Since 2011, the web production company Rooster Teeth have been working on their first full length feature, drawing inspiration in equal parts from the sci-fi cult classics and underdog team sports movies that they grew up watching. The result of their efforts, Lazer Team, comes hot off the back of the highest-funded film crowd-funding campaign ever (raising $2.4 million in a month) and even attracted enough interest in international sales to get a limited theatrical run in the UK.
Starring, written and directed by the Rooster Teeth crew, Lazer Team follows a bunch of misfits – worrywart local cop Hagan (Burnie Burns), cocksure jock Zach (Michael Jones), burnt out alcoholic Herman (Colton Dunn), and dumb mullethead Woody (Gavin Free) – who are in the wrong place at the wrong time and accidentally shoot down a spacecraft with a firework.
Created by aliens known as the Andarians, the craft is supposed to deliver a four-piece suit of power to Earth’s anointed champion, Adam (Alan Ritchson), in the advent of an invasion by the malevolent Worg. However, these four idiots each end up permanently attaching a piece of the long-awaited technology to their anatomy, giving Adam and his Project Perseus team just four days to train these guys to work together as one and save the planet.
With the memory of the Adam Sandler vehicle Pixels still so pungent, some might blanch at the premise, but Lazer Team serves as a surprisingly enjoyable lo-fi palate cleanser. Wearing its creative debts on its sleeve, this sci-fi action comedy hits far more often than it misses, thanks to its focus on character over setpieces.
For instance, the constituent parts of the suit are themed after Perseus’ gifts from the gods in Greek mythology and tailored to the characters’ arcs. Hagan gets a shield and is most often found trying to protect the group from hurting themselves, Herman gets a pair of boots that gets rid of a limp from an old football injury, Woody gets a helmet that makes him steadily more intelligent and Zach’s answer to the sword of Zeus is a big old laser cannon that forces him to acknowledge that he’s literally a loose cannon.
It’s hardly the most subtle character work, but at least most of the players have an arc to speak of, usually pointing in the predictable direction of valuing teamwork over old grudges and selfishness. Burns, Doreen Copeland and Matt Hullum wrote the script and aside from their genuine care for the main characters, there are lots of funny little details that get laughs again and again when some of the bigger swings miss, including the hickish Woody’s adoption of an English dialect and slang (the actor, Free, is actually from Oxfordshire) once he starts getting smarter. As a Perseus scientist handily explains: “Woody is a stupid person and that’s how stupid people think smart people sound.”
All around, there’s plenty for the cast to do at varying levels of acting experience and they rise to the challenge admirably. The lead four make very likeable losers, Ritchson does solid Captain America-lite work as the greatest man alive, and Steve Shearer proves invaluable as his military mentor. Regrettably, Allie DeBerry is lumbered with thankless but likeable work as Hagan’s hot teenage daughter Mindy, who feels dredged up from Michael Bay’s Transformers rather than the more earnest 1980s canon that informs the guys’ camaraderie. It feels more like an oversight than anything malicious, but it’s unfortunate all the same.
The budget is impressive for a film of this scale, even more so for how they’ve used it. The CGI isn’t of the highest standard, but the setpieces are very well executed and there are some very impressive gribbly prosthetics used near the end too. The production value does wonders, from the locations to the use of extras – a tier of the funding campaign that would have given one investor a walk-on role caused the site to glitch and instead attracted 535 takers, in a happy accident which provided a lot of extras and lends some crucial heft in the climactic scenes.
Lazer Team is a wilfully daft and derivative genre flick that spreads itself as well as the all-important suit – its feet are in 1980s genre cinema and its head is in the YouTube age, but its heart is always in the right place. Occasionally groan-worthy but always sincere, it’s an enjoyably ramshackle distillation of the filmmakers’ enthusiasm for gaming and comedy and a fitting rebuttal to that Adam Sandler thing.
Lazer Team is showing at selected UK cinemas on Tuesday 2 February – check this list to find out if it’s screening near you.
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