Best Picture, Anyone?
Transmorphers: Fall of Man is another life-changing movie from The Asylum, the independent studio that does for film what Ark Music Factory does for music (think Rebecca Black). Why should you waste your time watching a lower-than-low-rent knock-off of Michael Bay's Transformers sequel?
Three words: Shane Van Dyke.
You might remember him from that other modern American classic, Titanic 2. Sadly, he only writes and stars here, but I'm convinced that when Transmorphers 3 comes around he'll make a mad dash for the director's chair. His performance and screenplay have to be experienced to be believed, evoking at once a dumb high school jock auditioning for Death of a Salesman and the bad-poetry-scribbling classmate he beats up after lunch.
Fall of Man is actually a prequel to 2007's Transmorphers, which I've yet to see (Van Dyke wasn't associated with it, so there's no rush). It tells the story of how a race of giant, alien robots take over our planet, forcing mankind to form a resistance using a series of underground tunnels (Some might call Van Dyke a thief for stealing the premises of two summer blockbusters in the same year, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Terminator: Salvation, but I salute him as a visionary with cyborg-sized balls).
We don't get to the end-of-the-world stuff, really, until the end of the movie. Much of the story centers on a sleepy town right outside of Los Angeles--which looks suspiciously like an abandoned industrial park. Van Dyke plays Iraq War vet Jake Van Ryberg, a lost soul who scrapes by as an electrician and tries to shield his PTSD from ex-girlfriend Madison (Alana DiMaria). Madison's uncle Hadley (Bruce Boxleitner) is the town sheriff who notices that something strange is happening to the people of his community; namely that they're being picked off by murderous trucks and cell phones.
Jake swings by Madison's house to fix her satellite dish; before he can get started, it "transmorphs" into a large, metal man. Jake grabs a gun from his tool case (why not?) and runs inside, warning Madison to grab her mother and flee. Within a half-hour, the planet has been "overrun" with killer robots bent on world domination. They swarm the cities, contaminating the water supply and blasting really convincing holes through very talented extras.
Note: Though we're constantly told that the invaders are everywhere, we only see six or seven in the movie; they're also easily defeated, as machine-gun fire causes these six-story marvels of engineering to explode as if they've been hit by RPGs. The creatures have apparently executed the worst world-domination plan since the aliens in Signs.
Jake, Madison, Hadley, and a Homeland Security agent named Dr. Summers (Jennifer Rubin) make a stand at Edwards Air Force Base--which, thanks to the government's ingenious foresight, has been camouflaged as an abandoned power plant populated by personnel and planes that have been wrapped in invisibility cloaks and given stand-down orders. In a selfless act of bravery, Hadley flies a helicopter into the main, evil robot; this jams the global signal or something and prevents further invasion (I assume he'll be remembered on Independence Day).
Fade to black.
The one positive thing I can say about Fall of Man is that it's really short--
What's that fading in from the blackness?
Oh, my God, it's not over!
Yes, we pick up several months later. The world is a quite different place; mankind has become suspicious of technology and put the kibosh on most devices that transmit signals of any kind. I know this because the voice-over tells me so; on screen, the only indication that the characters' lives have changed is that Jake and Madison have a date in what appears to be a Country-Western bar--and Jake always struck me as a Chili's guy, through and through.
During their slow dance, Jake recounts a horrific war story, in which he ordered his platoon to stay put while he investigated an insurgent stronghold by himself (!). Unfortunately, he came back to find his men wiped out (Never forget, kids). Madison is so turned on by this story that she kisses Jake through his thousand-yard stare. Soon, they're having crazy sex in a scene that is, I believe, the world's first irony-free homage to The Room.
Five minutes later, another alien invasion begins. Ten minutes after that, Jake and Madison have joined a resistance movement stationed in a refugee camp just outside the "city" (a movement consisting of seven people holed up in what appears to be a newly framed house in the middle of flat, open land). According to radio reports, the robots have wiped out most of the major cities, including--no joke--Arlington Heights.
In a last-ditch effort to save humanity, Jake detonates a series of bombs inside the aliens' processing plant. In the film's one truly moving moment, Jake realizes that he won't have time to outrun both the blast and the robots that have blocked his path to freedom; he accepts his fate and is blown to smithereens.
At least, that's what would've happened to a normal human being. After the building blows, Jake saunters out of the rubble to hug Madison and put the narrative cherry on this celluloid sundae: In the closing moments of Fall of Man, Jake tells us that the global destruction of the aliens' processing centers resulted in a toxic cloud of gas that drove the human race underground; this allowed more aliens to show up and colonize the planet. In a move that would surely have resulted in a Fox lawsuit and the liquidation of The Asylum had more than eight people bothered to watch this movie, he delivers John Connor's "If you can hear this, you are the resistance" monologue from the end of Terminator: Salvation, practically verbatim.
We as a species have yet to create words that can accurately express how important I think it is that everyone who loves movies watch this film. It's hilariously, uniquely bad in every respect--from casting, to computer effects, to plot (is this the world's first seven-act feature?), to papier-mâché-and-plastic guns.
You might call out the black putty over the Nissan truck logo or "Protect and Serve" sticker on the cop-car door as bad signs. You might wonder why none of the federal agents ever show credentials. You can even scoff at the characters' frequent invocation of Shia La Beouf's infamous, "Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!" or the fact that Jennifer Rubin delivers her lines as if the script called for her to take a shot before each one. These and a hundred other problems make Fall of Man both unforgivable and unforgettable.
But here are a few things that make this film better than the Michael Bay franchise that inspired it:
- Robots that look like old-school Transformers toys, with clearly defined faces, bodies, and car parts hanging off their arms.
- This line: "If the doctors hadn't put the pacemaker in her, she wouldn't be with us to witness the end of the world."
Watching this movie reminded me of the games I used to play with my friends as a kid; we'd run around yards, ducking behind bushes and blasting imaginary enemies with cheap toy guns. Transmorphers: Fall of Man certainly looks and feels like it was based on a pre-teen boy's script and funded with allowance money--and I both respect and enjoy that charming lack of pretension.
Now, bring on Transmorphers: Dimly Lit Area of the Lunar Body!
Note: In the same way that Bruce Davison brought credibility to Titanic 2, Bruce Boxleitner does wonders with his few scenes in this movie. It's like a real-life version of Charlton Heston's Wayne's World 2 cameo.