Studio: Anchor Bay
Director: Christopher Hatton
Writer: Christopher Hatton
Producer: Leon Tong, Christopher Hatton, Ehud Bleiberg
Stars: Dolph Lundgren, Melanie Zanetti, Matt Doran, Jen Kuo Sung, Lydia Look, Oda Maria, David Field
A mercenary uses an army of robots to rescue a girl trapped in a quarantined zone with rabid humans.
“Escape from New York” with zombies. And Dolph Lundgren instead of Snake Plissken. This is the quick and dirty way to describe “Battle of the Damned.” Though the promotional blurbs touting explosions, robots, and zombies make for a better advertisement.
Dolph Lundgren is Max Gatling. If the name alone is not enough to put “special forces tough guy” in bright neon lights, then marvel at how Max chews a toothpick while accepting his mission to rescue a corporate weasel’s daughter from a zombie infested quarantine zone. Nothing says emotionless mercenary killing machine like a toothpick dangling from the side of a mouth.
Max and his dudebro platoon of similarly buff and square-jawed military men don their best “Gears of War” cosplay garb and set off for the infected city. Alternatively, their wardrobe would fit right in at a PAX convention. An opening title card credits Junker Designs specifically for creating Max Gatling’s costume, although Marcus Fenix might have something to say about that.
Max would be less of a badass if he were not a one-man wrecking crew. So his gun-for-hire comrades kick, knife, and shoot to pad out the combat before leaving Max to locate his target solo.
Jude is a typical tomboy brat rebelling against her father and using her gruff attitude to resist the grim stranger’s effort to rescue her. Her tough talk exterior holds out as long as possible before she ultimately warms to Max’s heroic charm.
Jude is not exactly putting up a fight. She just refuses to leave unless her fellow survivors can come with. After recruiting a small squad of digitally animated robots to mow down infected humans in their way, Max and the others make for safe passage before the timer expires and a firebomb destroys the city.
As stale as that setup is, “Battle of the Damned” delivers precisely what it promises. Given the cast, premise, and general circumstances of the production, no one should be watching with any expectation of a genre masterpiece. The only reason to watch a movie with Dolph Lundgren leading robots in battle against zombies is because the movie is about Dolph Lundgren leading robots in battle against zombies. In that regard, “Battle of the Damned” gives fans what they came for.
This is the kind of movie with dialogue featuring deep character exchanges such as, “These are bad for you.” Response: “So is life.” Arnold’s reputation as king of the action movie one-liner is also safe when Lundgren is given nothing cleverer to say besides, “f*ck you, you f*cking can opener” before taking out a rogue robot.
Action is at least plentiful. Lundgren adds another deep notch to his résumé of kicked asses with a featured scene of kicking infected humans in the throat while his wrists are cuffed to a pole. Budget limitations restrict how much robot mayhem and gunfire effects can be shown onscreen. The camera cheats this too often with close-ups jammed so far into the melee that making out the image is next to impossible.
Although hand-to-hand battles are choreographed well, the same cannot be said for the camera movements. The cinematography goes for a handheld style meant to heighten fight sequences with gritty realism. But the shaky cam keeps trucking along in every other scene as well, even if it is talking heads. It looks like the camera operator is having an epileptic seizure while trying to frame each shot.
This is a case where expectations have to be properly calibrated before pressing Play. Smart writing, high caliber production values, and memorable setpieces? Or Dolph Lundgren at his grim-faced best using Cylon-chic machinery to pummel his way through the extras from “28 Days Later?”
All of the above would be ideal. But wishes are better reserved for things like lottery fantasies and Christmas lists. The best course of action with “Battle of the Damned” is to dumb it down for 90 minutes and simply revel in a 21st century version of a 20th century formula action romp.
Review Score: 60