You should probably just stop reading this review and start watching “R.O.T.O.R.”
This is a very recent addition to the IMDb Bottom 100, and I have to claim some small bit of credit for that. When I started the IMDb Bottom 100 challenge back in January, I went through to see how close a bunch of movies were to qualifying for the list. “R.O.T.O.R.”, at the time, was just 50 votes shy of meeting the 1500 vote quota needed to qualify for the list, and movie’s score was (justifiably) more than low enough to crack into the ranking. So, of course, I did my best to rally people to give “R.O.T.O.R.” the votes it needed to get to 1500. I only pulled in a fraction of those last 50 votes, but it feels great to have helped raise this movie’s profile. Because, readers, “R.O.T.O.R.” is a horrible movie in the best possible way. “R.O.T.O.R.” is what you hope to find when you pick up a collection of 50 sci-fi movies for less than $10. “R.O.T.O.R.” is a beacon in the darkness that can remind you why you watch so many incredibly shitty movies. “R.O.T.O.R.” is magic.
I have watched a ton of incompetently crafted, drool-summoning, dull-as-a-paddle movies over the course of this IMDb Bottom 100 challenge: “The Maize: The Movie”, “Die Hard Dracula”, and “Disaster Movie” to name a few. They have certainly outnumbered the fun bad movies on the IMDb Bottom 100 by a significant order of magnitude. However, “R.O.T.O.R.” is one of those few treasured films that manages to produce entertainment out of honest incompetence. When that happens, it is just fantastic.
It is hard to know where to start with “R.O.T.O.R.”, so I am going to begin by talking about good ol’ ‘R.O.T.O.R.’ himself. ROTOR is a super-robot designed by the Dallas police department to deal with the crime-ridden streets of the future. In one line of dialogue, it is implied that ROTOR won’t be operational for 20 years. Despite that, a series of bureaucratic and zany shenanigans accidentally sets off the machine far ahead of that schedule, and releases him into the present. Oddly, the robot functions near-perfectly, with the exception of being vulnerable to loud noises and treating all legal violations with the penalty of death.
When the audience first sees ROTOR, he is just a metal frame that moves around in jerky stop motion. For unclear reasons, the robot has a human appearance by the time he manages to break free, which seems like a strange thing to do with a robot still 20-odd years from completion. In any case, ROTOR spends most of the movie trying to kill people who break minor traffic laws, and proving himself to be essentially invulnerable.
Most would assume at first glance that ROTOR’s costume design is ripped from the T-1000 in “Terminator 2”, but that isn’t actually the case: “R.O.T.O.R” predates “T-2” by a good four years. The movie certainly takes elements from “Terminator”, but it feels more like a direct knockoff of “Robocop” to me. A more interesting question that is often asked: did ROTOR influence the design of the T-100? It seems plenty plausible to me.
The acting in “R.O.T.O.R.”, to put it mildly, is all over the damn place. The lead actor I think does a half decent job delivering some really silly lines, but the skill goes downhill at a dramatic gradient as you move down the cast list. One of my favorite scenes in the film is a phone conversation between the protagonist (Agent Coldyrn) and his boss, which really showcases both the horrible acting performances in this film, and the hilariously incompetent script. I would have assumed that the scene was just really bad improvisation if all of the lines didn’t sound like they were being read off the page, but I still can’t honestly say either way which is happening. The amount of repetition in this scene is baffling, and the point of the sequence (ROTOR program is being cut if results don’t happen in a week) seems to just evaporate into the confused fog of dialogue eventually. Seriously, check this out:
Also, watch through this brief encounter between ROTOR and a cop at the police station. You can feel in your bones how poorly acted this scene is, as the cop character continues to stiltedly ramble about being pushed aside long past the point that the audience could possibly care.
While all of the acting is pretty horrible, there are a handful of characters who do manage to stand out. In particular, there is a sassy police robot who is never fully explained, and resigns over the phone about halfway through the movie, never to return. There is also an out-of-the-blue bad-ass woman scientist thrown into the plot halfway through the film, who manages to go toe to toe with ROTOR in combat. Despite her never being mentioned previously, she was apparently heavily involved in designing ROTOR in some way. She is hilariously teased as a major player in a potential sequel as the movie closes (no, there wasn’t a sequel).
The cinematography of this movie truly needs to be experienced to be believed. The dramatic final fight scene takes place partially in the background of lingering unimportant shots of non-action in the foreground, and all of the action scenes leading up to it aren’t much better. Most of the action scenes are just shot with a single camera on a tripod, in such a way that you can see as little detail of what is happening as possible. Watching this film is a genuinely perplexing experience, and you will constantly speculate about what the director was thinking during many of the shots.
Do I recommend “R.O.T.O.R.”? Yes. Yes I do. If you enjoy bad movies, go watch it immediately. The whole thing is on YouTube. Additionally, if you have ever wanted to see a robot drawn and quartered, this is a movie for you.