If you’re past the age of 22, there’s a good chance you have never heard of Rooster Teeth, a production company based out of Austin that specializes in machinima, a technique where video-game graphics engines are used to create animated works. Rooster Teeth has manufactured a veritable empire from its output of short films, including the web series Red Vs. Blue, which debuted in 2003, and has amassed a fervent following of teenagers through its YouTube channel. Now, using funds derived in record numbers from those fans on Indiegogo, Rooster Teeth is seeking to branch out into the realm of feature films with the sci-fi comedy Lazer Team. Its fan base will be ecstatic. The rest of us will be over here scratching our heads.
Lazer Team focuses on an intergalactic war that is about to encroach upon an unsuspecting Earth. It turns out that the infamous “Wow! signal,” a one-time-only transmission from space picked up by SETI in 1977, was actually the clarion call of an alien race meant to alert us of another, more insidious alien race that has designs on our planet. To help us puny earthlings in a fight for which we would be hopelessly outmatched, the good aliens send a super-suit that affords the wearer a number of weapons and powers. The U.S. government has spent the past few decades training a perfect specimen (Alan Ritchson) to be the suit’s eventual wearer, but when it finally touches down to Earth, it is instead intercepted by a group of small-town misfits. Respect-deprived sheriff’s deputy Hagen (Burnie Burns, one of Rooster Teeth’s founders), Zach (Michael Jones), a jock d-bag with designs on Hagan’s daughter, and Herman and Woody (Colton Dunn and Gavin Free), a couple of local losers whose backwoods fireworks show causes the suit’s vessel to crash at their feet. When each of four tries on a piece of the suit, each piece becomes genetically bonded to them. Now the four of them have to work in unison to combine each power and save the planet.
Lazer Team has been in production since 2014, but it oddly feels like it was thrown together a few months ago to inexplicably cash in on two of last summer’s biggest cinematic misfires. The film is highly reminiscent of Pixels, the Adam Sandler vehicle about a group of video-game-obsessed schlubs entrusted to save the world from an alien invasion. And once the foursome begins fighting in unison, the film also seems to echo the most recent Fantastic Four debacle. But Lazer Team’s derivativeness is hardly that specific. So standard are its tropes that it owes a debt to essentially every alien-invasion film ever made. At one point, the film directly name-checks Independence Day, as if we needed its assistance to connect those dots. It also doesn’t help that the effects run the gauntlet from “good for a YouTube video” to “bad for anyone.” If you only have a couple of million to play with, maybe an epic-scale sci-fi action comedy isn’t the most optimal project.
But as a comedy, Lazer Team really only needs to succeed at being funny, and that is where its failings are most notable. There is one decent joke in the film, when one character sheepishly attempts to deny disintegrating a man with a laser, but beyond that, it’s all derps and groans. The cast is composed of faces that may be familiar to the Rooster faithful, but are nobodies to the eyes of everyone else, and there is little comedic spark evidenced in any of them. The closest to amusing would probably be Free, who plays his character as a mulletted hick turned Brit-voiced genius. It’s not much, but at least he has more to play with than simply shrieking and firing off lousy one-liners.
Yet that is all irrelevant. Lazer Team isn’t made for outsiders like myself. It’s a film made exclusively for the rabid fans who footed the bill for its existence, and it’s sure to please them. It’s not unlike the Veronica Mars movie in that respect. I can’t pretend to understand the Rooster Teeth appeal based solely on watching this film, but then I don’t need to. If this is what the kids are into these days, pass them their cake and let them eat it. No need to save me a piece.
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