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The Asylum’s “ATLANTIC RIM” (Movie Review)

atlantic rim

You did see this coming, right?

We all lead busy lives. We want things fast and to the point. We do the “walk and talk”, the “eat and run” and the “quick skim through” so we can get the gist of something. Very Smart People at Very Important tech companies tell us that when we write for the web the reader wants it short and sweet – easily digestible stuff a commuter can take in on their daily train ride.

Atlantic-RimposterThere is no need to wonder what happened to good writing and real journalism on the web – technocrats who tell us what the future media landscape looks like based on bounce rates and other web analytics are doing a fine job convincing the editors at any number of outlets that their Excel sheets have a better handle on what people want to read. They are smothering the art of the pen to death in its lonely sick-bed so the greedy stepchild named “content” can take over.

What does this have to do with The Asylum’s newest “mockbuster” ATLANTIC RIM, you ask? Nothing except to say that I’m just going to cut to the chase and give the people what the spreadsheets say they want.

The question on everyone’s mind when it comes to ATLANTIC RIM is simple: Is it so bad it’s good, or is it just bad?

The answer? It’s delightfully bad. This is a movie you can rent with friends, sip a few drinks and have a deliriously good time watching and soaking in the cheese. Get in some good MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 lines with your clever buddies and have some laughs.

So there it is ladies and gentlemen: under 300 words and I’ve told you exactly what you were wondering about this movie. If this is your stop then please don’t forget anything on the train and have a great day at work. Mind the gap!

Okay, now that all those people are gone I want everyone to huddle up a bit, as the analytics tell us there aren’t many of you who will read much further. I’ve told you the truth about ATLANTIC RIM so far – that it’s a fun “bad” movie – but it’s more than that. Like most films from The Asylum, there is more going on than they get credit for.

ATLANTIC RIM is a very clear knock-off of summer sci-fi blockbuster PACIFIC RIM – a huge, ambitious opus about giant robots fighting for humanity’s future against gargantuan monsters from another dimension.

The Asylum is infamous for making these direct-to-video or SyFy Channel movies designed to capitalize on trends in big Hollywood pictures. We got TRANSMORPHERS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES, PARANORMAL ENTITY, HANSEL AND GRETEL and others from them, so the niche market they are going for is clear.

It’s easy to dismiss them as cheap cash-ins banking on exploiting careless viewers, mostly because that’s exactly what they are from a marketing perspective. The Asylum is two different animals though – the marketing and the creative – and oftentimes what we see when we open the tin is something that outwardly appears to be an uninspired, threadbare money grab but in execution has a genuinely good concept and interesting execution. The stories can stand on their own even if the packaging can diminish it. There is a sense that some were scripts that got re-worked into a “mockbuster” and others used the latitude given them by the producers to try and make something of their own – an alternate vision of the familiar concept.

One of the great things about fantasy/sci-fi/horror films is that even the worst of them tend to have that diamond-in-the-rough good idea in them somewhere – an interesting concept, setting or plot element. These redeeming features can turn otherwise unwatchable schlock into something worth seeing. This feature holds through in ATLANTIC RIM – but not as much as I’ve come to expect from other recent Asylum offerings.

Stacked next to HANSEL & GRETEL or NAZIS AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, the movie is lacking in some joy and creativity. It doesn’t have the beautiful Cambodian landscapes and engaging story of CLASH OF THE EMPIRES. A heavy dependence on Navy stock footage and reluctance on the part of director Jared Cohn to show audiences too much of the world being impacted by these titans battling it out furthers that feeling that several pages of this screenplay were excised for cost and many VFX sequences died on the table. The result is that early on we get a lot of “tell, don’t show” and very tight shots that betray the scale of events the film is trying to portray.

Performances are mostly forgettable unfortunately, but there are some standouts. Anthony “Treach” Criss of rap group Naughty by Nature fame (remember OPP? Yeah you know me!) does a respectable job as ‘bot pilot Jim who is competing for the affections of fellow pilot Tracy (Jackie Moore) with the Wildman maverick pilot Red (David Chokachi). Red is the typical bad boy character in all of these movies, cut right from the TOP GUN mold and Chokachi hams it up appropriately. At times it felt like he was channeling Michael Biehn, so casting directors looking for someone to play Kyle Reese in the TERMINATOR reboot should give him a call.

Graham Greene turns in a hilarious run at playing Admiral Hadley but the performance to watch for is director Jared Cohn as fighter pilot Spitfire – it’s gold and a laugh out loud moment for anyone with a pulse.

Production design felt cheap at times but it did the job. The slow motion scene of the ‘bot pilots walking to their machines in what were basically wetsuits tarted up to look a little sci-fi was really funny and typical of what you can expect, I’m just not sure that goofiness was what the team was shooting for.

The robots and creatures themselves looked decent enough for the budget of the picture, but the creature models in particular looked like they were something made for another project and re-purposed here. The ‘bots may very well have been re-worked 3D models from TRANSMORPHERS; they shared some similar features.

All things considered, ATLANTIC RIM is a testament to why there aren’t many live action giant robot vs. monster movies. It’s a very difficult thing to do right and keep the audience on your side. ATLANTIC RIM manages to be enjoyable as a bit of a goof and works on the “so bad it’s good” level. What I would have liked to see is a bit more ambition or depth from the team behind this one. The Asylum have proven that good ideas and good stories can unfold under the dark cloud of the “mockbuster” marketing scheme – I’d like more of their directors to recognize the opportunity and go a bit wild with it. Had Cohn done so with ATLANTIC RIM it may have stood a little more surely on its own feet and not just as a heckle-fest. Still jazzed after seeing PACIFIC RIM? Put ATLANTIC RIM and ROBOT JOX on your rental list and put the achievement in context.

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About the author
Dave Pace http://www.anidealforliving.com
For over 2 years Dave Pace has been documenting life on the cinematic fringes in his Fangoria.com column Long Live the New Flesh. He is also a guest-host on The Cutting Room Movie Podcast. Twitter: @davepacebonello / The Cutting Room Page: http://christianaproductions.com/cuttingroom/
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