If you can imagine a cheap and cheerless Robocop knock-off stripped of all the satire and set in a post-atrocity America which posits Christianity as the (good guy) terrorists, then you’re halfway to conceiving of just how confused and simultaneously ponderous RZ-9 manages to be. Throw in a complete lack of self-awareness, some deathly earnest characterisation and a preponderance of clunky and clichéd dialogue, and you’re almost there.
Patterson Endcott (Joshua Marble) works in an unfeasibly small government department as a drone controller, effectively remote-piloting unmanned airborne reconnaissance and attack vehicles in a paranoid near future in which anybody can become a suspect without warning. Except that Endcott does get that warning, finding his name during a scan through a list of potential terrorist converts. Already conflicted by having been forced to open fire into a crowd of innocents, Endcott uploads a programme which temporarily shuts down the drone operation and scarpers, taking his younger sister with him.
What follows never comes close to being as exciting as it ought to be. Part of the problem is undoubtedly the way certain elements that are set up fail to pay off; for example, no sooner have Endcott and his sister gone on the run than they join up with a rebel group – in the very next scene – negating any sense of hopelessness about their situation. And it’s difficult to engage with the characters when you’re being distracted by the obviousness and frequency of the way RZ-9’s “message” is crow barred in at every available opportunity. Neither the trite dialogue nor the lifeless and terribly sincere performances – with one perplexingly jarring exception – are ever going to invoke any empathy, and when one of the main characters is killed some distance from the end, it’s difficult to feel surprise let alone to care.
There is an attempt to show how the protagonists on both sides are just as prone to loss as one another, and when it’s not jumping around the pacing and evocation of place are sympathetic. But there’s a sense that you’ve seen it all before, even with a central premise as potentially provocative as this.
Ultimately, RZ-9 is little more than the reactionary right attempting to portray themselves as just as persecuted as any other religious group. There’s a having your cake and eating it mentality at play, with the principals demonstrably just as trigger-happy as the ostensible villains, and a Damascene conversion at the end is not only copiously signposted, but also undermines any ambiguity the filmmakers might have employed to save their film from falling into the realm of propaganda. What might have been a compellingly badly conceived entertainment simply ends up leaving a bad taste in the mouth.
Special Features: Featurette / Trailer
INFO REVIEW: RZ-9 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: IAIN CARSON / SCREENPLAY: IAIN CARSON, DAVID RHOADES / STARRING: ETHAN MCDOWELL, MORGAN OBENREDER, JOSHUA MARBLE, CHARLIE GILLETTE / RELEASE DATE: MAY 18TH