '40s that my comic shop guy once showed me--there seemed to be a movie house every four blocks or so, but still) and drive-ins still open and operating, but there were numerous local TV stations looking to fill air time and using movies to do it. From "Creature Features" on WGN (where you could find Dracula, the Wolf Man or Godzilla on the prowl at any given time) to "The Three O'clock Movie" on WLS (where theme weeks would take the viewer from Westerns to World War II to the Hammer horror films) to the afternoon movie show on UHF station WSNS (where I saw Yojimbo, Magical Mystery Tour and The Trial for the first time), I had access to just about every style of film making, just about every type of movie, just about every level of competency--from Orson Welles to Ed Wood and all stops in between.

Access to such variety was key to forming the affection for movies I've carried into adulthood. I have special affection for horror films, but appreciate movies from all genres. And I even have an appreciation for bad movies. Really. I don't consider them to be a waste of time at all; every time I see some waste of film stock like, say, They Saved Hitler's Brain or the aforementioned Glitter, my appreciation for classics like The Quiet Man, Pandora's Box or Wings of Desire only grows.

I still love going out to the theater and am blessed to have an old-fashioned neighborhood movie house, the Davis, within easy reach. It was almost razed a couple years ago for (guess what?) a condo development, but the developer quickly withdrew his interest when confronted with a community in full snarl. The Davis was a second-run theater then. Since its change in ownership, it's become a first-run theater again, with an accompanying rise in prices. But it's also cleaner than it used to be and, most importantly, has more butts in seats than it's seen in many years. The community fought to keep it, and then they came out to support it in the most concrete way they could: With their money.

But I also like sitting around my living room with friends, pizza and cider, showing off my DVD player and my way-too-fucking-big movie collection. Most of my partners in crime share my love for cinema (both good and bad) and like just hanging out and talking about movies. And more than one friend--though, in particular, JB--has urged me to write a book of movie reviews, or at least to publish the horror film reviews I write for the annual Halloween Movie Bash ("HMB" for short) held (usually) at my place on the Saturday before H-Day. But I've yet to muster the personal/professional discipline to do that, so...

...As of this week, I'm setting aside a page of this bloggity for movie reviews. I'll try to add reviews as time allows--as I said, I've got a lot of horror film reviews already written, but I want to mix the bag up a bit with reviews of contemporary flicks and non-horror classics. Still, because I'm a) lazy, b) coming off a cold/flu/whatever, and c) fighting the urge to throw my keyboard out the window because it keeps doubling letters up at random while not typing other letters at all (again, at random), I'm starting out with a review of a horror film. But not just any horror film: One of the stankiest ever made, Robot Monster. Check back in "The Screening Room" regularly. I'm more likely to update it than I am to do the home page. But whenever I send out an announcement, I'll try to remember to let y'all know what's new there.

Now, please excuse me--I'm midway through watching Ghost World and am digging it too much, getting that high that one can only hit when your mind has been opened just a crack further by a piece of great art.

Review: Robot Monster (1953)

I must confess that I'm not sure how to review Robot Monster. The strong temptation is to rip director/producer Phil Tucker at least one new orifice, if not several, for producing a cinematic atrocity so lame, so awful, so flat-out goofy that even Ed Wood at his worst couldn't have made it. But I feel like I'm kicking a lame puppy when it's down. After all, legend has it that Tucker was so upset by the universally savage reviews for Robot Monster that he attempted suicide. Rather than doing himself in, though, Tucker could have put his destructive urges to much more productive use by tracking down and burning every single copy of Robot Monster.

But if he had done that, though, we, the cinema-loving public, would have been denied the sheer amazement that washes over each individual viewer the first time they see Robot Monster. The first time I saw the entire movie was when it initially aired on "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and even with the help of Joel and the 'Bots, I was left in my seat, muttering the same words over and over again: "My dear God."

The plot is pretty weak tea--a young, seriously annoying boy is out on an excursion in some very rocky valley with his family when he wakes up to find the world destroyed by alien invaders, with only his mom, dad, two sisters (one older, one younger), a hunky scientist who perpetually argues with the older sister (just have sex already, dammit!) and a couple other guys left alive. But the thing that launches Robot Monster into the stratosphere of astonishingly bad (and, hence, highly entertaining) movies is the title creature himself, possibly the cheapest, most half-assed creation in film history. Ro-Man, the being powerful enough to wipe out life on Earth is a guy in a gorilla suit wearing what looks like a Styrofoam diving helmet with TV antennas sticking out of it. And he lives in a cave. And he has a bubble machine.

My. Dear. God.

Nearly every frame of Robot Monster suffers from similar budget restraints: the sets (there really are none); the bizarre use of stock footage of dinosaurs (wrestling lizards lifted from the original One Million Years BC and stop-motion monsters from some other prehistoric epic); more stock footage of rockets combined with the least expensive spaceship models you've ever seen (literally a rocket model on a stick move around by somebody's hand); and Ro-Man's electronic communications equipment (war surplus stuff propped up on a rickety wooden table).

As if this weren't all bizarre enough, Ro-Man, intent on destroying what little life remains on Earth, falls in love or lust or something with the oldest daughter, Alice. While talking to the family over a video view screen and, of course, threatening to kill them, Ro-Man becomes confused: he doesn't know why, but he must speak with the girl named "A-lice." (You don't know why, Ro-Man? It's called a hard-on. Get a porno mag, some hand lotion and a roll of toilet paper and deal with it, furball.) Because of his love for "A-lice," Ro-Man doesn't want to destroy her, though he has no such qualms about knocking off the other survivors. Ro-Man's feelings for "A-lice" tick off his supreme commander (who looks exactly like Ro-Man--couldn't be the same actor, could it?), and Ro-Man dies for true love.

The movie ends with the little boy waking up to find that it was all a dream...or was it? We should be so lucky.

There's a temptation to write this whole thing off as a cleaver ploy by Tucker to portray what a child's dream of the end of the world would be like-sure, it would have to have spacemen and dinosaurs and death rays and young lovers and fistfights. But that would mean crediting Tucker with a sense of humor and whimsy this movie just doesn't show--not intentionally, anyway. It's all played dead serious, and that makes it all the more laughable. Throw in the fact that Robot Monster was originally released in 3-D (so that the bubbles looked like they were floating RIGHT AT YOU!!!) and that it features a musical score by future Oscar winner Elmer Bernstein, and you've got one volatile cocktail of weird, lousy film making.