Talking dog movies are bad enough. But a talking robot dog?
Talking dog movies are bad enough. But a talking robot dog? From the future? Sent to the present to help you save the world from the apocalypse? Excuse me, save the world from our token mad scientist, Professor Apocalypse. This does not bode well. The Adventures of RoboRex looks for all the world like the result of a brainstorming session that combined all the most clichéd plots of kids’ action movies. Writer/director Stephen Shimek and co-writer/wife Kristi Shimek start things off with a dead mother and really never stop plugging away.
Like any good family-friendly kids’ movie, RoboRex offers us a clean-cut, smarter-than-his age hero in the form of James Miller (Kalvin Stinger). And as you might expect from a kid whose mother is inexplicably gone for the sake of character depth, James is very attached to his golden retriever whose name, naturally, is Rex. He may be great at improvising DIY erector sets, but he’s not the most original kid when it comes to naming dogs. His father (Ben Browder) is now a single parent (and police officer) just trying to do his best. This setup is supposed to be heartwarming. But wait! This dead mother trope has a twist. When she died, James’ mother left him a crystal inside of which is a code that is the future of science as we know it. Or something.
As you’d expect, a semi-smart kid who wears a crystal around his neck at school does get bullied. But Kara (Maggie Scott) comes to James’s rescue, and she sticks around for the rest of the movie to provide us with impressed reaction shots to all of his breakthroughs. It’s disturbing because, essentially, we’re watching an 11-year- old girl think, “Oh yeah, I’ve found a smart one. AND his future-self hologram looks attractive!” But the reason Future James Miller sent a robot dog version of his beloved Rex to the past is because his mother’s lab assistant, Randy Jenkins (Ethan Phillips), was really pissed off that she didn’t share this groundbreaking science with him. There’s really no need to explain how this reaction results in dubbing oneself “Professor Apocalypse” and sending a flying robot cat into the past to shoot lasers at a kid. No need at all.
A quick glance over the Shimeks’ credits shows that they are deep into creating these half-baked genre movies. The two also co-wrote the forthcoming Nocturne, which looks like their take on teen horror with a heavy dose of witchcraft. Stephen Shimek previously directed The Maze, a teen slasher movie set in a corn maze, and the two have collaborated on various dubious-looking fantasy offerings such as Dragon Hunter and Dudes & Dragons (starring James Marsters!). Whereas those movies may benefit from some ribbing of the genre (one would hope), RoboRex has no such humor. It doesn’t take itself seriously, necessarily, but I don’t think the intention was to make viewers piss their pants at the thought of “Star Trek: Voyager”’s Neelix starting a time war between robotic cats and dogs.
Issues with the premise aside, the breakdown of RoboRex scenes goes heavy on the robot fights and very, very light on the exposition. But, really, why do robot animals need to fight like the real animals would? If Destructo-Cat (yes, that’s what Apocalypse Neelix calls it) has laser eyes, why does RoboRex only have sonic bark waves and a powerful desire to bite the metal cat by its leg and shake vigorously? Overthinking the reasons why anyone would make this movie is for naught. You have to get your viewers where you can, and I guess stoned fantasy enthusiasts and kids who like science do deserve equal consideration when deciding what hot mess you’re going to commit to the screen next.