Lazer Team: The Kotaku Australia Review (Spoiler Free)

Rooster Teeth’s first feature film Lazer Team holds the record for the highest funded film campaign on Indiegogo, with over $US2.4 million raised. This crowd support has enabled the internet production company to make exactly the kind of film they wanted to, free of meddling from outside sources. Unfortunately, the kind of movie they wanted to make is standard dudebro fare. The plot follows a quartet of inept men who inadvertently commandeer a Suit of Power sent by an alien race to assist the Champion of Earth (Alan Richardson) in an upcoming battle. These men are beleaguered Sheriff Hagan (Burnie Burns), washed-up football star Herman (Colton Dunn), town idiot Woody (Gavin Free) and brash quarterback Zach (Michael Jones). With the armour now keyed to their DNA, the men must come together to save the world.

I wanted to love it, I really did. I have been following the development of Lazer Team since the crowdfunding campaign and watch Rooster Teeth's content daily. Though I am a fan, I approached the film as I approach every film - with expectations low so that I may be pleasantly surprised rather than bitterly disappointed. I wasn’t bitterly disappointed. But I had to excuse a lot. Fans will find it easier to gloss over stereotypes and overacting, the way you would excuse a friend's overbearing behaviour because you're all just there to have fun and deep down he's an OK guy. But if you are not a fan, the quirks of the film may be difficult to forgive.

The most immediate issue was that there was too much tell, not enough show. The film was over-explained, with obvious and repetitive jokes that don’t quite land. One moment of physical comedy early in the movie repeated itself twice in the span of around ten minutes. This kind of over-explanation made it the sort of film you put on in the background while you do something else, because it doesn’t matter too much if you miss things the first time.

Particularly notable was a moment when Mindy (Allie DeBerry), Zach’s love interest and Hagan’s daughter, spoke aloud to herself while alone, though the audience could clearly see and infer what was happening from the action onscreen. As a result the film was dumbed down even for a light-hearted comedy, and many jokes were explained and stretched until sucked dry of humour.

It was also disappointing that there were only two female speaking roles in the entire film (excluding newscasters providing exposition) and it is 2016. One was Mindy. The other was credited only as Female Scientist (Irina Voronina) and she was... a female scientist, whose main purpose was for Woody to test his newfound X-ray vision on. This was the other issue with the women in the film – the two female characters were there mainly for the purposes of their sexuality and their relationships to the men. These issues threw into sharp relief the fact that the only black character was a washed up drunk and the prime specimen of human excellence was Hitler's dreamboat. All of this was especially notable considering that Rooster Teeth has recently expressed interest in diversifying its audience and content, as well as the Ladies of Rooster Teeth and Diversity in Gaming panels held at RTXAU over the weekend. This kind of content is more likely to put off a diverse audience than attract them, and potentially embarrass fans hoping to introduce the company to friends.

Lazer Team’s paper-thin plot is dragged along by a cast of stock characters – the small town police officer, the washed up sports star, the jock, the town idiot. The characters make attempts at wrestling with their stereotypes, but a lack of notable character development means they never quite break free from them. The closest the film gets is a quiet moment alone with resident idiot Woody. He mercifully doesn’t say anything, but you can see the cogs in his head slowly start to turn for the first time ever. Unfortunately the film does not gain any depth beyond that.

When darker or more serious elements were hinted at, all were played off for laughs. As such, when the film makes a sudden swing and attempts to deliver emotional story beats, they do not land and the situation never holds any gravity. Rather, Lazer Team’s climax is simply ticking off a list of clichés. Though there were glimpses of potential, the Suit of Power is not used to its utmost or even creatively, and the team's victories do not feel earned but prewritten.

Three of the main cast’s prior acting experience was primarily through Rooster Teeth’s in-house skits released online (Burnie Burns, Gavin Free and Michael Jones). If you know Rooster Teeth it is fun playing spot the cameo, as many familiar personalities also appear as minor characters. However, like the writers, the new actors had difficulty transitioning from the slapstick sensibilities of their online shorts. To their credit, they hold themselves up well in the context of the film's thin content. Michael Jones in particular convincingly embodies jackass Zach, and Alan Richardson does his best with what he is given. But at times the film felt like an over-produced skit that went on for too long.

Lazer Team benefited in that one of the stars, Gavin Free, specialises in slow motion film (you may recognise him from the Rooster Teeth-owned YouTube channel The Slo-Mo Guys). This provided the opportunity for some interesting visual effects. Unfortunately the effect was overused, in a fashion reminiscent of how films experimented when 3D movies started to gain traction. Slow motion highlights action, and it was as though someone had run a highlighter through the entire film.

There is nothing much to say that this film did uniquely, or outstandingly well. It was fun, and it doesn't appear that Rooster Teeth was aiming for anything else. So in that they succeeded. It is disappointing that despite the flexibility and creativity that was afforded them by making this film with crowdfunded money, free of outside executive meddling, they produced a watery narrative and characters that one could expect from a heavily meddled with production. It simply did not live up to Rooster Teeth’s reputation for innovation.

In the end, Lazer Team was Rooster Teeth’s big experiment in the mechanics of how to produce a film, in the same way that a paint-by-numbers kit teaches you the basics of painting. Sticking to a known formula is safer than experimenting too much, and with so many fans’ expectations (and money) riding on this project, they chose the safer path. The result is a made-for-television children’s movie, but with dick jokes. Lazer Team is impressive in light of its crowdfunded nature, but I hope this was a learning experience that Rooster Teeth builds on.

It was an enjoyable film – if you leave your brain, expectations and any critical thinking at the door. If you're a fan, you were probably going to go and see it anyway. If not, you can afford to give it a miss.

Lazer Team hits cinemas January 28.


Comments

    Ah, the old review from someone with absolute certainty of their opinion, yet undereducated in the conventions of film, comedy and clearly representation. Why does certainty tend to extend so, so, so far past education?

      Wow.... that's a bit vitriolic? The review seemed pretty well reasoned, well founded and didn't slam the movie, just said it was ok, but could've been done better. Pointed out flaws like the gross misuse of females for instance as nothing but sex objects (a fair point these days) and that the repeated use of the same exact joke in a short period of time was a bad idea (it really is in comedies). I don't really see your points as well founded there, perhaps you yourself in your rush to judgement may be jumping the gun a bit?

      Last edited 27/01/16 2:35 pm

        Honestly the sex object complaint isn't really justified.

        The scientist is there basically as an x-ray vision joke, but the instantly the joke becomes "Woody" being forced to see his teammates naked because he can't control the x-ray vision, then while he's freaking out a male scientist (played by Gus Sorola) runs over to inspect the helmet, forcing Woody's face into his crotch.

        The daughter is a love interest, bit the scene where she's seducing Michael's character is a joke because instead of acting sexy she's robotically saying really bizarre shit under alien influence and Michael's character is so horned up he doesn't notice. When she does arrive, she kicks the shit out of him trying to steal his plasma cannon - and the movie points out this isn't because the alien device gives her strength or other powers, she just knows how to kick butt.

        The cast needed more sexual diversity and there was one joke that I considered actually pretty racist, but I do not think the sexualisation of the female characters is the issue here.

        Edit: for the record the racist joke was:

        When the team has first discovered the alien devices and are being detained by the military, they all get subdued by force (tazers, being tackled, etc.) but Colton runs away with his speed boots - about fifty feet before falling over and passing out. The military commander says "subdue him anyway" (or words to that effect), so they capsicum spray him while yelling "stop resisting". As the only black guy in the movie, it was a bit off colour - no pun intended.

        Last edited 27/01/16 10:40 pm

          I've been hearing the idea they could've had more 'side' roles of lesser consequence go to females, that weren't sexualised or led to sexual humour, which I guess is a fair comment. The main complaint seems to be, from a few reviews, that women were only used in a way that led to sexual jokes or sexual encounters, which again I can see the point. I don't honestly think its WORTH raging over though, just one of those things Rooster Teeth should keep in mind for movie #2.

          I'll see the movie, it looks like my kinda thing. I don't boycott movies over silly complaints or anything, I like to experience them myself and decide from there (god help me I sat through Fancraptic 4).

            Absolutely, I think more female characters and more diversity in general would have made people feel less like the females were only there for sexual objectification reasons. I'm not saying it's an invalid observation, but it's also a very shallow observation that doesn't fully appreciate the context. Unfortunately, this not being an overly complex movie, it will be open to fairly shallow observations.

      It's a real shame that the people who seem know the most about everything are in the comments section. If only the internet commenters could run the country, parent the next generation and review games and movies ... the world would be perfect.

    What Amanda describes is no less than what I was expecting, I still expect to have a good time when I see it in about 4 hours. The lack of equal representation and use of female characters for their sexualisation is unfortunate but I'm not really sure what the expectation was here. Admittedly I was asking the same question a few months back: four lead characters and not one female? I understand there was no way Burnie was going up his spot (and I understand he worked very hard to ensure he played his role well instead of it being a "I get the role because I say so" kind of deal), I feel like Gavin is a decent casting choice, but I'm not entirely convinced Michael has the acting chops for a feature and I really don't know what to expect from Colton. I know Alan Ritchson as the hero of earth was a huge deal for them as well (Incidentally I had no idea who Ritchson was when he was first cast but once we got Netflix I marathoned Blue Mountain State and subsequently came to love the guy), but I wonder if we couldn't have had a female hero of earth trying to whip these guys into shape or something. Maybe that would've been too obvious a trope aversion, or otherwise "problematic".

    In any case, I expect my biggest issue as a fan of Rooster Teeth content for some 12 years now will be separating the characters in this movie from the personalities they portray via Achievement Hunter let's play videos, podcasts, shorts, etc.

    Last edited 27/01/16 2:44 pm

      Speaking of separating the characters from their real life personas, I have a friend who's been doing a lot of extra work in movies these days and as soon as he's in a movie my suspension of disbelief is shattered. Even when I don't see him in several background scenes as different characters, I find myself looking for him. The bastard.

        Yeah I've kinda got that problem with a certain actor these days. Interviewed him a lot, keep in contact personally over FB, skype etc.

        Now when I see him in movies I don't see monsters, I don't see badguys or ghosts etc...

        It's him :(

        Silly me. lol. I feel your pain Shadow.

          I worked in music for 15 years so most live music of the flashy or bombastic kind is totally mundane to me. When you tour with bands and hear them crack the same jokes every night and you find out that every seemingly spontaneous antic is stringently rehearsed it's like knowing all of the magician's tricks, the magic is gone. I had a mate who's worked in movies all of his life too and it's the same for him. When he's watching a movie he can pick that the background of a scene in a forest is 15 feet of real ferns before it becomes a matte painting and he can tell which props are real and which are rubber or foam.

          Once you peek behind the curtain, you can't unsee it.

          That's why I'd never work in video games, they're sacred to me and I wouldn't want them weighed down with the baggage that comes from mixing your pleasure with business.

      Ok, having now seen the movie, I really don't think Amanda's nitpicks are justified. The examples of characters "narrating what they're doing" really amounts to some snarky comments (which I file under character development) and an example of, for instance, the Sheriff's daughter/jock love interest? She was reading a news headline on her laptop. This is a pretty common movie trope.

      If you're nitpicking to this degree, I'm sorry, but you're nitpicking, You're not trying to enjoy the movie.

      A bunch of the jokes fell kind of flat but outside of a few callbacks, I wouldn't consider them particularly repetitive. A few lines of dialogue were recycled straight out of early seasons of Red vs Blue, but you'd have to be a pretty hardcore fan to notice that. Yeah, it could have used a more diverse cast, but saying the sheriff's daughter only existed as a sexualised love interest is a disservice to the character and the actor's performance.

      Overall it was a highly enjoyable film and a great effort for a (relatively) low budget first attempt at a feature. I'd say it exceeded my expectations. It wasn't a complex movie, but I'd give it far more credit than "a children's movie with dick jokes".

      Last edited 27/01/16 10:41 pm

    Seems like a well written unbiased review, enjoyed it.

    Seems like a fair review although seeing the cast I wouldn't expect great acting or even script writing anyway. Funnily enough the review makes me want to watch it so I can see if I agree or not.

    It's been interesting watching RT transition from the Internet to broader things. They've gone from being big fish in a little pond to little fish in an ocean, and while they absolutely headline in the Internet world, their expansion into bigger and better things has them stumbling and tripping a bit. But I totally admire their tenacity.

    I understand the criticisms and could totally see them as the movie unfolded, that said, it feels a bit useless to think about because, it's a comedy.
    I mean what's the difference between a bad comedy and a good comedy? Yeah there's definitely some examples out there and some film theory about it, yet... even a crap comedy will appeal to its audience and make them laugh - which is the entire point.

    I enjoyed the movie overall. Truthfully it turned out pretty much exactly what I expected, which is simultaneously the most uplifting and damning criticism I can think of.

    Having watched the movie now, I think it delivers what I would have expected, RT humour, it's what they've always done, and this is what their fans love.

    I don't think that they were concentrating on story depth or the characterisation of women in the movie, and really, I didn't consider either of those while watching it; is that what people usually think of when they go in to see a comedy? It may benefit new comers to not go into the movie expecting it to adhere to the norms of movies, it's an RT production, the dick jokes are kind of essential.

    I... didn't like the movie. And, by and large, I agree with the review.

    I'm not sure if I'm surprised (by the fact that I didn't like it) or not. To an extent, it's pretty much what Rooster Teeth has been making for most of the company's life - entertainment pitched at people aged 14-25 or so. Now that I'm 30, I don't really fit into that any more. It's not so much that they've changed, it's that I've changed.

    I've even pretty much stopped watching Red vs Blue nowadays, after having watched the first ten seasons or so as they were released, and buying all the DVDs/blu-rays. I'll occasionally watch an episode or two, but I don't really enjoy it any more.

    I guess that I was hoping for something more from the movie - something pitched to a broader audience. I've always seen Burnie as a very intelligent person (and I still do) - someone capable of writing very interesting characters and plot, as well as funny jokes. I have very fond memories of RvB seasons 6, 7 and 8, but I don't know whether that was just me at the time or whether I'd still enjoy them now!

    Anyway. I think I might just about be done with Rooster Teeth's narrative content. The Let's Plays and podcasts are still fun, but it'll probably be a case of "try before you buy" with any new crowdfunding campaigns they run!

      As per my post below, our group was largely outside the target audience you believe the movie was aimed at. The difference being that we went in completely ignorant to the history of the creators. We didn't have any expectations or bias.

      I think that's part of the problem you have with the movie... you have a bias that someone coming to the movie fresh doesn't have, you try to find a way to justify why you didn't like the movie beyond simply not liking it.

      A 60+ mother, 2 40+ adults and 2 teenage girls, all with zero knowledge of who Rooster Teeth are.. and myself even only having an inkling. We all enjoyed it as much as we would another film in the same genre.. so yes, it definitely has appealed to a larger audience.

      Sorry you were disappointed but I think you're still biased and your opinion on why you feel the movie sucked is still biased.

    Coming into the cinema with my family last night, all of us had had extremely minimal exposure to the movie previously (I'd accidentally come across an advert on Facebook). I was the only one there, of my family, that even knew what Rooster Teeth was and that was only a very basic understanding that they were similar to Freddie Wong's team of content creators.. so, a total non-fan of Rooster Teeth.

    All of us (myself 40, my mother (60+, sister 40+, bro-in-law 40+, and two teenage nieces) thoroughly enjoyed the light-hearted movie. Laughing multiple times throughout the well-produced and acted movie. There was only a couple of times that dialogue fell a little flat, but that was rare.

    Sure, this is not a movie for everyone.. you need to remember it is sci-fi, light-hearted movie.. but it hits all the right "hollywood" marks that a good movie should. In fact, I'd have to say (after watching some of their content last night after the movie), that this wasn't actually purely "for the fans" content but instead a serious attempt at making a commercial movie for a larger audience.

    Last edited 28/01/16 9:49 am

    I don't think they intended that as a racist 'joke', it was a parody of actual racism.

    While used for humour, I don't think they were intending it as a way to make light of the fact that actually happens.

    Same as the later jokes with regard to American nationalism.

    Pointing out the ridiculousness of these situations, with a small amount of hyperbole in a humorous way has often been used in comedies to throw some attention towards serious issues.

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