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.