Is this Jox worth a sniff?
Director Stuart Gordon confesses this on the bonus interview that accompanies this Blu-ray: he loved Transformers so much he wanted to make his own giant fighting mech movie. I can appreciate that. Right there is the kind of gumption the world needs more of, specifically, which leads to creation of more stop-motion animated robot punching.
Though I’m not sure if we need more movies like Robot Jox.
Here’s the lowdown: in the post World War III world, large-scale war has been outlawed. Sovereign nations now settle their differences the old-fashioned way, by building gigantic mechs and battle it out one-on-one with competing gigantic mechs. Winner take all (usually contested borders and an increase in geo-political bragging rights).
As a bonus, this robot diplomacy has become quite the crowd-pleaser. The pilots earn cult status among the populace and the Jox bouts consistently score huge live audience turnouts. One of the biggest draws is Achilles (Gary Graham), a legendary Jock who’s taken himself out of the game, ceding the guts and glory to a new crop of pilots, many of whom wear junk-defining leggings and flattop hairdos. But when a new foe presents himself a merciless, nigh-unbeatable adversary who’s smitten with stomping his defeated pilots into red paste, Achilles suits up for one more battle.
The ancient mythology parallels are not subtle. Then again, neither is this movie. Robot Jox is a clunky, on-the-nose sci-fi film filled with brutal ’80s production design and acting so overwrought livestock within a five-mile radius of the set location likely keeled over and died.
But…there is charm to be found within its heavily-applied mascara and mealy-mouthed line delivery. Robot Jox brings some fun stuff to the table. While this may not add up to a particularly good movie, the end result is a cornball relic whose value is found in its low-grade charisma.
And Exhibit 1 is the Robot vs. Robot action. If you, like me, possess an affinity for the old-fashioned stop-motion days of yore then there is fun to be had. The robots are huge and designed with a distinct ’80s flair, infused with Manga sensibilities. The action scenes featuring these synthetic behemoths trading blows aren’t the most elegant, but considering the limitations of the tech, they hold up. Actually, I felt a distinct Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back vibe from the way these things moved. The downside: there are only a few bouts in the film.
Unfortunately, most everything outside of the mech action is run-of-the-mill blah. There’s some rickety political intrigue woven into the story and the character interactions are limited to the tired “the pupil has become the master until the pupil gets waxed and the master comes out of retirement to crack some skulls” set-up.
Which leads to the only interesting character moment: the face-off with Alexander (Paul Koslo), his worn enemy and splattering of comrades. It’s a basic one-on-one grudge match kind of thing and works in a superficial way. The ending? That was hilariously unpredictable.
A Joxtastic Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, starting with the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix and a solid 1.85:1 transfer. Despite the age of the film, the picture quality is strong, the colors vibrant and the effects (archaic as they may be) joyful in their low-budget wackiness. Extras: two commentary tracks (with Stuart Gordon and the effects guys), “A Look Back With Paul Koslo” a new retrospective, still galleries, archival crew interviews and 15 minutes worth of behind the scenes footage.
A fun, disposable, crusty sci-fi artifact. Not high art, but probably worth a look for genre fans.