When it comes to the specific comedy stylings of local film collective Astron-6, if you don't laugh, well, maybe you had to be there.
"There" is the realm of cheesy exploitation movies of the '80s. With their two feature films, Father's Day and now Manborg, Astron-6 demonstrates a better handle on the material than Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez did in their double homage Grindhouse.
It helps, perhaps, that Manborg is authentically dirt-cheap. Shot among a group of friends utilizing green screens, miniature sets, and the abiding love of genre, Manborg pays homage to the direct-to-VHS films of yore in weirdly delightful ways.
The plot: After witnessing the combat death of his brother at the hands of vampiric superman Count Draculon, a soldier (Matthew Kennedy) is himself killed, only to be revived, la RoboCop, as a part-man, part-machine warrior dubbed "Manborg."
He joins with a handful of plucky rebels fighting Draculon's post-apocalyptic rule, including the dubbed, kung-fu-fighting #1 Man (Ludwig Lee), the fist-pumping glitter punk Justice (Conor Sweeney, hilarious) and his beautiful blond sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney). The group is promptly captured by The Baron (Jeremy Gillespie, also hilarious), a Hellraiser-esque mutant overlord who amusingly carries a torch for Mina, despite his hideousness. (When the rebel band escapes, the Baron moons over Mina's empty jail cell like a lovelorn teen out of a John Hughes movie: "They called her Prisoner No. 7, but to me, she was always Prisoner No. 1.")
Scripted by Kostanski and Gillespie, Manborg proves adept dispensing all the clichés of the low-budget movies that inspired it, including bits of dialogue such as:
"The greatest power lies within you. When the time comes, you will understand."
"It's never too late ... to be a hero."
But it's delivered with smart comic timing and an underlying love for cinema's most disposable product. For a movie depicting non-stop violence and dystopian doom, this feels like sunny fun at the movies.