Robowar – Bruno Mattei, Reb Brown, Catherine Hickland

Robowar aka Robot da guerra (1989)
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
Starring: Reb Brown, Catherine Hickland, Massimo Vanni, Romano Puppo, Claudio Fragasso, Max Laurel, Jim Gaines, John P. Dulaney, Mel Davidson

Robowar - Reb Brown fires gun
Pretty sure this situation calls for lots of machine gun fire.

Here’s the setup to Bruno Mattei’s Robowar: a bunch of melodramatic helicopter pilots are talking nonsense to their base command about some kind of malfunction, which is intercut with an opening title sequence over a red pixelated haze. Eventually we figure out that they have lost control of something called Omega-1, a robot/weapon that mumbles out electronic gobbledegook before blowing up the chopper. I know what you’re thinking – this calls for Reb Brown!

A guy named Mascher (Mel Davidson), the inventor of Omega-1, is given a team to take with him to recover and neutralize it. The team is comprised of a burly bunch of anti-guerrilla experts who call themselves BAM – which stands for Big Ass Motherfuckers. (The writers – husband-and-wife team Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi – probably mean to say “Bad-Ass” instead of “Big-Ass” but it’s too late now, isn’t it?) It should be noted that there is no real plan on defeating Omega-1, or how exactly the orchestrators of this mission plan on keeping the secret of Omega-1 from the dudes sent into get the thing. No matter, soon we are introduced to the BAM crew, composed of Italians, Filipinos, and the girly belly-shirt wearing Maj. Murphy Black, played by Reb Brown, who immediately doesn’t like Mascher but does seem fond of screaming out a high-pitched “Move Out!” alot, as well as firing off gems of self-reflection like “You know what they say: life’s a bitch, and then you die.” Yes, I know it, Reb Brown.

Robowar - Chuck Norris Lookalike
The reason why Chuck Norris was missing in action.

So Mascher tells Major Black that the mission is to “beach two rafts”, which doesn’t seem like much of a mission to me. In fact, the very next scene does indeed show that they successfully beached a raft, but then they get out and start snooping around the jungle, I assume because they were extremely bored. By the way, one of the mission guys is nicknamed Papa Doc (John P. Dulaney), I assume because he fights diseases like Duvalier did, and not because of the other things Duvalier did, like voodoo and causing the deaths of thousands of people. Another guy is a spitting image of Chuck Norris (Massimo Vanni), which is perfectly fine, because the only thing required of him in this picture is to look like Chuck Norris, and damn it, he does it well.

These soldiers aren’t very bright. First off, they have no idea what mission they’re on but they perform it with enthusiasm anyway. On numerous occasions, a weird glimmer in the trees will have them empting off all their rounds wildly, with no thought whatsoever about being discreet. Nobody wonders about alerting the locals, and why not? Nobody seems to hear their gunfire anyway. (There’s even a scene later where guerillas show up in a jeep, right next to our heros, and they don’t even freakin’ notice them.) Anyway, the guys come across some skeletons, express revulsion at their condition, and continue walking through the jungle as really cool techno music plays on. But then something is watching them, and with really crappy pixelated, red, hazy-vision.

Robowar - Omega-1
This arty shot shows how Omega-1 is just like the gods, or, uh… well, it’s an arty shot.

Yeah, if you havent figured it out yet, this is a blatant, shameful, Italian ripoff of Predator. But hack director Bruno Mattei is known for doing blatant, shameful ripoffs. Take Hell of the Living Dead, for example – his blatant ripoff of Dawn of the Dead, or “Terminator 2“, his blatant ripoff of Aliens (wha?), or Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws. Yes, please take that movie. Go ahead, I’m not watching it. What Mattei is also known for is creating films so inept that they take on a certain charm all their own. That’s the case with Robowar – it’s a film with low-rent standins for most of the characters in Predator, from the superstitous soldier with the sixth sense to the agent who knows what’s really going on to the damsel in distress. And of course, Reb Brown is about the cheapest stand-in for Arnold Schwarzenegger you can find.

It is very funny to watch the entire plot of Predator play out in this manner. The dialogue is the best. Read the following derivative lines:

  • “It’s like collard green stew. If you get caught in it, you never get out of it.”
  • “Don’t move.” (After Reb Brown throws a dagger into an enemy)
  • “Come out you bastard! I got a painless cure here for ya!”
  • “Drug addicts and fags… I bet they got AIDS too, huh, Quang?”

Wow, that’s some witty dialogue right there. And completely original, right? Also, there is lots of talk about balls, like “He’ll slice off your ear and cram your balls down your throat” and “I’ll shoot your balls off!” You know, macho Italian stuff like that! Then there is the crap that Omega-1 spews out. The only real line I could make out was:

“Enemy sighted. Moving target. Tracking search. Receive. Receive. Receive.”

The rest of it is gibberish, and who the hell is the Omega-1 talking to anyway?

Robowar - Reb Brown Laser Gun
Reb Brown is Luke Skywalker in a Space Mutiny flashback.

Anyway, the BAMs come across guerrillas chasing down villagers and proceed to wipe them out, rescuing blonde hostage Virginia (Catherine Hickland, wife of David Hasselhoff and Michael Knight), who tells them she worked in a hospital that was attacked, which causes the team to stage an ambush on the guerrilla headquarters which works pretty well. Why shouldn’t it, though? They do the same exact things Arnold’s team did, but Reb Brown was told not to say “Stick Around” because that might be too obvious. So instead he belts out “Don’t Move” and winks at the camera. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

As for Omega-1 itself, it’s basically a dude dressed up in a motorcycle helmet and wearing football shoulder pads. With his vision oversaturated in red and at a resolution of about, oh i don’t know – 8 bits, maybe, i find it hard to believe he would be able to properly target anything. His electronic gibberish is the funniest stuff I’ve heard; it sounds like somebody sent too many wav files to their 16 bit soundblaster card and the thing overloaded.

As you can guess, the team is taken out one-by-one (the robot has lasers and even a metal tentacle; how it manages to completely strip a body of skin and muscles is not explained, but as one person said on IMDB, Mattei probably had access to bio-lab skeletons, and it would be a shame not to use them!). Soon enough, only Murphy and Virginia are left standing. By the way, Virginia says at one point that she “can make it”, and then 30 seconds later she shouts “I can’t make it!” But the pair manage to take cover in an abandoned hospital where Virginia puts her chemistry knowledge to work by making some Napalm. She throws it into Omega-1’s face and Reb blows up the building.

Robowar - The Whole Cast in the Jungle
Hey, get that local guy to take a group photo! (Then shoot him)

That’s not the end, though. Omega-1 escapes and reveals himself one last time to Murphy, who at this moment has already learned that the robot is really his best friend from Vietnam whom he thought had died. So yeah, not content to just rip off Predator, Mattei grabs a chunk of Robocop too. Omega-1 lifts his motorcycle helmet to reveal the eyes of Murphy’s best bud, before giving him the remote control to end his life. There’s a big explosion as Reb Brown yells and jumps off a waterfall. Cue end credits, modeled after Predator‘s, naturally.

If you want to know what Robowar boils down to, it is this: lots of footage of guys yelling and shooting off their machine guns into the jungle. Extreme Italian-ness. Silly robot in football uniform and motorcycle helmet. Reb Brown. Chuck Norris-lookalike. Hilarious rock music/electronic soundtrack. Absurd dialogue. It’s a Bruno Mattei film. Think of it as Predator-Sweded.

If you are an admirer of bad movies, love the contributions that Bruno Mattei has made to humanity, dig all those B-movies shot on the cheap in the Philippines (and this one even stars B-movie/Filipino legend Jim Gaines), and really get off on Predator ripoffs with a side of Robocop, you can’t go wrong with Robowar. It’s another positive on Reb Brown’s stellar resume, which also includes Space Mutiny (which was MSTied), Yor, The Hunter From The Future, Strike Commando (also a Bruno Mattei joint), Sssssss, Captain America (yes, before Chris Evans), and Howling II – Your Sister Is a Werewolf (that one must be seen to be believed). I can only hope that i get a hold of the soundtrack before i die – it’s awesome(ly bad).

– Bill Gordon

Robowar - Omega-1 Heat Vision
The robot’s built in functions helpfully filter targets OUT.

Note: I got a hold of a copy with Japanese subtitles (looks like a VHS rip). (See below for a sample) There’s also a Greek VHS rip floating around.

If you want to know more (WTF? Why?) you should check out Forgotten Junk, the Spoony Experiment, and the Direct to Video Connoisseur.