A.P.E.X. (1994) Review by RevTerry

If I'm being completely truthful, computers make a lot more sense than humans do. That probably sounds bad, like somebody's justification for crowdsourcing a sexbot, but it's the truth, plus humans have a lot more hidden variables. Many times, during my day job, after I have just mediated a quarrel between man and machine (I work in I.T.), I receive a question from the fleshier party along the lines of “How do you understand this computer stuff so well?”. It's one of many comments I receive regularly that I need to check myself before answering to avoid sounding like an asshole. In a way, computers are just acting off an awesomely complicated list of stacking instructions, which for the most part I can see (in one way or another). The PC has no emotions and it doesn't get bummed as we do. It just does what it's told. If it's doing something wrong software wise, then somewhere along the lines, it was given some screwy instructions to go off of. I'm oversimplifying (a lot) of course, but at the end of the day it's a fuck ton easier for me to explain why it has done something, than why a human does any of the things humans do. A computer’s motivations can be quantified, and it always has a reason for its actions. So when I come into the room to settle a dispute between an operating system and a blood-filled user, the squishy one can point all the fingers they want, but really only one party is capable of acting irrationally in that situation. Without human interaction, that computer would be minding its own business and technically working to spec, while we meat bags will always find something to fuck up, virtually unprovoked. I'm not saying you are the mammal at fault every time the computer "fails". It’s just that, nine times out of ten there's a human to blame in the end. Hardware does go bad, but the real problems can almost always be linked to our own faulty organic digits, like the automated squad of killer robots in A.P.E.X. (1994).
In the year 2072, a scientific branch of the government known as the APEX (Advanced Prototype EXploration) program sends probes to explore various time periods. These exploratory units are strictly manned by robots, as early tests with organic passengers proved to cause viral infections as well as “paradoxes”. As a safeguard, if a problem in the timeline is detected, a “sterilization” unit is automatically (and continuously) sent to clean up the problem (by killing everyone). After an extremely slow opening crawl, done with an early 90s text-to-speech engine, we meet Nicholas Sinclair (Richard Keats). Nick is one of the project's lead scientists and a loving husband to his pregnant wife Natasha (Lisa Ann Russell), who also works on the project in some manner. On a day like any other, Nick and the team are casually sending things one hundred years into the past, when suddenly, one of the robots explodes causing Nick to take the trip instead. After hanging out with a hippy family for a bit in 1972, Nick heads back home. Unfortunately, when he arrives, he doesn't find the future he left. Instead, he is in a war-torn alternative reality, where a viral infection has torn the population apart, and his own killer-cleaning robots show up every so often to shoot at random civilians in an attempt to fix the problem. His wife is no longer his wife, and the both of them are apparently hardened soldiers in the robot fighting militia. Almost completely positive that the incident may have broken history, and that he is the only one that has noticed, Nick is determined to somehow fix the timeline. But to do that, he will have to win over his new crew, find another time machine in a dusty wasteland, and dodge artillery from the neverending army of automated time janitors (actually that last part is pretty easy as they are not great shots).  
 The film's story takes some pretty hefty cues from the Terminator series, but mostly on paper. In practice, it comes out closer to a blend of Cyborg (1989), and Trancers (1984) with the temperament of a Fred Olen Ray movie. The film's world is patchwork pieces of genre flicks that led up to it from the 80s. Sharing a lot of his favorite ingredients, the recipe is similar to something Albert Pyun would cook up. The lifted elements amount to more tributes than stolen material, and the movie's style adds a unifying flare to each chunk. Its characters are one dimensional and based on overused cliches but come off as almost enduring or “classic”, like a project Charles Band would lay hands on in the middle of the 80s. Our Aliens (1986) meet Eliminators (1986)-style crew of “tech” soldiers is (mostly) comprised of surface level badasses that look like they walked off another film’s VHS box and are written as tongue in cheek counterparts.  It is constantly familiar, and it doesn't take any extra time explaining technology or tropes that the viewer could presumably be acquainted with from other films. There is a lot going on in the plot. The robots, time travel and some kind of techno virus run alongside each other as somewhat sliding, tentative links. It's not an intelligent film but finds a way to bring out the hard science fiction roots of its influences. In addition to its goofball action, it grazes higher concepts, making calls to literature like Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder and Robert A. Heinlein’s By His Bootstraps. There is a significant focus on the paradox and the possible problems of voyaging through time, a move from the usual clones that just throw that into the background or plot setting. When it all comes full circle, with a wink at the end, I am reminded of the twists that make up the original Planet of the Apes series (minus number 5, always minus number 5).  Undeniably, there a is a strange love for science fiction in the mix which sets it apart from some of the other genre favorites made purely to cash in (although those are fun too). Like a lot of flicks, it has the effect of making increased sense as you know more--until it makes no sense again because you know too much. By the end, its “paradox” is just a plot hole, but it runs face first into it, and that has a certain charm.  To its credit, it has some fun with problems that the concept would involve instead of avoiding them.  Altogether, it's likable hokey ass fun with some warm imagination and a little, tiny bit more grey matter than usual.
On a technical level, A.P.E.X. feels like somebody picked up an unfinished 80s Empire movie and finished it up with discount 90s computer graphics. The special effects are split unevenly between old-school props and blossoming cheapo splash screens. Very shortly into the runtime, the time tunnel is revealed to be reminiscent of something that would come packaged with Windows XP, and every time it comes back it gets worse.  The practical effects are a different story, still corny as all fuck, they mostly add to the entertainment value. There is some neat sci-fi tech, including guns, doom-mobiles etc. ( per genre requisite), though some are seemingly borrowed but with new additions. The automatic killing machines look like the lost love child of Cylons and a Power Ranger bad guy. They are not exactly menacing but they make solid B movie heels, even though they move at a very impractical speed for killing anything. I have a soft spot in my heart for advanced robots that exhibit terrible balance. Due to genre and budget, It utilizes just a handful of sets, and a great deal of the film is just a group of people in cyberpunk gear walking in the desert. Outside of the shitty CG, it works well within its budget even if it could have been made a few years earlier. The editing is handled somewhat functionally and helps keeps the mess tamed, although the narration feels a little tacked on, possibly to add needed exposition.  There is plenty of action and some shit explodes, but the warfare is entirely bloodless as far as I can remember. In fact, the film is completely devoid of any real sleaze at all, so grab the less critical youngsters. It tops off the concoction with a steady flow of canned synth music that really just ties it all together.
Writer-director (and producer) Phillip J. Roth has given us a slew of trashy thrillers, budgeted sci-fi and made for TV action. Starting in 1988 with the TV movie, Bad Trip, his last directing credit is from Dark Waters in 2003, and he produces a range of random straight to DVD stuff to this day. A.P.E.X. came two years after Roth’s first foray into science fiction Prototype (1992), another ambitious post-apocalyptic flick with robotics. Richard Keats is the films lead, and narrator. Keats is another one of those actors that, whether or not you know his name, you have most likely seen at one point. Here he is, in good form, as scientist Nicholas Sinclair, but I'm not sure how anyone is confusing him for a soldier. As the crew's muscle, Mitchell Cox rocks a hairdo that's equal parts Howie Long and Jack from Tekken 2. Despite the poof on his head, he makes a pretty good tough guy and provided similar roles in other the films by the same director. Lisa Ann Russell essentially has a major and a minor role (Natasha Sinclair in both “timelines”) and pulls it off. As far as I know, I haven't seen her in anything else (unless I saw her walking by in an episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years as “Girl”).  All the acting works pretty well for what's going on, and the performances match the loving cheese of the rest of the film. My only real gripe is Marcus Aurelius’ character (Taylor), for whatever reason, he is constantly wine-yelling. I'm pretty sure he was supposed to be the Hudson of the group and went for the annoying tone on purpose--in which case it misses its mark, but good job on the annoying part (I guess).
A.P.E.X. is packed with time-bending cheese, B movie technology, and frugal love for the genre. It's a little late to the party but makes a good companion to its fellow genre-mates. I can't say it's a good movie by most standards, or incredibly original, but it hits all the right points to be a worthwhile ride if killer robots and cornball heroics sound like your thing. Since that's right up my alley, I enjoy the fuck out of it. Also, I feel like I can relate to a protagonist who has to stop a war between screaming humans and machines that are essentially just doing what they are told.
1h 38min | 1994
Director: Phillip J. Roth
Writers: Phillip J. Roth, Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi and Ron Schmidt

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Review by:
RevTerry

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