All of the images in this review have been sourced from the film’s official Facebook page.
There’s most certainly an audience out there for movies that are so ridiculous and far-fetched that they should be offensive, but instead come off as all the more charming or winning for it. They take what tvtropes.org refers to as “Refuge in Audacity,” which by that site’s definition refers to an in-universe character doing something so bold and outrageous that it succeeds purely because of how out-there it is, but can also be extended in a meta sense to the premise and execution of some movies in and of themselves.
The 25th Reich is one such premise. It tells the story of a five-man-band of American soldiers who are sent into the Australian Outback, supposedly to kill two wild pumas. They eventually discover the machine they’ve been carrying with them to attract the pumas is actually a time machine. They’re sent back 50 000 years into the past to find an alien space ship that they’ll use to attack the Nazis, only it turns out one of them is a Nazi spy, and steals the ship to bring Nazi supremacy to Earth. The remaining soldiers travel forward in time, overshoot it by 300 years, and find themselves facing off against Nazi Robots.
This is the trailer – take a moment to watch it.
Based off that, I expected an over-the-top B-movie that dealt with Alien Nazis from the future. I also expected the movie to have a sense of humour, and more importantly, a sense of fun.
I was wrong, and it was a complete chore to watch. To start with, the “hunting pumas” subplot, before the truth is revealed about their mission, takes up more than half of the movie. What should have been some brief moments of exposition and character establishment (establishment is all that’s needed in a movie like this, not development or growth) instead takes up the majority of the film.
Then the time-travel plot occurs and is rushed through, before it ruhes to the Nazi Robots – with only 9 minutes left of the movie. Everything you see in the trailer of the Nazi Domination of the world is literally within the last 3 minutes of the film.
You never expect a movie like this to be good in the traditional sense of the word, but I do expect them to be entertaining. This movie is sorely unfunny, through fault of the script being unfunny, but it also takes itself surprisingly seriously. Not in the sense that the characters are playing it straight and being deadpan for comedy, but in the sense that the movie doesn’t really get in on the joke of the audacity of its plot. There’s little humour or over-the-topness about the dialogue, characters, or situations, and that’s not in the sense of the final product not being that way – it was just never there to begin with.
This would be forgivable, and it would just mean that the film would sink into unappreciated obscurity were it not for one scene that really ruffled my feathers:
One of the characters, Corporal Updike, is a redneck hick. He’s aggressive and bigoted and you’re not meant to like him as a character (this is one thing the movie succeeded in). It comes as no surprise when he eventually defects to the Nazi’s side when presented the opportunity, and becomes one of, if not “the main” Nazi Spider Robot. He initially tries to kill one character, but when the deisgnated-hero of the movie trips over, Updike’s robotic Nazi self pulls down the hero’s pants and rapes him with some form of robotic appendage.
The “Rape as Comedy” trope is incredibly difficult to pull off well, and it more often fails than it succeeds. Even when it does succeed, it’s still necessary that the act itself be offensive, because otherwise the context and contrast doesn’t work together and you just end up with a scene that’s asking an audience to laugh at a character being raped. I’ve mentioned before that I take particular issue with the “men being raped is hilarious” notion, but here it really comes with absolutely no context or necessity, and it’s an absolute failure. Even by the movie’s less-than-amazing standards, it comes right out of nowhere and hits dead ground. It’s not trying to be played disturbingly, because there’s little to no reaction from the main character. And other than Updike having already been an aggressive character, there’s no suggestion that he had this much animosity towards the character – especially when he had already been making sexually-aggressive comments towards a different character where there would have at least been a context for it.
Father’s Day attempted to have comedic rape in it, and while I don’t think it succeeded with complete perfection, there was at least a set-up for it, and a context for it. There was also the contrast that a lot of that movie is off-handedly innocent, just with this horrible circumstance. It’s not necessarily a success, but you can see evidence of the thought that went into it.
In The 25th Reich, it’s a rape scene that comes out of nowhere, has no bearing on the plot, and is never mentioned again. It’s a Big Lipped Alligator Rape! It seems like a throwaway moment with absolutely no thought put into it whatsoever. The victim of said rape is not particularly affected by it, and one of the last scenes of the movie is him revealing that he’s in fact had sex with men before– which treads dangerously close to the movie suggesting that he wasn’t bothered by the rape because he was “used to it”, although in the movie’s slightest defense, there’s no specific mention that this is the case.
It’s not that the scene itself is particularly offensive because it’s not meant to be played seriously (I found myself being slightly offended, although this was probably exascerbated by members of the audience in the cinema laughing uproariously at the scene), but there’s so very little thought or effort put into it that it’s completely and utterly unneccesary, and completely shatters any lingering good will one might have had towards it.
On top of issues with the story, the acting is pretty atrocious – no one really embodies the ridiculousness that a film like this requires, although Dan Balcaban captured the “naïve innocent soldier” character with some conviction, and Jim Knobeloch as the captain of the squad was passable. Jak Wyld as Updike really succeeded in making an unlikeable character, but his accent work was excruciating. It was bad enough that hearing broad Australian inflections on an attempted Southern US accent set me against the movie far too early, and it completely distracts to the point of irritation with the character and eventually the movie itself.
Also, when you have a title like “The 25th Reich” and a very cool opening credits sequence that relies heavily on stylised Nazi imagery (although in hindsight, it probably took up a tenth of the film’s running time), leaving the actual altercation with the Nazis until the last 9 minutes of the film is just ridiculous. Subplots are alluded to and dropped (the soldiers find two mangled bodies, supposedly having been killed by the pumas – never brought up again) and a lot of scenes go on for ages that just don’t need to be there.
The film ends with a title card that informs the viewer the story will be continued in a sequel. This would be fine as a spoof of old serials that would end with title cards exactly like that, except I suspect there were legitimate hopes a sequel would eventuate, given how much of this movie is set-up that never gets resolved. If a sequel does eventuate, at least it would have the opportunity to fix up some of this film’s many flaws.
This was a really, really disappointing movie, especially how much I love a movie that takes Refuge in Audacity and does it well, and how much the marketing for this movie made it look like it would be one such film. I wonder how much of a difference it would have made if the filmmakers had been smart enough to remove the rape scene, or at least provide more thought into it to make it funny.
However, it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I would be feeling unfair if I didn’t mention that there are some points where the graphics are reasonably impressive given how very little budget the film obviously has to work with. And even if it was incredibly misleading, the opening credits sequence is very cool.