You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Robot Overlords’

Looking to overcome shoddy effects with scrappy charm, Jon Wright's family film reps a very British take on 'Transformers' fare.

Ben Kingsley, Gillian Anderson, Callan McAuliffe, Geraldine James, Ella Hunt, James Tarpey, Milo Parker, Craig Garner, Tamer Hassan, Roy Hood, Steven Mackintosh.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2145829/

For any viewers partial to the mechanics of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” films but not their steely factory finish, the British family film “Robot Overlords” may work as a wonky diversion. After bringing a shot of scrappy irreverence to the alien-invasion genre with his Sundance-preemed “Grabbers” in 2012, writer-helmer Jon Wright here adopts a kid-oriented approach to the same theme: This tale of tough tykes taking on intergalactic androids is more Saturday-morning television than midnight movie. The pic’s general good humor — plus the tony adult presence of Gillian Anderson and Ben Kingsley — compensates to some degree for its cheapjack construction, but not enough to extend its appeal far beyond preteens in Blighty. Even they, meanwhile, are likelier to find it in ancillary: “Robots” has proven a distinct B.O. underlord at home.

The action begins three years after the stomping robots of the title apparently achieved world domination, though there’s little sense of global scale in Wright’s film. Modest budgetary resources have limited the world to an indeterminate stretch of coastal England (filming took place in Northern Island and the Isle of Man), while Britain seems to be leading the battle against the steel invaders — when the chips are really down, it’s an old-school RAF fighter plane to the rescue. “Best of British, eh?” blusters one resistance leader. With this degree of parochial sentiment, it’s fair to say the pic isn’t nurturing many globe-conquering ambitions of its own.

The opening reel rushes through the essential backstory without explaining quite how the robots achieved their coup. The point is that they’re there, and humanity has had little choice but to get used to their presence and restrictive impositions, including implanted tracking chips and a nightly curfew — any breakers of which are summarily nuked. Such is the fate suffered (in a scene that may be a tad alarming for smaller fry) by the father of young Connor (Milo Parker), who is subsequently taken in by kindly ex-teacher Kate (Anderson) and her enterprising teenage son, Sean (Australian up-and-comer Callan McAuliffe). Together, they form a makeshift family with two other kids, precocious Alex (Ella Hunt) and her jokester brother, Nate (James Tarpey); Sean’s own dad, a revolutionary fighter, is missing in action, leaving Kate vulnerable to the attentions of former colleague and smarmy robot collaborator Smythe (Kingsley, in what has become his default villain mode).

While geeking around with electrics, the kids happen upon a temporary way to deactivate their chips, enabling them to venture outside and instigate a rebellion of sorts, while an ever-hopeful Sean seeks to track down his father. The ensuing series of standoffs, chases and narrow escapes is high on bustle and low on tension — there’s never a question of where this is all heading. Even with such generic scripting, however, there’s a genial, palpably enthusiastic chemistry between the four young, capable stars that gives their hijinks a bit of bounce, while Anderson bring her natural intelligence and empathy to an underwritten mom role. Kingsley’s brand of pork liver pate has been too thinly spread by now to surprise, but there’s still pleasure to be had from his leering overenunciation of words like “fecund.”

Technical contributions are barely at the level of an average “Doctor Who” episode, which will charm some viewers and distance others: The almighty overlords mostly resemble outsize Hasbro products, while the pic’s more elaborate digital explosions appear to take place in another story world entirely. Ropey effects work notwithstanding, Tom McCullagh’s production design has its spots of tongue-in-cheek inspiration, while Christian Henson’s chipper score blends human and electronic elements to more harmonious effect than the war in question.

Film Review: 'Robot Overlords'

Reviewed at London Film Festival (Family), Oct. 17, 2014. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Signature Entertainment (in U.K.) release of an Isle of Man Film, Pinewood Pictures, Umbra Telegraph, British Film Institute presentation of a Tempo Prods., Wasted Talent production in association with British Film Co., Embankment Films, Nvizible, Northern Ireland Screen. Produced by Piers Tempest, Justin Garak, Ian Flooks, Steve Milne. Executive producers, Steve Christian, Chris Clark, Ivan Dunleavy, Christian Eisenbeiss, Hugo Grumbar, Tim Haslam, Nic Hatch, Mark Huffam, Steve Norris, Aqeel Zaman. Co-producers, Robert Norris, Aidan Elliott.

Crew: Directed by Jon Wright. Screenplay, Wright, Mark Stay. Camera (color, widescreen), Fraser Taggart; editor, Matt Platts-Mills; music, Christian Henson; music supervisor, Maggie Rodford; production designer, Tom McCullagh; art directors, Fiona Gavin, Caireen Todd; set decorator, Sally Black; costume designer, Hazel Webb-Crozier; sound (Dolby Digital), Derek Hehir; supervising sound editor, Jeremy Price; re-recording mixers, Richard Pryke, Andrew Caller; visual effects supervisor, Paddy Eason; stunt coordinator, Nick Choppint; line producer, Guy Allon; assistant director, Barry Keil; second unit director, Terry Loane; casting, Amy Hubbard.

With: Ben Kingsley, Gillian Anderson, Callan McAuliffe, Geraldine James, Ella Hunt, James Tarpey, Milo Parker, Craig Garner, Tamer Hassan, Roy Hood, Steven Mackintosh.

More Film

  • promenade Cannes Croisette Cannes Placeholder

    Cannes Market Claims Record Visitor Numbers

    The Cannes Market, the Cannes Film Festival’s commercial wing, says that its 2019 edition welcomed a record number of participants. It reported 12,527 attendees. The largest group by nationality was from the U.S. with 2,264 participants, followed by France with 1,943 participants, and the U.K. 1,145. Comparable figures for 2018 were not available. The number [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Alien' at 40: Ridley Scott Explains Why 'You Don't Show the Monster Too Many Times'

    It’s difficult to imagine Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic “Alien” without the clear-minded, strong presence of Tom Skerritt as Dallas, the captain of the ill-fated Nostromo. But originally, the actor turned down “Alien,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary on May 25, though he thought Dan O’Bannon’s script read well. “There was nobody involved at the time [...]

  • The Poison Rose

    Film Review: 'The Poison Rose'

    It is 1978 in the City of Angels and the hard-drinking washed-up sleuth Carson Phillips is having another boozy day through its atmospheric streets. There is a hint of innate coolness and self-deprecation in his elongated voiceover intro — you might even briefly mistake Carson, played by a one-note John Travolta, for a Philip Marlowe [...]

  • 'Chambre 212' Review: A Comedy More

    Cannes Film Review: 'Chambre 212'

    Most of us, in our romantic lives, meditate here and there on the other roads we might have traveled, and movies are uniquely equipped to channel those alternate-universe-of-love possibilities. That’s the idea at the (broken) heart of “Casablanca.” And the fantasy of getting to see the turns your life didn’t take play out right in [...]

  • Zach Galifianakis Jerry Seinfeld Netflix

    Film News Roundup: Zach Galifianakis' 'Between Two Ferns: The Movie' Coming to Netflix

    In today’s film news roundup, “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” is unveiled, “Friedkin Uncut” gets a fall release and Sony Classics buys “The Traitor” at Cannes. MOVIE RELEASES Netflix has set a Sept. 20 release date for Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” based on his 11-year-old talk show. Galifianakis made the announcement during [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content