An unwieldy mix of self-conscious camp and heavy-handed allegory, “Automatons” plays like a cheesy ’50s no-budget sci-fier with serious delusions of grandeur. Writer-director James Felix McKenney strikes faint echoes of Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend’ with his plot involving post-apocalyptic clashes between the sole survivor of a once-dominant civilization and remnants of “enemy” forces. Even at 83 minutes, however, pic feels unduly protracted and unconscionably ponderous. Theatrical prospects are zilch, though homevid release could generate a mini-cult.
In a dystopian world of tomorrow, a young woman identified only as the Girl (Christine Spencer, who too often actually sounds like an annoying child) lives alone in a bunker with various rattletrap robot assistants. Outside, the devastated surface is uninhabitable by humans.
Occasionally, the Girl seeks inspiration by replaying videos of her scientist mentor (Angus Scrimm), who speaks of “staying the course” against terrorists who “hate our freedom.” (Yeah, right.) But she must maintain a constant lookout for attacks launched by an enemy leader (Brenda Cooney), who’s capable of turning the Girl’s robots against her.
Shot in deliberately cruddy-looking Super-8 black-and-white, “Automatons” revels in its own lack of production values — epic battles between warring robots obviously are shot with tiny tinker-toys, and dialogue dubbing is purposefully inept. The Girl’s mechanical companions — who require frequent repair — appear to have been patched together from steamer trunks, hot-water heaters and drainage pipes.
But the stylization adds little but an air of smart-alecky condescension to a drama that sputters to life only during the final 15 minutes. Even then, McKenney undercuts any serious point he might want to make by scoring cheap shocks with gruesome yet fake-looking mayhem.
The scenario might have worked better had it been played straight decades ago as an hourlong episode of “The Outer Limits” or “The Twilight Zone.” As it stands, “Automatons” will be of interest only to auds that have seen the same bad movies as McKenney and share his superior attitude toward them.