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Movie Review: Atlantic Rim

Atlantic Rim

Atlantic Rim
DVD (As Attack from Beneath)
Directed by Jared Cohn
Written by Richard Lima, Thunder Levin, and Hank Woon Jr.
Starring Graham Greene, Jackie Moore, and David Chockachi
The Asylum
Release Date: July 9, 2013

I asked for this assignment, and boy howdy am I going to get it now.

If you haven’t guessed already, Atlantic Rim is the latest micro-budget bit of plagiarism to roll wheezing and exhausted off of the Asylum’s assembly line like a fetid lump of marmot dropping. Naturally the major studio release whose coattails they’re hoping to ride until they get their weekly crack allowance is Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which hits theaters three days after the debut of the Asylum’s quickie rip-off (which is damned to an eternity of hellfire and suffering – and by that I mean Redbox rentals and Saturday afternoon airings on SyFy).

In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean an offshore oil rig unearths hideous, gigantic monsters that devour two clueless lingerie models manning a $15 million submersible and then crush the rig like an empty can of Milwaukee’s Best Light before the company has time to issue a statement. The U.S. military’s top secret program Project Armada is called in to investigate.

Headed by Admiral Hadley (Graham Greene, acting with apparently immobilized facial muscles), the program consists of three of the best pilots in the world – loose cannon Lieutenant “Red” Waters (Baywatch mimbo David Chokachi), requisite blonde love interest Tracy (Jackie Moore), and token unsmiling black guy Jim (Naughty by Nature lead singer Treach) – each operating skyscraper-sized robots for combat operations and deep sea explorations. The team is ordered to deploy to the bottom of the ocean and locate the missing oil rig, but instead they find the beasties that took it down in the first place and are now ready to do battle with Project Armada’s shiny new robot jox.

Stock footage of vast naval fleets and nameless extras in military fatigues are summoned to blast toy weapons at green screens when Red’s reckless pursuit of one monster brings the fight to New Orleans where Mardi Gras is in full swing and many women wearing skimpy bikinis on the beach flee in blind horror. The sea creature is defeated by Waters with a little assistance from a fighter jet and everyone rejoices now that the threat is finally over and there is no possible way that more of those monsters are out there lurking beneath the waves, ready to surface and unleash some poorly-rendered CGI horror upon the world. Only the Mod Squad of giant fighting robot pilots has what it takes to save their planet.

Lord almighty this movie sucks the big one. I don’t expect anything close to decent entertainment from the Asylum, but Atlantic Rim is an atrocious flick even by their questionable standards. With only about five of its eighty-two minutes devoted to robot-on-monster action and the rest given over to long and plodding dialogue scenes that fail to make the characters anything more than sketchily-defined archetypes, to call Atlantic a turd floating in a punch bowl would be far too considerate of its feelings.

I’m hardly the first to admit that on occasion the Asylum’s mercenary moviemaking business model can yield some shamelessly entertaining results (Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus anyone?), and it is mighty nice of them to throw some work to actors who would otherwise be spending their days whoring for a reality show deal or trying to make an ironic joke out of their pathetic husk of a career. Exploitation flick distributors have been working along similar lines for decades long before the Asylum came into being. Faded former stars from golden age Hollywood traveled to Europe in the ’60s and ’70s to find acting work in spaghetti westerns and gory horror movies and in the process many of them saw their careers revitalized. Perhaps the drive-ins and grindhouse theaters have been replaced by digital cable, direct-to-video releases, and video-on-demand, but the formula remains oddly the same.

Atlantic Rim was directed with all of the enthusiasm and scope of an episode of Pawn Stars by Jared Cohn, a trusted member of the Asylum’s stable of reliable hacks. His past credits for the company included 12/12/12 and Bikini Spring Break. Francis Ford Coppola’s first movies as a director were the nudie comedy Tonight for Sure and the B-horror flick Dementia-13, but while he was making them he was learning the ropes and improving his filmmaking craft. Somehow I doubt Mr. Cohn has Academy Awards and cinematic immortality in his immediate future, though he could always become a next generation Coleman Francis or Larry Buchanan. Maybe he’ll be one day known as the Tommy Wiseau of crappy movies – a highly distinctive honor indeed, seeing as how Wiseau is himself a pretty crappy director to begin with.

But as part of the Asylum crew Cohn is hopelessly deprived of the opportunity to give his steaming chunks of rancid meat passing for movies a verbal or visual identity that sets them apart from the rest of the sludge crowding the shelves of Best Buys, Targets, and the wireframe racks next to the cash register at creepy roadside service stations nationwide. Every movie released by the Asylum looks the same as the last. There was a time when I dreaded the day when a studio with the resources to make films was staffed by clones of Jerry Bruckheimer that were also secretly inbreeding. That was the day when the Asylum went into business.

There are times when Atlantic Rim starts to resemble a movie with a purpose to entertainment. Unfortunately they don’t come until the third act when another monster rises from the ocean and heads for New York to mine territory already exploited by the likes of Cloverfield. The robots are given upgrades that allow the pilots to control their mechs fighting moves like Nintendo Wii set-ups, and they can fly now too. The effects in the finale aren’t too bad. I would estimate the total amount of screen time devoted to the passage digital work to be less than two minutes; even during the battle sequences most of the action cuts between the three pilots stuck in their individual cockpits, surrounded by cutting edge technology that looks to have been purchased on clearance from a big box retailer down the street from where the movie was filming, while their commanding officers observe the fighting from a hotel conference room standing in for a covert military facility.

What little mech-on-monster sexytime we actually get is broken up into bite-size chunks that would be too short to post on Vine. If you blink at all during the action set pieces you’ll start to wonder where all the good stuff that was in the trailer went to (SPOILER: It all went into the trailer. END SPOILER.)

The making of the last half-hour must have also been when execs at the Asylum realized they forgot to rip off The Avengers last summer, so in addition to the giant robots fighting monsters from the deep we also get a grim-looking military man wearing an eye patch who orders a nuclear warhead fired on New York during the battle (forgetting that the guy with the patch in The Avengers was against that move). The hero in his battle ‘bot has to take the nuke and the monster into orbit and blow them both up before crashing back down to earth, just like Iron Man. My only regret during the viewing of this movie is that I did not stop watching and put my Avengers Blu-ray on instead.

Though entertaining in spite of being hopelessly derivative of better blockbusters that came before (such is the Asylum way), the finale of Atlantic Rim cannot possibly redeem the turgid first two-thirds that are consumed mostly by an unnecessary love triangle among the team that is never resolved. If that isn’t bad enough as is we are also forcibly subjected to a canned conflict where Red is thrown into the brig by the admiral for the crime of disobeying a direct order (even though he saved the world in the process) but then is allowed freedom for one evening to attend a party in his honor. All this does is eat up screen time that should be first and foremost spent on better establishing the nature of the threat the team is facing, and having a bunch of unpaid extras lay around on the street with Halloween costume blood make-up running down their chins does not constitute raising the stakes.

The acting was at best functional. Even Graham Greene, the most respected actor in the cast, couldn’t be bothered to look like he gave a crap about what was happening at any time. It’s a shame when this dignified human basset hound who used to appear in awesome movies almost every week in the ’90s has to phone in it, but then again who really watches a movie like this for the quality of its acting? How else can you explain the presence of David Chokachi and Treach?

Personally, I think Steven Marlow is the only member of the cast whose performance could be considered an actual performance. He plays the guy with the eye patch who isn’t Nick Fury and spits out his every line of insipid dialogue through clenched teeth with a low growl and neck veins bulging so hard they threaten to rip out of his skin and grow towards the ceiling. It’s bad acting but at least it’s enjoyable bad acting, and on that note it’s worthy of praise. Marlow’s howlingly horrendous performance is like a life preserver in this sea of suckitude. You can tell that someone involved in the making of Atlantic Rim cared about what they were doing somewhat.

Do yourself a huge favor and don’t take the Asylum up on this Rim job. Your corporeal being will rebel against you and your ass will experience a pain that only those who have died in combat have beaten. After seeing the Asylum’s latest inept attempt at bilking gullible consumers who can’t tell movies apart (it can be difficult sometimes, I know) out of their money, I am convinced that del Toro’s movie has to be better than this. It just has to be. Fate cannot be that cruel to me more than once a month.

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