Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Schlockbusted #11: Battle of the Damned

Well, it's another year, and another trilogy of random zombie movies from the recent past. This time around we've got zombie fighting robots, zombie fighting janitors, and zombie fighting Danny Trejos, which we also had last time come to think of it, but fuck it, who doesn't want as much zombie fighting Danny Trejo as we can get? First up, its Battle of the Damned, a surprisingly entertaining and mostly traditional zombie action flick that does the basics right and doesn't try anything too fancy, that is, until the army of robots come out of nowhere. And I mean out of nowhere, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Battle of the Damned was most likely sold as Dolph Lundren Vs. Zombies, or at least it could have been. That's why I bought it anyway, and for the most part, it delivers on that promise. Lundren is one of those 80's era action heroes who strangely never got his due, at least to the same extent as a Van Damme or a Stallone, and while I highly doubt a movie like this is going to do anything for him, its a pretty good showcase of his largely overlooked talent. Now, granted, like most of his ilk, dialogue and pathos aren't really his strong suits, but when you need a guy to believably kick ass and swagger his way through a horde of the undead, or vampires or mutants or whatever, Lundren's got the muscles and the jaw line for it, and unlike some of his more famous contemporaries, I can actually understand most of what he says, which is always a plus.

This battle finds Lundren as a mercenary commando sent into an Asian city that I'm pretty sure wasn't specified by name, perhaps for the best as its due to be fire bombed to burn out the waves of zombies currently keeping it a quarantine zone. Lundren's mission is to find the missing daughter of the Biotech tycoon who inadvertently unleashed the disease and bring her back at all costs, only to find that she refuses to leave, having forged a connection with a group of survivors who aren't part of the mission and who would only slow them down. Again, plot isn't what we came here for, and what little there is is well balanced with Lundren's fists and feet smashing into zombie faces. Its obviously a low budget production with minimal make up effects and some less than stellar CGI in the second half, but for what it is and what you want, there's little to complain about.

One of the challenges with a movie like this is making the survivors interesting enough that they come off as more than just zombie fodder waiting for their inevitable gory deaths, and Battle of the Damned actually excels on this score, at least relative to most low budget zombie trash that typically misses the mark. A good cast allows for the kind of human drama and moral ambiguities that a zombie outbreak can create, and the movie spends just enough time establishing this rag tag group and their cowardly self serving leader that when the conflicts play out in the way you expect they will, they're still satisfying because they don't just feel tacked on or perfunctory. What does feel tacked on is the fucking robots. Oh yeah, I forgot. There are fucking robots in this movie, for like no reason whatsoever.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I know the reason why they're in the movie, or at least I have a pretty good guess. I assume they're here because the production staff had the CGI models and robot suits already built, perhaps for another project that fell through, and just decided to fill out some of the running time and save money on the sly. They literally just show up to punch zombies, explained in one throwaway line as coming from an event that has nothing to do with the zombies or anything, and then they're just there until the end, because won't it be cool to see robots fighting zombies? And it is, frankly, but they could have done a lot more to set this up. Because the rest of the movie is so watchable, I can forgive this, even though it feels like two zombie movies wedged together, if only because it leads to the best line in the movie, when the leader of the survivors begs to be taken along after he's fucked them all over, justifying his pessimism in Lundren's abilities by asking - "who the fuck just finds robots?"

Who? Dolph fucking Lundren, that's who. Battle of the Damned doesn't break the zombie movie mold or do anything really special, but it does what its supposed to do right, which wouldn't be high praise if so many shitty straight to VOD zombie flicks didn't fail so miserably on such a regular basis. The standard is low, but this movie doesn't even struggle to meet and exceed it and does enough to get any zombie fan engaged within the first few minutes. Its at times cheesy and silly, but never to the point of winking to the camera outside of one recurring catch phrase, and its a hell of a lot more entertaining than, say, World War Z, or any of the more recent high profile zombie movies I can think of. Probably only worth it for devotees, but since I am one, I appreciated the effort.

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