I usually start these more obscure film reviews off by saying how I came to watch the movie in question. With Evolver, it’s a pretty simple (boring) story. I saw this goofy poster on Netflix, looked a bit closer, realized it was from 1995 and starred Ethan Embry. That’s pretty much all it took. A killer video game/robot movie starring one of my favorite young actors of the era — I love Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait — is a particularly precise brand of movie catnip that works on me every time.
Embry stars as Kyle a kid who’s really good at a virtual reality (remember when that was a thing?) arcade game to the point where the company gives him the home version. Basically Evolver’s a three foot tall robot that plays Laser Tag with you. You’ve got guns and aim for those circles on his chest while he shoots NERF bullets at you and keeps score. But this being a movie, the fun doesn’t last as Evolver starts trying to really murder his opponents.
In the past few weeks I’ve watched two movies that give machines a LOT of human characteristics. Between Evolver and Chopping Mall, it’s pretty hilarious how evil and mean screenwriters in this era thought machines could or would be. Both films include machines designed to kill or hurt at the very least and they not only have crappy aim (which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t happen) but also take their time in hunting down and murdering human beings.
It would be one thing if, say, Evolver was programmed to play the game, but his creators switched out his safe ammo for deadly items, but in this case, there’s a vindictive nature inherent in the robot that leads him to go out of his way to kill these people. Hell, he doesn’t even just use his own weapons, but picks items he finds out in the field to make the process even more painful. He loads steak knives into his cannon! Mind you, he doesn’t really need to do any of this because his hand is also a high powered taser. As an added bonus, he learns how to insult and demean people before trying to kill them. This isn’t a bad robot, it’s a psychopath!
Problems with computer programming aside, I actually really enjoyed this movie. It takes the Embry I know and love and puts him in a video game/geek/horror setting that’s a lot of fun, while also mixing in elements of another favorite subgenre: E.T. take-offs. Before he goes nuts, Evolver wanders around with his human companions and learns things from then, just like the beloved alien or Johnny 5 (I really need to rewatch Short Circuit).
The more I think about it, the more I’m confused by the overall story of the film though. It’s revealed that Evolver’s creator Russell Bennett (John de Lancie) originally built the bot to infiltrate and destroy enemy camps. How he got the bot away from the government, brought it to a toy company and then turned it into not just a home game, but also a video game. Also, I get that Bennett falls into the mad scientist realm of craziness, but to knowingly send this robot that he knows can and will murder people into a home with two kids is pretty reprehensible.
Even though it might have its problems, I think there’s actually a lot of good fun to be had in Evolver. Actually, it’s closer to bad fun, but what do you expect from a robot that will swear at you before wielding a buzz saw blade with lethal intent?