Review: Mandroid / Cert: 15 / Director: Jack Ersgard / Screenplay: Earl Kenton, Jackson Barr / Starring: Brian Cousins, Jane Caldwell, Robert Symonds, Curt Lowens, Patrik Ersgard / Release Date: Out Now
After the fall of Ceausescu's Communist regime, Full Moon made a number of pictures in Romania in the early '90s, most famously the Subspecies series, but also this rather classy tale of battling boffins. With former members of the Soviet Bloc falling over themselves to sell their military secrets, two Americans, scientist Wade Franklin (Cousins) and CIA spook Joe Smith (Ersgard), have come to strike a deal with the grey-bearded and natty Dr Karl Zimmer (Symonds), who has invented Superconn, a miracle element that will be a source of clean fuel as well as a cure-all for all kinds of diseases. Thrown into the deal almost as an afterthought is the Mandroid, a remote controlled robot devised to help with the production of this wonder substance.
One person who isn't so chuffed about all of this is Dr Drago (Lowens), Zimmer's long-time collaborator, who designed the Mandroid and now feels overshadowed by his colleague's success. Convinced that it can be turned into a fighting machine of unimaginable power, Drago sets about stealing his creation back, and the Superconn too while he's about it.
We might as well say straight off that the Mandroid isn't any great shakes – the robot costume looks like the sort of thing you would wear if you were going to try and ride a BMX bike underwater. Nor is what is on offer here the greatest of stories. But despite that, the whole thing is oddly persuasive and gripping. The Romanian setting – decrepit wedding cake architecture, peasants swaddled in shawls and scarves – gives it a richness of texture, and the cast all fill out their roles in interesting ways. Symonds twinkles as Zimmer, Patrik Ersgard (brother of the film's director) is charismatic as the shady CIA agent and Jane Caldwell provides underplayed sex appeal as Zimmer's brainy daughter, Zanna (whatever happened to her? Only four acting credits listed on IMDb).
There's a pleasing coolness to the characterization – a slight prickliness between the two Yanks, a subtle attraction shared by Franklin and Zanna – and Drago gets a fun story arc. Having previously been eaten away from the inside by envy, he is then ravaged outwardly in a chemical explosion, and from there evolves into a Dr Doom-style character in a beekeeper's hat.
To be honest, Mandroid feels less like a movie than the pilot of a crackingly good TV show. But this crisp DVD release will be a real treat for Full Moon fans. It comes with a decent 'behind-the-scenes' that explores the problems of getting a film made with a Swedish director, an American cast and a Romanian crew.
Extras: Original Videozone episode / Full Moon Trailer Park / Original Trailer