"Apex" is an unpolished gem of a sci-fi B movie that should find a receptive audience in homevid and pay-cable venues. Pic was dropped into perfunctory theatrical release Friday with little fanfare and no press previews, usually a sure sign of a dog. In this case, though, the mongrel might have gobbled up slightly more B.O. coin had sci-fi fans been aware of its subject matter.

“Apex” is an unpolished gem of a sci-fi B movie that should find a receptive audience in homevid and pay-cable venues. Pic was dropped into perfunctory theatrical release Friday with little fanfare and no press previews, usually a sure sign of a dog. In this case, though, the mongrel might have gobbled up slightly more B.O. coin had sci-fi fans been aware of its subject matter.

Script by director Phillip J. Roth and Ronald Schmidt is an involving variation on the familiar sci-fi theme of trying to alter the present by messing around with the past.

Richard Keats toplines as a 2073 time-travel researcher who time-warps back to 1973 to retrieve a faulty robot probe. But because he has been infected with a mysterious virus — and, worse, because his fellow scientists send another robot probe to find him — Keats inadvertently lays the groundwork for the living nightmare he encounters when he returns to 2073.

Back in the future, most humans are dead or dying because of the virus, while armies of killer robots hunt down the survivors.

In this parallel universe, Keats is a soldier in a rebel army that wages guerrilla campaigns against the robots. Also in the anti-robot unit: Lisa Ann Russell, Keats’ loving wife in the good 2073, a virus-infected kamikaze in the bad 2073.

In setting up the time-travel adventure and man-vs.-machine conflict, Roth (presumably no relation to his more-celebrated literary namesake) borrows more than a few pages from “The Terminator” and “Battlestar Galactica,” to name just two of his most obvious sources.

Still, Roth keeps “Apex” moving at a brisk enough pace to skate over whole stretches of thin ice. Made with more imagination than skill, and more resourcefulness than polish, pic makes the absolute most of an obviously limited budget. The computer-generated special effects and robot suits are quite impressive.

Acting is much better than average for the genre, beginning with the surprisingly compelling perf by Keats. He and former Revlon model Russell generate an unexpected poignance in a scene in which he tries to explain to her what she means to him in another life.

Also worth noting: Mitchell Cox as a two-fisted anti-robot guerrilla, and Marcus Aurelius (presumably no relation to his more-celebrated historical namesake) as a hot-tempered, foul-mouthed guerrilla.

Title is supposed to stand for “Advanced Prototype Extermination Unit,” but the robots are never referred to as such.

Apex

Production

A Republic Pictures release of a Green Communications Inc. presentation in association with Republic. Produced by Talaat Captan. Executive producer, Captan. Line producer, Gary Jude Burkart. Directed by Phillip J. Roth. Written by Roth, Ronald Schmidt, based on a story by Roth, Gian Carlo Scandiuzzi.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color), Mark W. Gray; editor, Daniel Lawrence; assistant directors, Craig Connolly, David A. May; music, Jim Goodwin; robot suits and special makeup effects, Altered Anatomy FX; special visual effects, Ultra Matrix; sound (Surround Sound Stereo), Bill Reinhardt; assistant directors, Craig Connolly, David A. May; casting, Elizabeth Weintraub. Reviewed at Loews Westwood Mall 3, Houston, March 4, 1994. MPAA Rating: R. Running time:103 MIN.

With

Nicholas Sinclair - Richard Keats
Shepherd - Mitchell Cox
Natasha Sinclair - Lisa Ann Russell
Taylor - Marcus Aurelius
Rashad - Adam Lawson
Dr. Elgin - David Jean Thomas
Desert Rat - Brian Richard Peck
Mishima - Anna B. Choi
Johnson/Rebel - Kristin Norton
Gunney - Jay Irwin
1973 Father - Robert Tossberg
1973 Mother - Kathy Lambert
Joey - Kareem H. Captan
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