I thought that Barbara Crampton could provide us with the first major shock of the FA Cup of Actors. After Émilie Dequenne failed to make the most of her goalmouth chances in The Girl on the Train (only receiving a rating of 6/10), I thought that Crampy could sneak in a cheeky little last minute winner with Robot Wars. Robots fighting. Great stuff. And as long as it didn't turn out like the underwhelming BBC series of the same name, where the flamethrower and chainsaw attachments never really amounted to much, how could it go wrong?
Pacific Rim went for a similar formula of robots fighting monsters and the fights were pretty great. It was the completely useless story that the fights hung off that let the whole film down. Well in Robot Wars, there's a similarly useless story, but sadly, the fights are virtually non-existent.
The Earth has had a bit of a bad time due to the toxic gas scare of 1993 (must have been that jar of curried pickled eggs I had from the Abbey Friar). The survivors are at war with a rebel faction called the Centros who want to resurrect a hidden mega robot. Luckily they've got their own mega robot in the form of a mechanised scorpion complete with nippy little pincer things. Drake, (Don Michael Paul - sounds like his parents couldn't make up their minds on his first name so they gave him three) a mega robot pilot, teams up with archaeologist Leda (Barbara Crampton) to thwart those pesky Centros. And no, there's not a hint of Lara Croft style costumery.
Yep, the plot's rubbish but it's the fights that are unforgivable. The first battle consists of close ups of the scorpion mega robot loping along, occasionally shooting, and a tank that, again, occasionally shoots. This goes on for ages. There is never a sniff of a wide shot to show any kind of manoeuvring. The whole thing feels like the scorpion and the tank are in two completely separate locations (which they are) and as a viewer I felt completely removed from the supposed action. (To simulate this battle just stare at the first photo below for five seconds then look at the next. Then repeat. For added fun, make a few shooty noises.)
The second (and final) battle isn't much better. At least this time the two protagonists share the screen for a bit of what can best be described as wriggling. It's pathetic. Without great fights there's nothing else going on that's worth your time.
I know that Barbara Crampton isn't known for her stunning performances in art films, yet her films are generally enjoyable (apart from the dire You're Next). The best you can say about her performance here is that it at least paid for a few jars of industrial size Marmite. (It's ironic that Crampy knocked out Joan Fontaine in the last round who suffered from the same phoned in performance in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.) Given that, she's easily the best aspect of this sorry mess. (Apart from the fact that it only lasts 71 minutes.)
I wasn't expecting much from a Charles Band production but when one of the highlights is a Puppet Master joke you know things are getting desperate. So sorry, Barbara you haven't managed to knock out the odds-on favourite in a startling giant-killing fashion. Dequenne, you're through to the semi-finals.
If you like this you could also try:
Pacific Rim, Robot Jox.