R.O.T.O.R./Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< R.O.T.O.R.
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Seeing the 1988 film R.O.T.O.R. was like meeting someone I at first did not think would be terribly interesting, only to find that I was completely wrong about my assumptions. R.O.T.O.R. is unique, unpretentious, tries hard, and is worthy of repeat visits. I did not expect much from this film, especially since the poster is quite dull and does not promise anything terribly interesting. Most will say R.O.T.O.R. is a terrible, unpolished film. The unpolished part is correct, but I love unpolished films, especially ones set and filmed in Dallas, the city in which I live. The unpolished nature of R.O.T.O.R. is wonderfully on display all throughout, from bad dialogue looping, uncompromisingly 80’s music (especially one song called “Hideaway” which is heard near the midpoint of the film), awkward characters played by awkward looking people, the revelation in the end credits that most of the lead actors’ dialogue in the film was dubbed by different voice actors, and a main character who looks like former NBA star Bill Walton. In one shaving scene though he looks a bit like current NBA great Dirk Nowitzki. Certainly you can already tell that once you press “play" you will be well on your way to something very special. I was not aware of the greatness into which I was about to be thrown. The story is straight-forward and, obviously borrows quite a bit from "Robocop" and "The Terminator."

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In current-day Dallas, crime has apparently so overtaken the city that special forces or some such officer, Coldyron (the guy who looks like Bill Walton), played by Richard Gesswein, has developed a robotic police officer which can overpower and subdue the most vile of criminals. Apparently, only one of these has been built and it is called R.O.T.O.R. (Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research). R.O.T.O.R. will not actually be fully ready for another 4-5 years, however, Coldyron’s boss, a bit of a prick named Greg Hutchins (James Cole) wants it ready within 6 weeks. Upon hearing of Hutchins’ demands, Coldyron promptly quits his job as head architect of the R.O.T.O.R. program. Coldyron and his lady friend Penny (Nannette Kuczek) go out to lunch at a place that still exists called Crockett’s, which is part of the Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre hotel near 635 and Dallas Parkway, fairly close to the Galleria. Being a Dallas-ite, I enjoyed seeing many familiar locations. I wondered where some of the locations were exactly, such as the convenience stores featured in the film. I found myself wondering if they still were open or if there was a Wal-Mart or Starbucks on those sites now. In one scene, the house in which the Penny character lives is revealed to be on the corner of Calculus Drive and Haydale Drive, which is east of 635, between Marsh and Midway. The filmmakers were nice enough to include the street sign in the establishing shot of this house.

Through a series of events, Coldyron’s assistant, Dr. Houghtaling (Stan Moore) becomes the new person in charge of the R.O.T.O.R. project. Through even more zany shenanigans involving a character named Shoeboogie (genius!!) R.O.T.O.R. is accidentally unleashed into the world. R.O.T.O.R. looks like a man and speaks in a garbled computer voice. He commandeers a motorcycle and proceeds to begin performing his duty of judge and executioner. His first victim is an incredibly chauvinistic young man who is driving with his fiancee, Sonia, played by the gorgeous Margaret Trigg, who, unfortunately passed away in 2003. So, anyway, mayhem ensues and a female physicist/bodybuilder shows up in the last 15 minutes to assist Coldyron with what will hopefully be an apprehension of Mr. R.O.T.O.R. Jayne Smith plays Dr. Steele, the physicist/bodybuilder in question. Her character is awesome! All the aforementioned business of seeing Dallas area locations is nice for Dallas residents who, like me, may be interested in seeing parts of the city in 1988. Will the awkward characters, the 80’s light rock, random misplaced explosion sound effects, random chairs set up in a parking garage, physicist/female bodybuilder character, and bad looping be enough for anyone else? I certainly believe so. If this film had been shot in Kansas City, a town I have never visited, I would have still been very much interested. Plus—R.O.T.O.R. is a palindrome! It’s not just a palindrome, though. It’s an example of the elusive acronym palindrome! With this revelation, I believe I may have just converted some skeptics into the rewarding world of R.O.T.O.R. Take this journey with me. Come with me and study with R.O.T.O.R. like Donald Sutherland did, ask it if it will let you into the second grade.

Reviewed by Mike Harris

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