There are few action films that evoke the kind of emotions that make you proud to be a filmgoer, particularly when it comes to films about rogue killer robots like the absolutely abysmal The Terminator or Terminator 2, but when they show up for audiences twenty years into the future and let you revel in their superior production, it’s movie magic in its truest form.
The film I am referring to in this case is a sadly obscure gem called R.O.T.O.R. Released in 1987, Cullen Blaine’s seminal film takes the then-popular concepts of The Terminator and RoboCop franchises and chisels them into something truly revolutionary, bringing philosophical ruminations about the nature of humanity and the moral ambiguity of technological development to the forefront of the audience’s thoughts. This is a thinking man’s film if there ever was one, no doubt about it. No little people with simple minds will be able to actually comprehend or appreciate this marvel in filmmaking.
First of all, you can’t beat this wondrous cast:
We’ve got the legendary, unforgettable Richard Gesswein (from classics such as R.O.T.O.R. and, uh… that’s it), who plays the physically imposing image of our convincing hero, Barrett Coldyron,
the soothing and tragically invisible voice that dubs over Gesswein’s image, the ever-talented Loren Bivens,
the lively Meryl-Streep-esque Margaret Trigg (from the TV classic Aliens in the Family) as Sonya,
the gorgeous Jayne Smith as intellectual bodybuilder Dr. Steele,
Georganna Barry as the tragically invisible yet sexy voice of Dr. Steele,
[Unknown] as the best comic relief in history, Shoeboogie,
and impressively understated Carroll Brandon Baker as the one and only R.O.T.O.R.
You can’t go wrong with a cast of brilliant relative unknowns like this when they’re backed by an equally brilliant script and direction like we see in this case.
Let’s dive into this treasure chest of filmic gold, and I’m not talking about piss—I’m talking the real thing.
As with most films, we start with the opening credits, which inform us of everyone involved. Impressively, Cullen Blaine decided to make the credits nearly three minutes in length in order to build suspense for what we’re about to see, with a monotonous and ominous synth beat playing throughout the entire duration; it could perhaps be a subtle metaphor for the banality of the relentless cold-hearted machine. This film is getting deep already.
The credits show us the prominent name David Newman—who turns out to be a co-star and Associate Producer—along with David Adam Newman as the film’s composer. I believe David Newman simply felt that as a formal composer his middle name seemed important to include, but I suppose it could be a different David Adam Newman. A brother, maybe? He’s a talented David Adam Newman, regardless, because the soundtrack to this is on par with anything John [middle name?] Williams has ever put together.
And what about this “Budd Lewis” that keeps popping up? He’s listed as a co-star, Producer, the Production Designer and the screenwriter, while Cullen Blaine makes the most prominent textual appearance as the top Producer, Director, and thinker of the original story idea on which this film is based. Another couple of geniuses who never quite made the big time. Such wasted talent, such tragedy.
Following the introduction to the cast and crew, the credits then open to reveal the intimidating endoskeleton of a red-visored robot, which is cold and clinical to say the least:
Over the skull of the presumed R.O.T.O.R. prototype is the scrolling text:
MURDER, RAPE, ROBBERY AND ARSON
So, not only is R.O.T.O.R. a robot, it’s also pure research in robot form, it looks like. This is one machine that could change the entire scope of science as we know it, and not just in the arena of artificial intelligence.
The next block of text that appears tells us: “Our objective was to build the perfect cop of the future…a machine programmed to overcome any obstacle, to combat the crimes and corruption which threaten the very existence of our society…but, something went terribly wrong.”
What could this “wrong” be? Did the machine go berserk and try to kill its creator? Did an atomic explosion rip through wherever this film takes place? Did this poor mechanical piece of judgmental shit jump through time to kill the key to the future of humanity? Did it decide to become human by fusing at the molecular-genetic level with people through a method involving a combination of teleportation, cheeseburgers and gene splicing?
We’re about to find out.
We fade to a helicopter shot as traffic reporter Doug Doogan for KROC informs us that traffic is “getting pretty jammed up” on the Expressway in Dallas. I suspect the man loves irony.
After the introduction to our setting thanks to ole Doug Doogan, we meet a nice couple who are just enjoying a nice drive through town.
The woman talks about how much she’s looking forward to a relaxing weekend on the lake, and her boyfriend/husband/fiance tells her that he’s not worried because she always packs enough food. Aww, that’s nice of him to say. He also mentions that he’s happy he’ll be away from the office with no phone and no work, just a quiet peaceful weekend at the lake. I think we can safely come to the conclusion that this will be a quiet, peaceful and relaxing weekend on the lake by now.
But that’s quickly ruined by the sound of a nuclear blast we can’t see, followed by them pulling over as a mysterious man pulls a body through smoke onto the road.
The limp body the man carries appears to be dead, or taking a rest with her eyes wide open. She half blinks a few times, but I suspect it might just be death twitches. It’s a nice, believable touch of acting.
The once-serene woman tells her boyfriend/husband/fiance to call 9-1-1, which he does by promptly pulling a corded phone from his car. Well, we now know he was lying about not having a phone on the trip.
A hillbilly who must’ve been spying in the shadows comes up and says, “Yeah, call ’em. This ol’ boy just kilt a motorcycle cop. I seen him.” Not looking good for our mysterious friend, so far.
I noticed that over the course of about a minute of interaction between the driving couple and the man, it turned from what looked like afternoon to night. The traffic report also seemed to have taken place in the morning and appeared to end in the afternoon as the couple was driving. Perhaps this is a future or alternate Dallas where the days only last for about three minutes?
Regardless of the time lapse, a moment later our mysterious friend is taken into custody and before they drive to the police station, one officer tells him it’s going to be a long night and to “buckle up for safety, sir.” Mystery man gives him a big grin in the rearview mirror, chuckles and tells him, “Sure. You bet.” This must be quite the story to make him so jaded as to laugh in the face of car safety.
David Adam Newman’s riveting ’80s beat reassures us of the excitement that’s soon to come.
In the form of voiceover narration on the drive to the station, our hero finally introduces himself as Barrett Coldyron, the captain of the Dallas police department who is also in charge of their “tactical operations lab”, something most police stations must have that I never learned about. Coldyron says that two days (six minutes?) earlier he was considered a leader in the field of robotics, but that he’s only seen as a “modern-day Frankenstein” today. Wow, a period of six minutes can really change everything, I guess. He still expresses hope for the future, though.
He’s interrogated in a room with a one-way mirror that looks like it isn’t a mirror at all and is in fact held together by duct tape. The budget for that “tactical operations lab” must have been top priority.
The officers tell him this is technically a debriefing, not an arrest, and we fade to “last Thursday, when life was a lot simpler,” according to cold old Coldyron.
Last Thursday consists of an expansive ranch with a nice little house in the middle, which Coldyron describes with poetry that would have made T.S. Eliot lick his face from adoration. “And that buttery morning sunlight painted a golden glow through the ranch house windows.” I feel like the sun’s melted in my mouth already.
Anyway, this is his house:
We see that Coldyron’s typical day consists of waking up at 5:00 AM, taking vitamins with OJ, making a cup of coffee, and giving the coffee to his horse while he munches on a breakfast carrot. Perfectly normal.
Coldyron then shows us how he takes his horse out to a tree and lassos the tree with explosive “primer cord” to cause it to clear out completely, all for more pasture land.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t take us back to a time when it succeeded.
Later, before he goes to work, he gets a message from a woman who is unhappy she’s talking through his hi-tech “squawk box” and they take nearly a minute to basically say they’ll meet up for dinner. According to this universe, by the time they decide to meet up, it’s nearly midnight. Intellectuals and making things complicated…
More David Adam Newman soundtrack as Coldyron cruises to work, and it’s actually earlier in the morning, judging by the sun being lower than it was when Coldyron woke up, which means that Thursday must’ve experienced a kind of time reversal. I kind of wish Budd Lewis explained this somehow, but then again there are more pressing matters at hand in the plot.
We spend a good minute or so following Coldyron’s entertaining routine drive to work until he arrives at the tactical operations lab at 9 AM.
Coldyron’s voiceover coolly tells us that even with such technological advances that have been made, “sometimes it’s hard to tell the boys from the toys.” For sure.
This robot with personality turns out to be a quick-witted, deadpan police bot that must’ve been created to be a source of humor that doesn’t want to work, like a slightly clueless Bill Murray. Pretty advanced (and funny) stuff.
They even programmed him to flirt with the receptionist.
We also briefly meet Coldyron’s assistant, a believable scientist donning a lab coat, big ’80s glasses and a cynical attitude. I like this guy.
Back in a meeting room filled with skeptics, Coldyron reveals the prototype for his latest project, R.O.T.O.R., a robot that knows nearly every form of martial arts, by-the-book law enforcement, and how to give a charismatic wave as it drives, which is most important.
A woman asks how it can move without gears and motors, and Coldyron convincingly explains that its chassis is made of “an unknown alloy” that “learns” as it moves, and “can teach itself”. It’s a minimalist explanation, but it’s enough to convince me that this metal has some kind of brain, along with R.O.T.O.R.’s complex “brain matrix.” The words Coldyron uses are a little high up the technical ladder, and I don’t quite understand it all, but I simply give kudos to screenwriter Budd Lewis for being so much smarter than me.
Coldyron is asked if he’s a hero or a villain and replies with the golden line, “The only difference between a hero and a villain is the amount of compensation they take for their services. At our pay scale, I’d say we’re heroes.” I’m sending this brilliant quote to Bill Gates straight away—the gluttonous, useless bastard.
Coldyron promises these men and women the best future for the world of law enforcement within the next 25 years, when a scientist, who is tragically cursed with the constant need to fix his glasses,
informs him that he has an urgent phone call from his commanding officer, who is sick and “swollen like a poison toad”. Coldyron replies to this with, “The man hasn’t had a decent bowel movement in a week. I told him to lay off that home cooking. The man was 30 years old before he discovered that gravy wasn’t a beverage.” It’s an exchange I can’t quite figure out, but apparently neither can his munching friend here, so I guess even the movie didn’t really know what to make of it.
Oh yeah, this guy is played by the almighty Budd Lewis, himself. Nice cameo!
In the next scene, Coldyron gets a chewing out from the commanding officer at Division Headquarters, who tells him (all while insultingly referring to Coldyron as “doctor” and “doctor”) that he’s displeased with Coldyron’s “slow” progress on R.O.T.O.R. and that the people at Division Headquarters have decided to cut the project off, threatening to fire Coldyron. Coldyron doesn’t like this and lays it down with this badass line: “Let me tell you something, mister. You fire me and I’ll make more noise than two skeletons making love in a tin coffin, brother.”
Coldyron quits before he can get fired and winds up giving his R.O.T.O.R. lab keys to his assistant Houghtaling (yes, that’s his name), portrayed by Stan Clark Moore, but not before encountering the head of security, who can somehow apparently play arcade games on the system monitoring screen and go “pew pew pew” like he’s on really good amphetamines.
Coldyron has apparently never raised his voice above the lowest octave in front of him before, because when Coldyron gets only mildly testy about being told he needs to visit the firing range for testing, this nerdy little guy looks like he thinks he might get raped, tortured, butchered and posthumously skull-fucked on the spot.
After that he actually almost seems amused by Coldyron’s unusual slight display of emotion.
It’s one of the most impressive acting moments in the film, and the guy nervously utters “thanks”, “sorry”, “thanks” and “sorry” while backing off from Coldyron slowly, as if he’s unsure which word will please him. Coldyron must have a dangerous reputation there we don’t know about.
All through this, a fat synth sound lets us know how serious this is, courtesy of David Adam Newman.
After that nearly-dangerous encounter, Coldyron gives Houghtaling the keys, of course, and then calls his girlfriend Penny to meet up for lunch.
Meanwhile, back at the tactical operations lab (11:45 AM), Houghtaling and Funny Bot have some chitchat about Coldyron being fired and having 60 days to get R.O.T.O.R. online. Houghtaling says that if he fails to “deliver”, then Funny Bot gets to be project chief, to which it moans like it’s too much responsibility, but then asks for some of Houghtaling’s fries. Assholes programmed the thing to get hungry, apparently.
Speaking of hungry, we cut to Coldyron and Penny eating lunch at a nice upscale restaurant in the city, as the pleasant pop song “Hideaway” plays over their rendezvous—a song that was produced exclusively for this film, as I can’t find a place to download it anywhere on iTunes or Amazon. Tragic.
We don’t get to hear a word of their conversation, as it plays like a top-notch music video, but we do get to see Coldyron enjoying being fed by Penny.
Unfortunately, it looks like he doesn’t like shrimp, as he shakes his head after taking that like he’s just taken a bite of pure cancer.
Back at the lab, Houghtaling and Funny Bot have a bit of an argument about not being able to run a “sequential circuitry test” without the “impulse feed chain.” The bot seems to think it can be done, but Houghtaling remains skeptical. At this point we finally learn that the bot is called Willard. Houghtaling specifically says, “Wait. Willard, punch in all the impulse codes. That’ll activate the chain and we can go down to the tank and trace the circuitry by hand. What do you say?” Surprisingly, Willard stutters more than most people with stutters, cementing what advanced technology R.O.T.O.R. is when it replies, “Yeah, cool. I-I, ah, ah, well, I guess it-it-y’know if-as long as there’s no current in the chain it-it’s okay, but…man, keep this room locked until we get back. I mean, my God, if-if someone–” Houghtaling cuts him off, saying, “What do you think this is, some low-budget sci-fi flick? I mean what can possibly happen, Willard?” Way to be cleverly perceptive, Budd Lewis. Nice going.
The two decide to go through with this complex “circuitry tracing” plan, but Willard still doesn’t like the sound of it and remarks to himself as he doubts Houghtaling’s abilities, “I just knew it. I’m gonna end up project chief.”
We then do a nicely artistic and ominous close-up of the glass door to R.O.T.O.R.
In the next shot, we meet the best comic relief in the movie, an ethnically questionable man and a blonde valley-girl scientist who is working harder than he is at whatever task it is they’ve been assigned. Considering the dude here is a janitor, I’m assuming he should be cleaning something, but that’s not what he’s got in mind.
When the man opens his mouth for the first time, it’s obvious which race he identifies with most, saying, “Say, baby, slide me them seven digits. The phone numbah, mama. You gotta give up the phone numbah.” That’s right, Italian. “Hey, baby, look. Here I have my bad self up in yo face, and you lookin’ everywhere but here. You think you’re bad or somethin’, another white supremist [sic]?”
However, rather than turning out Italian, he surprisingly boasts about his Native American heritage after setting his headphones on something he shouldn’t, given David Adam Newman’s stingy music cue. When little miss uppity snaps with, “Schuber (?) you’re like going too far,” Schuber (?) smoothly replies, “Another pale face grinds his heel in the poor Indian’s face. I thank God my sated ancestors have gone off to the happy huntin’ grounds. They ain’t around to see this…this, hmph, racism.”
“You’re not an Indian,” miss uppity says.
“Look at these cheekbones, baby. Either I’m an Indian or a sissy. And well since, uh, I must be an Indian.” I feel like he missed a part of the last sentence there, like “since I’m not a sissy”, but how can you get on him with those cheekbones?
He goes on to try and impress Ms. Valley Bitch (she has no other name at this point) with a story about “Indian lore.” He tells the story of the custom of the “Blood Eagle”, where when a war chief captured an enemy warrior that he respected, he’d let him choose the way he wants to be killed.
Ms. Valley Bitch responds with, “Oh, gross. Quit it. Go somewhere else.”
Ever-persistent Schuber (?) continues, “Yo, baby, listen. I learned this stuff. You see, if that warrior wanted to prove how brave he really was, he’d ask to die by the Blood Eagle.” Weird way of seducing Ms. Valley Bitch, but it’s better than anything I’ve tried.
Meanwhile we find out this guy’s real name.
Ms. Valley Bitch says, “Okay, I’ll ask. Gross me out. What is the Blood Eagle?”
He then explains that the Blood Eagle is when the person is tied to a rope on each limb and each is attached to a horse. The four horses run in different directions and the limbs all come off. It’s a strange attempt at romanticism, but screenwriter Budd Lewis probably knows how to really turn the ladies on.
It fails in this case, though, as Ms. Valley Bitch runs off while Shoeboogie laughs about how much he’s…failed? He just knows he’ll get her in the sack later, though, combing his hair with a switchblade comb and saying, “’Cause like I say, once you go red, you’ll never get out of bed.” Oh, you.
At this moment, Shoeboogie tries to scoop his headphones up with his comb from the apparatus the music told us was forbidden, and an electric current zaps and starts a count-up to…something.
Shoeboogie dismisses it as “cool as blue steel” and leaves with his broken walkman, but not before exiting with this amazing line, “Somebody and this mad doctor’s got trouble coming from me. You don’t mess around with ‘we the people,’ ’cause ‘we the people’ get pissed off.” I love you, Shoeboogie and Budd Lewis’ writing!
At 4 PM, Penny and Coldyron return home from the grocery store, seeing as their hands are full of groceries, and when Penny bargains that she’ll marinate the meat and make the salad if Coldyron goes to the minimart, we get a sample of Richard Gesswein’s actual voice for some reason when he says, “I reeckon ye got a baahgain.” I don’t know what accent that was, but perhaps Cullen Blaine was simply teasing us.
Back at the lab, Willard reads a comic book about robots and laughs,
while Houghtaling mentions he’s getting an impulse chain but doesn’t know where it’s coming from.
Back to Coldyron at the minimart. It just isn’t his day, as he stumbles upon a robbery taking place. He subdues a white guy and a Latino with help from a blonde woman who amazingly knows martial arts, and a third white guy who appears to think he’s Latino. He takes the woman hostage.
He says to Coldyron, “Okay, white boy. You get to watch. You get to watch me blow her brains out…and splatter all over the ground!” He does an amazing imitation of Al Pacino in Scarface, another great moment of acting from a bit character. He also says, “What are you gonna do, huh? All you’ve got is a newspaper.”
Coldyron, having concealed his gun within his newspaper, shoots the guy and frees the woman. All in a day’s work, of course.
Afterward, Coldyron gets insulted by a fellow cop, who tells him, “I want you to know you’ve done the right thing. But you ain’t no street cop, are you? Why don’t you go back to your nice little lab and stay there?” He laughs in his face, the asshole. You’ll prove them wrong, Coldyron! You’ll prove them dead wrong.
Back at the lab, Houghtaling and Willard check on R.O.T.O.R., whom they deem fine and still unconscious in spite of all of the surrounding electronics being drained. As they leave, Willard states, “One of these days I’m going to quit this job.” Assholes even programmed him to hate his job!
R.O.T.O.R. comes alive, er, online, and breaks out.
We find from his perspective that he’s burdened with a torturous crosshair and inverted color vision.
He opens a locker in the locker room that happens to contain his uniform, disrespectfully shoves a fellow officer in the face when he asks if he’d like to sign for the policeman’s ball,
and walks like a total badass through a sea of plastic chairs sitting in the…parking garage? He could just walk around them, but then we wouldn’t see a demonstration of his unmatchable strength.
He then pushes through a door that doesn’t actually seem like it’s locked, but must be, judging by the sound effect,
and gains access to the motorcycle that’s been waiting for his grand introduction, even though R.O.T.O.R. isn’t supposed to go out on patrol for 25 years, as Coldyron made clear in the meeting we saw earlier. I guess they all simply prepared everything a bit early. I guess it makes sense. After all, if a day is only three minutes long in this world, then 25 years, according to this film’s apparent universe and my calculator’s calculations, is really only about 19 days in our time. Hmm, that still seems a little early, but whatever.
R.O.T.O.R. rides his bike out into the night, initiating his patrol,
and back at the lab, Willard and Houghtaling decide to pull the plug on R.O.T.O.R., not knowing he’s gone, and Willard remarks as they leave the room, “Yeah, I got the feeling this is how Terminator got started.” Don’t reference that shitty movie! You know you’re far superior to that mess, R.O.T.O.R.
R.O.T.O.R. sits at a roadside, waiting for crime.
A couple driving through the night argue about their wedding after their wedding shower, specifically about how Sonya should give up working after getting married. When the stubborn woman refuses to speak to her beau, the guy gets frustrated and says, “Look, it took three weeks to get this shower together tonight, and look at you! You look like you’ve got both eyes coming out of the same hole.”
This is the look she makes when he says it:
I’m not sure of the meaning of what he said, but then again I’ve only been on one date in my pathetic life, so I wouldn’t know much about women’s cyclops problems.
R.O.T.O.R. eventually catches the couple speeding and pulls them over. The guy gets out of the car to confront the officer and tries to talk himself out of a ticket. He doesn’t seem too concerned when it sounds like the officer is using a robotic voice box to speak, and tries to bribe his smarmy way out of the ticket with a faulty Brooklyn accent instead, using a tempting twenty-dollar bill. R.O.T.O.R.’s “prime directive” apparently tells him that bribery is punishable by death, and the fiance winds up with a complementary bullet to the cranium.
After witnessing her fiance’s horrible failure at bribing an officer, Sonya notices the gun is aimed at her as well, because she’s an accessory to bribery who needs to die. However, she seems to assume that loud noises will be her way out of getting ruthlessly executed and sounds the horn, which works, of course, because R.O.T.O.R. apparently has a small aneurysm whenever it hears a car horn, and presumably other loud noises.
Not exactly a helpful thing if you’re designed to be a traffic enforcer, but maybe it’s supposed to gain sympathy from drivers with road rage and get them to stop? I’m sure Budd Lewis thought this one through.
Sonya pounds the horn, backs the car into the poor helpless android, and takes off into the night, which amazingly hasn’t transitioned to afternoon yet.
R.O.T.O.R.’s silhouette appears disappointed.
He balls his hands into fists like any robot would and hops back on his bike to chase her down.
After the mysterious murderer had made it clear that he had no intention of letting her live, Sonya comes to the obvious conclusion that she has to talk this through with the homicidal officer. She pulls over and R.O.T.O.R. attempts to kill her by grabbing through the driver’s window, but she floors it and he winds up being dragged for a few feet as he clings to the car before being “dropped off” in the brush.
At 3:00 AM Sonya’s fiance’s body is found by the police, and the officers find a “ROTOR” name tag in his hand. Is it a calling card? Is it a business card? Is it a card with his number on the other side for him to call him later? Regarding the latter, R.O.T.O.R.’s YMCA porn ‘stache is a bit questionable, but we don’t know what this means. It’s left up to the audience’s interpretation.
Back at a motel with Penny, Coldyron gets a call from one fruity officer named John Mango about the first ROTOR murder, during which the guy explains that the ROTOR name tag was conveniently found in the victim’s hand, and that when they ran it through the computer they got back “Tactical Operations Lab, Capt. J.B. Coldyron.” Coldyron tells Mango to “sit back” and tells him he’ll take care of things, even though the Sargeant should know he’s unemployed based on his records, and have gone to question him in person as a possible suspect. Then again, I know nothing about police operations, so I could be dead wrong about all of this. Maybe an officer who’s fired is actually still employed for a few months and has some authority over a Sargeant? I don’t know.
Coldyron heads for the lab and leaves a note for Penny.
Sonya stops at a gas station and tries to get into the closed establishment to no avail, amazingly. She then turns to a pay phone right next to it and calls the operator and tells him she’s…baked? I’m not sure what she says there, but she asks for the sheriff’s department afterward. She gets ahold of the department and tells them about the murder. She tells them where she is and is told to stay there and wait for the Dallas Police Department.
She knows R.O.T.O.R. is coming and leaves, not long before R.O.T.O.R. shows up, removes his sunglasses, and uses his fancy “sensor recall” display to “recall” Sonya leaving in her car there, even though he didn’t see any of this take place.
Does “recall” mean “omniscient time travel” in this case? I would love to ask my good friend Budd Lewis about this, but he has yet to reply to any of the fifty-four emails I sent him.
R.O.T.O.R. seems to have restored confidence at this point, and puts his shades back on to make him more blind.
“Impossible! Impossible!” Coldyron shouts to himself back at the tactical operations lab. He looks at the system computer, which intelligently tells him that R.O.T.O.R. is operating on his “lower brain functions,” meaning he’s essentially a person with severe autism and a gun. Oh no!
Coldyron does the sensible thing and calls the robot that doesn’t give a fuck, Willard, who has apparently been given a private home and a phone, to ask what happened. The robot begins every answer with “uh, well” and clumsily explains how he and Houghtaling had a good time of fucking things up.
After this chat, Coldyron calls Sgt. Mango and tells him that R.O.T.O.R. is a rogue officer.
He then makes a call to Division Headquarters and explains to his boss that he’ll see “product” within 59 days, or roughly three hours according to this film’s original temporal logic.
Coldyron smoothly informs him, “Prime directive to a R.O.T.O.R. unit is ‘judge and execute.’ It stops felons, judges the crime and executes sentence. Justice served C-O-D.” Cod? Or is it C-ol’-D? Perhaps a brilliant double-entendre on part of Budd Lewis, you indisputable genius.
Coldyron also talks about how it’s unstoppable, likening it to “a chainsaw set on ‘frappe’.” I didn’t know chainsaws could make coffee, but it’s an effective metaphor regardless.
Back to our lovely Sonya, we find ourselves at a burger joint in the middle of the night. She busts into the kitchen, locks the door even though this isn’t the only door to the place (or is it?), and takes a seat in the main restaurant.
She isn’t safe for long, though, because R.O.T.O.R. seems to know something’s up at this establishment, removes his shades, and uses that handy all-knowing “sensor recall” once again to see Sonya leaving her car in the past.
Upon seeing the what I thought was unseeable, R.O.T.O.R. goes into the kitchen and fries the chiclet-toothed cook,
and David Adam Newman chimes in with his ever-amazing soundtrack when R.O.T.O.R. shows up to kick some ass.
He goes for Sonya, but she manages to get out of the place through the front door while three cocky guys enter, who are each willing to fight with a cop.
As you can see, one gets his hand handed to him while the other two appear ready to appear in either a gay porno or a wrestling match, particularly Mr. Macho on the right.
Beer-gut Baldy takes his karate stance,
while after his ass gets kicked, Mr. Macho strips down to show off his perfectly unprepared muscles,
and gets his ass handed to him, followed by R.O.T.O.R. opening the front door to go after miss “accessory to bribery.”
R.O.T.O.R. finds Sonya’s car devoid of Sonya and, like any emotionless android, gets angry at the car seat.
Sonya hides in a booth at the gas station by the restaurant and hopes for the best, but R.O.T.O.R.’s handy dandy “sensor recall” rears its Godly head,
causing R.O.T.O.R. to see where she’s gone and reach through the glass without breaking it, only breaking it while pulling the man out from the booth, like robotic magic.
R.O.T.O.R reaches for Sonya but fails to stretch his arm too far, and she tries to escape by hitching a ride in a truck. R.O.T.O.R. aims his gun at the truck driver when he hops out to confront the killer, threatening this supposed cop by calmly saying, “Hey, you. Pull that trigger and they’re gonna be picking up little pieces of blue pig shit all over the parking lot.” R.O.T.O.R. shoots the guy in the chest, which evokes an annoyed, tired reaction of, “You son of a bitch,” resulting in a shot at R.O.T.O.R. prior to the driver’s untimely passing.
Coldyron approaches in his vehicle, while Sonya gives R.O.T.O.R. a headache with the truck horn. Coldyron takes the chance to get Sonya in his vehicle while R.O.T.O.R slowly approaches him. They have a brief and sluggish scuffle before Coldyron holds up what looks like a golden Pez dispenser,
which causes R.O.T.O.R. to look at it like it’s the prettiest object in the world,
and allows Sonya to get away once again.
R.O.T.O.R. loses his lust for the gold stick, lets out an agitated “gaaahh” and hops on his bike again, taking off into the seemingly infinite night.
Coldyron makes contact with Sonya through the truck’s two-way radio and his own, giving her some exposition about what R.O.T.O.R. is and what it wants. Coldyron winds up shooting at the bike as R.O.T.O.R. gets away, and says he thinks he “crippled his ride” even though we see it continue riding along effortlessly. An attempt at looking impressive for the pretty lady, probably.
He then tells her she’ll need to be bait while he stops this android.
In an attempt to get some assistance with this effort, Coldyron makes a call at 5:45 AM to the insanely smart Dr. Steele in Houston, ’cause all the best scientists are in Texas. She doesn’t answer, but as Coldyron leaves his message, we are greeted to Playboy Scientist of the Month, with her skunk-patterned hairdo, bulky muscles and womanly entrance.
David Adam Newman kicks in with his pulse-pounding soundtrack, as we find R.O.T.O.R. at a gas station, just enjoying his Friday morning routine of inverted-color-jump-cable juicing at 8:30 AM:
This causes a nearby mechanic to hitch a ride on a seemingly unrelated truck as it drives away.
As R.O.T.O.R. leaves on his bike, Coldyron greets the beautiful Dr. Steele at the airport.
On the drive through the morning, they flirt with each other like all brilliant minds do:
Coldyron: “Your designs for the combat chassis are the most brilliant I’ve ever seen.”
Dr. Steele: “It was nothing without your own brain matrix.”
Coldyron ditches his lust quickly and explains to Steele that R.O.T.O.R. is out there and will kill again.
She reasons—in philosophical prose that Isaac Asimov would compulsively jack off to—that if he’s out there, he poses a threat that is governed entirely by simple law, and that he can’t be stopped.
Coldyron counters her argument with the golden Pez dispenser.
She nods it off with an understated, “C’mon.”
The two of them stop at The Lincoln Hotel and check in together, most likely to have a morning (or evening at this point) of hot sex.
As they walk to the reception desk, Coldyron asks, “I’ve done my homework already. Let me ask you something: can he be stopped?” to which Steele replies, “I don’t know. When I stack ’em, they stay stacked.”
I don’t know what that means any more than “you look like you’ve got both eyes coming out of the same hole”, but it sounds way above my head. Women scientists…
When they step into their room, Coldyron has a moment of philosophical rumination, where he asks over images of R.O.T.O.R. holding up guns and riding his bike, “Now I’ve got to wonder: were we playing God, breathing life into our artificial Adam, or have we lost sight of Paradise? What was it Milton said? ‘Did I request Thee, Maker, from my clay to mold me Man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?’ Is it his fault he is what he is, or is it ours? Well, either way, he’s out there now, twenty-five years too soon.”
The brilliant reply of Ms. Steele? “Let’s go get ‘im.”
They promptly leave the hotel and Coldyron explains to Steele that “something in the molecular memory of the chassis alloy; it’s affecting the brain matrix.” He further reasons that R.O.T.O.R. is “programming himself.”
Steele exclaims, “Oh, God. The brain matrix. It’s modeled after your own lower brain functions, without the higher functions to control him.”
She goes on to explain the logical conclusion: “If I miss, you’ll be fighting your own base instincts. To combat pure will, you’ll have to use pure illogic. You will have to allow yourself to fail. Use your failure against him. Your failure is his failure. Your weakness is his weakness. Then, only then, can you do something.”
Coldyron? “Great, except I don’t know what any of that means.”
Steele? “Let’s hope you never have to find out.”
Budd Lewis, you continue to impress in your writing. Win by failing. Sheer genius.
At 2:30 PM, R.O.T.O.R. locates Sonya in a totally different car from an overpass, and initiates chasing her.
The chase goes on for a little while until R.O.T.O.R. loses balance and flies off into a ditch.
Sonya exits the car and flees into the woods, winding up at a small row boat on a lake. She stands and exclaims to herself, “Come on, Mr. Coldyron. I’m here, he’s here. Where in the hell are you?
Meanwhile, Coldyron and Steele park their car off-road and decide to head on-foot to her location.
Steele asks, “You don’t happen to know any good Indian trackers, do you?”
Coldyron admits with amazing convenience, “I used to spend every summer on the reservation, will I do?”
Steele answers, “I’m like a cemetery. I’ll take anybody.” Those witty scientists!
R.O.T.O.R. shows up by Sonya and tells her she’s been an accomplice in a “major traffic violation”, which she knows at this point warrants a death sentence.
R.O.T.O.R. exclaims with understandable android prejudiced, “I am ROTOR. You, are guilty.” He pulls out his gun, aims it at Sonya patiently, walks up to her without shooting as she shouts “get away from me!”, and gets shot by Dr. Steele.
Dr. Steele tackles the rogue robot. R.O.T.O.R. winds up nearly knocking her out and drags her onto the beach kindly, where they continue to fight. Coldyron, in the meantime, pulls Sonya away.
Coldyron tries to get R.O.T.O.R. out of his “prime directive” by stating, “This concludes the drill. That’s all for today.” He approaches with the Pez dispenser, which the android snickers robotically to this time, privy to its powers, and aims his gun in Coldyron’s face.
Dr. Steele scuffles a bit more, while Coldyron calls out “Tony” to Sonya (?) to tell her to tie off the primer cord. That explosive cord is more useful than we previously thought. Haha!
Steele tries to kill R.O.T.O.R. by ripping his chest open, which reveals a green substance that immediately inverts the world’s colors.
Green ooze comes out as R.O.T.O.R. squeezes her to death, it looks like, and Coldyron tries to trick the poor bastard as it stalls by saying, “What’s the matter? Using my brain to think with? You think I’d set you up?”
The two brawl for a moment before Sonya blows the horn in the car to cause temporary malfunctioning, and R.O.T.O.R. somehow steps into the loop that contracts around his ankle, gets lassoed around the right arm by Coldyron, and around the other by an invisible force, and miraculously around the neck by another invisible force. He breaks that one, however.
He eventually winds up like this:
He’s tied by one rope to the vehicle, which Sonya drives backward, but the other ropes don’t appear to be tied to anything, although Coldyron could be something like Flash and have skipped from tree to tree in a millisecond to accomplish this, something Budd Lewis could have made us aware of, but it works all the same on the rogue robot:
It’s a nice reference to the Blood Eagle tradition that Shoeboogie mentioned earlier, symbolic of R.O.T.O.R.’s validity as a great warrior. Of course, unlike with the Blood Eagle, R.O.T.O.R. didn’t choose this death, so maybe it’s saying he’s not a great warrior? Answer me, Budd Lewis!
After explaining all of this to the cops in the interrogation room (except for how Sonya got passed out in the beginning of the film), Coldyron tells the cops he’s got a future, which shouldn’t turn out wrong at all.
When he steps out onto the lot, a man in a trench coat with a shotgun shoots him twice for saying too much, muttering with cool ’80s attitude, “Justice served C-O-T.” Cot? Colt? Another indecipherable message from our good friend Dr. Budd Lewis.
We then hear a letter written to Coldyron’s nephew about what happened to his uncle. He turns out to be his only heir, and looks slightly disappointed to hear this news.
Cut to R.O.T.O.R.’s chassis, which is superimposed by an image of Dr. Steele, who turns out to be the model for R.O.T.O.R. II. We zoom in through her luscious face to the closing credits, which are accompanied by the amazing track we heard during Coldyron and Penny’s date, “Hideaway”.
What do I think of this film? I believe it’s a robotic science fiction achievement unlike any other. It looks at humanity with a cold, sad face, saying, “What you sow, you shall reap,” in terms of technology. It does it much better than any robot movie I’ve seen, which is why I’m giving it the rating of 5/5 possible stars with no flaws in my impossibly perceptive eyes. It is definitely a rare achievement in sci-fi cinema, and I recommend purchasing the Blu-Ray Ultimate Edition, whenever it may come out, which it surely will.
If you want to add this film to your collection of absolutely incredible underrated classics, you’ll find it in this collection of 50 Sci-Fi movie classics at Amazon for around $9, or used starting from much less. You can also watch the Rifftrax version of ROTOR on Amazon Prime for free with membership if you want some good commentary.
[Sincerity Note: Long after writing this review I looked up actors who appeared in this film to see where they ended up, and made the tragic discovery that actress Margaret Trigg had passed away in 2003 at only 39 years old. I understand the few screenshots I used of her in this review aren’t exactly flattering and yet rank highly for her name on Google, but this is the nature of all of the cast pics I use, as a supplement to the ironic voice of the review.
Please understand it is not meant as any kind of personal insult toward her, as I only later found out she was rather obsessive and insecure about her beautiful appearance in life. Trigg has my respects and her family my condolences. She actually was not one of the many baffling problems with this laughably bad film, and it was a joy to watch her performance. R.I.P., Margaret.
I have also since learned that writer Budd Lewis passed away, in August of 2014, and based on what I learned from digging for more info about him, he actually intended for R.O.T.O.R. to be a spoof, while Cullen Blaine and the producers seemed to have misunderstood his intention, giving us the unintentionally comical disaster that came instead. I discovered that Lewis was responsible for writing and illustrating comic books and more, as a truly respectable artist. Rest in Peace as well, Lewis.]
19 thoughts on “R.O.T.O.R. (1987) Review”
You sir, have made my day.
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man you spent a lot of time breaking down this disaster when you could have been doing something useful like sleeping or looking at a plant grow. the blame doesn’t go to the writer who might have written a fun movie (he claimed it was satirical) but the director and producer are the culprits with something like this. they can change everything once they have the script. and they most likely didn’t shoot the entire script. just bits of it based on budget.
i still don’t get the ending… they thought it was a good idea to have someone we’ve never seen before just shoots him? then the end? and the girl at the beginning supposedly died because she was too close to the robot before it exploded? but the main character was closer to him. and it was night. and we never saw that farmer. that all had to be tacked on (ending, beginning, narration, scroll) to have this mess make any sense.
Oh yeah, I mostly put the blame on Cullen Blaine and the producers. As I added at the end of the review I discovered that Budd Lewis originally wrote a spoof (though he kind of made it clear in a dickish way), but then it turned into this travesty that took itself way too seriously, with the exception of weird comic reliefs Shoeboogie and Willard, of course.
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Awesome podcast, man. You’ve got a new fan.
I’m trying to find any information on Jayne Smith. That adams apple stood out even though they tried (poorly) to cover it
Yeah, unfortunately it looks like she’s lost to the sands of time… and R.O.T.O.R. Richard Gesswein is another puzzle I’ve been trying to figure out to no avail.
All due respect, but I saw the entire movie in the time it would take me to read this lengthy and “fawning” review. Sarcasm is a tricky writing technique that should be used sparingly to be effective– from what I’ve read you have the Blu-Ray edition and watch it with a bottle of lotion and box of tissues by your side.
Thanks for the input/advice. I actually watched the HQ version on YouTube and got the screenshots from that, but the lotion and tissue box have both since been replaced many times over.
loved your review!!!
Does anyone have any info on Richard Gesswein? Can’t find any trace of the guy after R.O.T.O.R. Just curious about whatever happened to him or what he’s doing these days. Thanks! Sorry! Thanks!!
To this day I can’t find any other info about him. According to one other source on Rotten Tomatoes, he was a producer and investor, so he must’ve just continued going that route and stayed away from acting. Considering his entire performance had to be dubbed here in addition to his overall performance, I can see why.
He says Justice Served.. CoD (Cash On Delivery)
Hey, this is the guy who played Houghtaling. Budd, Gesswein and Blaine came to Dallas to make the low budget film, it was the directorial debut of Blaine and the acting debut of Gesswein. They ended up hating each other and that’s why Gesswein’s voice was dubbed and why he was shot at the end. The person in the final scene was a stand-in. Budd was a great guy and we had a lot of laughs doing the film. I started off assisting a lady who was going to be the Production Manager but had no idea of what she was doing and asked me to help. I met her when I was wording on location securing for another crappy film – No Safe Haven. Well, I ended up being the PM once they figured out she was useless. In that capacity I was also the Casting Director, Location manager, practical effects director on guns and explosives, a stunt guy who rode the bike as a double for ROTOR (until I broke my collas bone one night) and I was an actor in the film. Budd and I often tried to add lines to make it funnier which Cullen often shot down. It was my idea to have the Police Robot ask if I was going to eat my fries. Stupid right? Also, that robot was actually a youth outreach device for the Addison Police Dept that helped kids who sometimes wouldn’t talk to regular folks. I could go on but I hate to be a bore.
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These are some great behind-the-scenes details. Gives a lot of insight into the production of what might’ve been a stronger parody if it wasn’t so uneven throughout. Glad to hear you and Budd enjoyed the production process, at least.
Thanks for your well written and funny review. I often brag that I was a part of the worst movie ever made, ha. Of course, when your in the middle of it you don’t know what will turn out in the end. Thanks also for your respectful end for Budd. He was one of those guys you couldn’t help but like.
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This question has been overloading my brain matrix since I’ve finished watching R.O.T.O.R but I am curious… Any leads on who may have played Shoeboogie? We the people gots to know!
Based on a Google search, still no clue there. Looks like one mystery that’ll remain unsolved.
David Newman … associate producer
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