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Thursday, February 16, 2012

METAL SHIFTERS -- DVD review by porfle

As I've mentioned before, "cool" and "stupid" can be a pretty winning combination when it comes to junk films.  (I've tried to think of a name for such a combination, but all I can come up with is either "cupid" or "stool.")  Qualifying as both cupid and stool is the SyFy Channel monster flick METAL SHIFTERS (2011), aka "Iron Invader", which, considering the subject matter, is quite literally junky as well.

In a sleepy little town set somewhere in the Great American Northwest, brothers Jake (Kavan Smith, "Stargate: Atlantis") and Ethan (Colby Johannson) are renovating the family inn when they witness the crash of a Russian satellite in a nearby field.  Unaware that the meteor which knocked it out of the sky was carrying a strange alien bacteria, they sell the scrap to old Earl the junk man (Donnelly Rhodes), who is busy building a 17-foot-tall metal "golem" for the town's centennial.  (And of course, what small town doesn't celebrate its centennial with a golem?)

Unfortunately, the alien bacterial goo fancies the big robotlike statue and adds the satellite scraps on which it now resides to the golem, bringing it to life.  Thus, the town is terrorized by the rampaging statue as it seeks out humans for their iron-rich blood, sucking the life force from their bodies.  Since the town is curiously underpopulated--there seem to be only about ten people living in it--it's up to Jake and Ethan, along with Jake's high-school sweetheart Amanda (Nicole de Boer, "Star Trek: Deep Space 9"), her daughter Claire (Merritt Patterson), old Earl and his grandson Max (Jesse Moss), and a few other less-than-stalwart individuals to combat the metallic monstrosity.

Clearly, this is one of the dumber monster-origin stories you'll come across, yet once it's established and the story gets going, the pace doesn't let up for a minute.  And the golem turns out to be a pretty cool monster, especially since the CGI used to render it is acceptably realistic for a change.  This is due mainly to the fact that it's a hard-edged mechanical thing rather than some over-animated, underdeveloped fantasy beastie.  I was reminded of the robot from HARDWARE, particularly during the scene in which it reassembles itself after a run-in with a pickup truck.

In addition to CGI, lots of practical effects are on display including puppetry (a big monster hand is careful to reach through its victims' windows rather than cause expensive property damage), reverse photography, and plain old pull-it-on-a-string stuff.  When the golem's disassembled, bacteria-ridden parts start crawling around on their own it's pretty funny (but in a good way) as our main characters hole up in a bar a la NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or THE BIRDS.  A fire axe splattered with the alien goo comes to life in one scene and goes after a guy's foot, which is just plain hilarious. 

Paul McGillion, also of "Stargate: Atlantis", plays the usual hard-to-convince sheriff, who finds it unlikely that a robot is sucking the life force out of the local citizenry until it comes after him.  There are comedy relief characters such as Tony the cowardly bartender and his redneck customer Harry, but thankfully the film itself is dead serious without any pesky attempts at self-awareness.  Somehow, this just makes the ridiculousness of the story even more entertaining.  And, of course, the obligatory groan-worthy reference to that famous line from JAWS makes its appearance as one character tells the sheriff, "You'll need a bigger gun." 

Christopher Nickel's pounding score, worthy of a big-time action flick, drives the lively plot to its fairly suspenseful conclusion as things just keep getting wilder and nuttier every minute.  Paul Ziller's sometimes slapdash direction, combined with some messy camerawork, actually enhances the action while the performances of the leads are convincing enough to carry it all along.  The final solution to the monster problem is a pip, leading to the rather amusing sight of a guy with a spray cannister filled with whiskey chasing an errant robot part down the street.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a making-of featurette and a trailer.

For sheer deadpan nuttiness and old-fashioned cheapo monster movie fun, METAL SHIFTERS is about as entertaining as one of these SyFy Channel flicks gets.  It's in no danger of shoehorning its way onto my "favorites" list any time soon, but I got a kick out of it anyway.

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