MOVIE REVIEW OF ”MONSTERS OF MAN”

One of the worst things a movie can do is wear out its welcome. Sadly, Australian filmmaker Mark Toia couldn’t bear to trim 30 minutes off this derivative, two-hour plus, paranoid, sci-fi thriller “Monsters of Men” (*1/2 OUT OF ****), a drawn-out, predictable, bloodthirsty catalog of clichés.

As a freshman helmer, Toia not only fails to justify the film’s excessive length with enough riveting, edge-of-the-seat suspense and action, but also this formulaic cautionary tale about robots run amok lacks spontaneity. Italian shlockmeister Bruno Mattei’s “Robowar” (1988) served as an early example of this sadistic genre.

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The Mario Van Peebles sci-fi actioneer “Solo” (1996), a synthetic soldier who clashed with the Pentagon over its refusal to kill innocents. Along with its crippling length, “Monsters of Men” bristles with too many characters. These homicidal robots stalk six harmless medical students. These twentysomethings are so clueless it is difficult to feel any sympathy for their plight.

Basically, with the CIA’s blessing, a private robotics contractor has parachuted four trigger-happy robots into the notorious Southeast Asian “Golden Triangle” where opium cultivation thrives. Initially, the objective was purely navigational, but those objectives change without warning.

When one robot breaks down, this covert mission suffers its first setback. Virtually everybody from the CIA down to the field gurus monitoring the bots have forgotten they are expendable and nothing about this illicit mission must appear in the media.

Despite these flaws, “Monsters of Men” boasts top-notch CGI. The four skeletal metal robots are as menacing as those in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), and they have been integrated seamlessly into the surreal Southeast Asian jungles along the Cambodian border. The only ‘name’ actor in this humorless hokum is Neal McDonough.

A sinister Company man, Major Robert Green (McDonough) supervises the mission from his shadowy Washington office, while the robots rack up a high body count on the ground in those scenic Asian jungles.

“Monsters of Man” starts with a startling flashback 48 hours earlier. An armed robot chases a frantic young black female, Angie (Taylor Edwards), down a jungle trail. She is one of six medical students later introduced. She stumbles from the impact of a bullet in her belly. As she crawls desperately along the trail, the robot towers over her and hoists its foot to stomp her to death.

Before this atrocity occurs, the scene shifts to the arrival of three white computer geeks, Kroger (David Haverty of “The Red Machine”), Jantz (Ryan Hough of “Generation Now”), and Fielding (Jessica Blackmore of “Killer In Law”), in an anonymous Asian city.

Another sinister white CIA agent, Boller (Jose Rosete of “Battlefield 2025”) picks them up and hauls them off to their mobile command shack above a ghetto sweatshop. Should this covert ops end badly, Boller warns them they may either die or rot in a foreign hoosegow.

An olive-drab cargo plane enters Asian airspace, and four robots equipped with artificial intelligence sky dive out and cruise into the jungle under their chutes. When Robot Number 4’s chute doesn’t open, the techies figure he’s finished. Afterward, a gang of native juveniles playing ‘soldier’ discover the roughed-up robot.

One of the juveniles, Leap (newcomer Ly Ty), picks up a module the size of a cigarette package that fell out of its head. Suddenly, Number 4 Robot regains power and stands up. Four embarks on a learning curve during the chaos and struggles to appreciate the distinction between humans and machines.

At the same time, a half-dozen medical students, who blundered down the wrong road, run over an opium farmers’ booby trap, and cannot crank their minivan. Naturally, the six are ripe for slaughter. They wander into a nearby village with thatched roofs where the opium dealers and their families reside.

Leap is the son of the village elder, Prak (Trong Kam of “Niraya”), who rules the village. Leap’s cordial mom, Keala (Ma Rynet of “Mekong 2030”), offers to share food with them. However, Prak insists they leave, and he dispatches Leap as their guide through the booby traps.

Meantime, Major Green and robotics contractor Foster (newcomer David Samartin), alter the mission objectives. The three robots arm themselves from a weapons caisson dropped in with them. Storming the village, these bots exterminate Prak and his armed opium farmers. Innocent men, women, and children also die in the attack. Later, Keala is fatally wounded, too.

A cowardly Navy Seal, Mason Cartwright (Brett Tutor), gone AWOL and hiding in the jungle, decides to redeem himself. He helps them flee the village and evade the robots in a maze of caves. One bot stumbles into a rocky crevice and loses its weapon. Incredibly, Mason neglects to confiscate the firearm, and the bot frees itself and uses it against them.

By now, Boller has not only slain Fielding, riddled with guilt about the murders of the innocents, but he also threatens to liquidate Jantz and Kroger if they abandon their post. Essentially, everything goes sideways for everybody except Foster. Despite the death, destruction, and the robotic breakdowns, Foster claims the mission as a success!

Although it is unrated, “Monsters of Man” features enough profanity, violence and splatter gore to qualify for an R-rating. Combat is depicted without glamor. A medical student loses a leg in an explosion while Mason struggles to help them escape. In one questionable scene, Number 4 Robot conducts an autopsy on a dead villager.

Eviscerating the old guy, it scrutinizes various body organs. Later, Number 4 clashes with the other robots. Toia stages one vigorous knock down robot versus robot brawl with verve. Meantime, anybody the robots don’t knock off are killed by contract guns and booby trap explosions.

If too much running time and too many characters weren’t awful enough, “Monsters of Man” adds a flawed hero with zero charisma. The six medical students are comparable to ill-fated teens in a slasher flick. Squeamish spectators should shun “Monsters of Man,” while sci-fi fans will probably yawn through its gabby dialogue scenes.

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