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OMEGA DOOM (1996)

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"We have reprogrammed you with a human purpose. Now you can clearly see which machines are good and bad. Who deserves to live, and who deserves to die…."

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Director: Albert Pyun

Starring: Rutger Hauer, Norbert Weisser, Anna Katarina, Shannon Whirry, Tina Coté, Jill Pierce, Cynthia Ireland, Jahi Zuri

Screenplay: Albert Pyun, Ed Naha

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Synopsis: After an apocalyptic war between robots and humans, a robot soldier named Omega Doom (Rutger Hauer) enters a ruined amusement park that is populated by two rival gangs of robots, the Roms and the Droids. The two groups believe that a huge stash of arms is concealed somewhere within the park. Hearing rumours that the humans are regrouping and coming to destroy them, the robots are desperate to find the weapons. Doom finds an unspent bullet as he enters the park, and carefully pockets it. Hearing cries for help, Doom sees a decapitated robotic head being used as a football by a Droid, Marko (Jahi Zuri). After The Head (Norbert Weisser) is kicked away by Marko, Doom locates him and helps him attach to a new body. In return, The Head tells Doom about the war between the Roms and the Droids; that the rival factions were forced to call a truce due to their dwindling numbers; and that each side is now waiting for the other to make a move that will reveal the hidden weapons. The other occupants of the town are himself, a former teacher-drone, and the Bartender (Anna Katarina), a worker-drone who serves water in a small bar. Doom goes to the Bartender’s. Marko finds The Head and re-decapitates him. Beating The Head against a wall, Marko tries to draw Doom into a fight, but Doom ignores him, instead entering the hideout of the Roms. Doom shows their leader, Blackheart (Tina Coté), the bullet he found, telling her he knows where the weapons are and that he will split them with the Roms if they help him dig them up. Deeply suspicious, Blackheart tells Doom that she will think about his offer. The Bartender tries to rescue The Head from Marko, and is thrown downstairs for her trouble. As Marko moves in on her, Doom intervenes. The two move out into the street to fight, and Marko is killed. The Droids are angered, but Zed (Shannon Whirry), their leader, argues that Marko had it coming. Zed finds Doom at the Bartender’s, where he makes her the same offer he made the Roms. Planning to use Doom to help destroy the Roms, Zed accepts, not realising that Doom has secret plans of his own.

Comments: Oh, for shame, for shame! My website’s over a year old, and not one Albert Pyun film upon the premises! Actually, there’s a very good reason for this: up until a week ago, I had never seen a Pyun film. Nevertheless, I was very well aware of his, er, unique talents (for those wishing to know more, I recommend visits to Stomp Tokyo and The Unknown Movies Page, where his career is discussed in some detail).

Having finally taken the plunge, I am now forced to concede that, horribly, the rumours were true. Bad film-makers come in all shapes, sizes and perversions, but with Omega Doom, Albert Pyun commits what for me is the one unforgivable sin: it’s boring! In fact, considering the source material of Omega Doom, it’s hard to believe just how mindbogglingly dull it is. If the general outline of the film given above sounds familiar – stranger wanders into a town occupied by opposing forces, plays them off against each other, whittles down both camps – it’s because the film is a total rip-off of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars (1964), which was itself derived from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961). Here, the action is supposed to be taking place in post-apocalyptic California (is that a tautology?), and was set in a section of an abandoned amusement park called "Old Europe Town" in a failed attempt to disguise the fact that Omega Doom was shot on location in Slovakia.

The opposing forces in question are somewhat less than impressive. First, we’ve got the Roms, an all-girl gang of killers who are trying to take over the world. With their black-on-black clothing, dark glasses and matching trendy haircuts, these sub-Goths look like they’d be more comfortable taking over the café scene in Balmain or Glebe or Newtown. The Droids are even less threatening, marked as they are by plaited hair and a wardrobe that’s vaguely militaristic, but hardly scary. This gang also has a female leader, Zed, played with remarkable blandness by Shannon Whirry. (I am not personally very familiar with Ms Whirry’s acting career, but from the vociferous complaints of several other (male) reviewers of this film, I gather that she – how shall I put this? – isn’t usually as warmly dressed as she is here).

Caught between these two factions are the "innocent bystander" drones. The Bartender is meant to be the emotional heart of the film, and if her character had been handled with a little more subtlety, might actually have contributed something worthwhile. However, the whole "snow globe" business is about as subtle as the atomic bomb explosion that begins the film, while the "Joy To The World" routine at the end is nothing short of nauseating. Nevertheless, the Bartender is infinitely less annoying than The Head, who – God help us – is here to provide "comedy". Two things came to mind while I was having the painfully unfunny antics of Norbert Weisser inflicted upon me. One was, why didn’t decapitation kill him the way it killed other robots in the film (a thought that comes under the general heading of "wishful thinking"), and the other, why can’t some film-makers accept that decapitated heads cannot talk? Yeah, okay, The Head’s a robotic decapitated head, so maybe it’s different for him. Still, I’m afraid that I reacted to his monologues exactly the same way I reacted to those from the decapitated head in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1959), to wit, by yelling at the TV, "You are a decapitated head so shut the f**k up!" I was then soundly punished for this outburst by having to watch The Head cope with new bodies he can’t quite control – and, hey! – nothing says "comedy" like spastic body movements, right?

And so into this hodge-podge of undeveloped elements and characters wanders – and I do mean "wanders" – Rutger Hauer. Viewers should pay close attention during Omega Doom’s opening scene: the look of mild distress Hauer assumes after being shot in his "prime directive" (ouch! – dat’s gotta hoit!) is as close to a change of expression as he gets in the entire film. Watching Hauer sleepwalk through this film, blinking lazily and mumbling dialogue that would embarrass Arnold Schwarzenegger (or at any rate, Rainier Wolfcastle) is not a pleasant experience. I only hope he was well paid. Indeed, that may well be where most of the film’s budget went.

There is a lot of talk throughout about wars, and battles, and what the robots are going to do to the surviving humans when they get weapons, none of which does anything to divert the viewer from the fact that the robotic "armies" are each comprised of exactly three individuals. There are actually four Droids to start with, but not surprisingly, that doesn’t last. I say "not surprisingly", because alone among the robots, Marko is black. He is also the first character killed in this film. (I have nothing to say about this beyond the observation that it is nice to see certain standards being maintained, even in the post-apocalyptic future.) Many of Albert Pyun’s movies involve robots. Maybe he likes robots. My own feeling is that their attraction is that, when they get hurt, you don’t have to show (or pay for) fake blood. Besides, if Pyun really liked them, he’d make them a bit more convincing, and not inflict upon us robots whose robot-ness is signalled by a slight reverb of the voice in the case of the Roms, and by making a kind of "ehh-ehh" metallic sound when they move in the case of all the others (when Doom and Blackheart fight, it sounds like a pinball machine. Chng! Chngchngchng! Chngchng!). Personally, I’d also prefer robots who don’t drink water and smoke, and whose breath doesn’t fog up in the cold.

The only good thing about Omega Doom is that it’s less than eighty minutes long, including the credits. The bad news is, there is an incredible amount of padding, with literally minutes spent with the characters simply staring at one another. In the film’s progenitors, Leone and Kurosawa used such scenes of silent inaction to build amazing tension. Here, the same scenes just run down the clock. The worst sequence is the Doom/Marko fight. We look at them looking at each other. We look at the Roms looking at them. We look at the Droids looking at them. We look at the Roms and the Droids looking at each other. We look at the Bartender looking at Doom and Marko. We look at The Head looking at Doom and Marko. We look at the Bartender and The Head looking at each other. We look at Doom and Marko still looking at each other. Then, just as we’re screaming, "Please, somebody DO SOMETHING!!" Doom and Marko fire at each other and Marko is killed – a fight lasting all of four seconds. And then – did you guess? – they all look at each other some more! Of all the annoying things about Omega Doom, the most annoying is that the only interesting plot idea – Doom being reprogrammed by humans to kill his own kind – is tossed away with barely a second glance. (And, yes, I’m perfectly well aware of the Bladerunner connection here, but I’m trying very hard to prevent myself from thinking about Bladerunner at all in this context, if you know what I mean.) The revelation that the "good" robots’ hero is actually a human-governed robot-killer causes temporary distress for the Bartender and The Head, but once it’s clear he has no intention of killing them, they get over it real quick. Having wiped out the "bad machines" who "deserved to die", Doom wanders off again, leaving the "good machines" – all three of them – to help "rebuild the world". The film ends as it began, with Rutger Hauer reciting Dylan Thomas’ "And Death Shall Have No Dominion". I’m sure Mr Thomas would have been just thrilled at having his work attached to this movie. Hmm - what’s that whirring noise…?

Footnote: The night I watched Omega Doom, I also taped Captain America, which was on in the entirely suitable timeslot of 2.00 am. Checking the tape the next morning, I learned from the opening credits that I’d inadvertently caught another Albert Pyun film! For a moment I was tempted to sit right down and watch it, but then mind and spirit rebelled. Indeed, I think it shall be some time before I can bring myself to consume another slice of Pyun….