The first feature by writer-director Matt Hullum’s production company Rooster Teeth, of the highly popular animated Web series “Red vs. Blue,” “Lazer Team” is a genial sci-fi action comedy that offers plenty of fun for fanboy types. The Texas-shot, Indiegogo-funded project tallied more than $1 million in Tugg presales before opening on 300 or so U.S. screens Friday. Whether this amusing if not wildly inspired spoof can build the word of mouth to cross over to wider theatrical audiences sans conventional star power or advertising muscle is doubtful. But it should do well in home formats, while announcing that Austin-based Rooster Teeth can create slick, ambitiously scaled entertainment on penny-ante means.
In 1977 the U.S. government gets a message from a “friendly alien race” called the Antarians: “You are not alone. Conflict is coming.” They also informs that a “suit of power” is on its way that will help humanity win a future battle with a much more hostile force from outer space. Planning for the day of that gift’s arrival and subsequent confrontation, a secret army known as Project Pegasus trains a “perfect” human from birth to become designated champion of Earth: musclebound, humorless ultimate fighting machine Adam (Alan Ritchson).
Unfortunately, when the aforementioned supersuit finally falls to our planet’s surface decades after the initial missive, it is waylaid by some Texan drunks shooting off fireworks after a Friday night football game. As a result, humanity’s fate lands in the hands of cranky former star high-school quarterback Herman (Colton Dunn); the even more belligerently annoying current one, Zach (Michael Jones); dirt-dumb hayseed Woody (Gavin Free); and Herman’s onetime teammate-turned-hapless local cop Hagan (co-scenarist Burnie Burns). As most of this lot is inebriated when the UFO hits, they cluelessly poke around its contents — with the result that the various elements of the power suit get “genetically locked” onto each man’s body.
This doesn’t please the military, and it makes Adam in particular hopping mad, since these doofuses have stolen the planetary-savior role intended for him without being the least qualified to take it. Nonetheless, they attempt to master their new abilities. Woody becomes a brainiac, Zach acquires a laser-shooting arm, Hagan gets an impenetrable laser shield, and paunchy Herman can now run really, really fast. Meanwhile, a separate, malevolent UFO landing turns four soldiers (and briefly Hagan’s cheerleader daughter, Mindy, played by Allie DeBerry) into near-unstoppable killing machines.
Mixing equal parts “Independence Day” and “Ghostbusters,” with umpteen other in-joke genre references, “Lazer Team” is as good-natured a sci-fi sendup as “Galaxy Quest,” even if its superhero-sendup humor is more on the hit-and-miss level of “Mystery Men.” (The fact that this film manages to seem about as glossy and expansive as “Mystery Men” on less than one-20th of its 1999 budget does stir a certain awe for Rooster Teeth’s resourcefulness.) The slapstick silliness and off-the-cuff drollery of the first half works somewhat better than the later going, which comes to a routine action climax in an intergalactic football-stadium gladiator standoff. The fadeout virtually guarantees a sequel that the preceding 90-odd minutes haven’t rendered all that breathlessly anticipated.
Nonetheless, “Lazer Team” is consistently enjoyable in a respectable-dumb-fun way, which puts it a few light-years ahead of most similar stuff Hollywood has come up with lately. (Yep, that would be you, “Pixels.”) The actors, including Rooster regulars and more mainstream-industry talents, are all on the right comic wavelength; their characters have enough potential to make one hope the material gets kicked up just a notch or two next time.
Made for a reported $2.5 million in crowdfunding, the film is solid in all tech/design departments, with any cheese factor in the CGI effects apt for its spoofy tenor.