Wednesday, July 18, 2007

FILM: "Meatball Machine"

Meatball Machine is a splatterpunk reimagining of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, shot with the patented cinematography of a shaky YouTube video, and with little care for lighting or particularly realistic blood. The film is streaked and splattered with this laughable gore at every turn, and is a bitter triumph of style over substance. Not much is particularly good about Meatball Machine, especially not the awkward romance-cum-action storyline, but at least some of the special effects go beyond the rubbery prosthetics and juddering camera.

I'm glad that at least the design is original; in terms of plot, haven't enough bad Japanese films been made about alien biotechnology (The Guyver comes to mind)? The film's audience is also very telling: while in most cases, the parasites simply infect their hosts and use them as tools--necroborgs--to battle each other as part of a game, there's a key scene that indulges in some tentacled live-action hentai before screwing giant lids through the host's eyes. Junya Kato certainly had as much fun writing this scene as he did with an earlier brawl between a transsexual and our feeble antihero, but you can tell that its the codirectors, Junichi Yamamoto and Yudai Yamaguchi, who wanted to stretch it out.

Then again, given the paucity of material, it's no wonder they chose to linger on their nifty monstrosities. Whether by mental erosion or an attrition of horror, Meatball Machine actually picks up once Yôji faces off with his near-girlfriend Sachiko. Their prolonged junkyard showdown can't possibly be taken seriously, but it's thoughtlessly entertaining: at one point Sachiko welds metal to the man who once harassed her and uses him as a gladiatorial shield. It doesn't matter that Yôji was infected by a mad scientist out to harvest parasites for his half-infected daughter to feast on, nor does it matter that Sachiko can technically still feel everything that the alien is making her do. It's cool to watch mutants shape new weapons out of their own bone, flesh, and organs, even if, as I mentioned before, the quality never manages to get far beyond that of YouTube.

The concept of Meatball Machine actually doesn't lag that far behind bigger budgeted catastrophes like Alien versus Predator, with humans caught in the middle. But the execution is too tightly targeted on certain fetish-minded and blood-thirsty cinephiles to have broader appeal, and there's really no built in fan-base for the rubbery acrobatics of adult Power Rangers. These fans may disagree, but on my end: I don't like my meatballs half-baked.

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