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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Automatic

October 21, 2021 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #600: Automatic

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has been around for, roughly, twelve years, which is either really cool or sad, depending on how you want to look at it (I mean, what have I been doing with my life for a decade plus? This? Really?), The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number six hundred(!), I take a look at the classic low budget sci-fi action flick Automatic, which had its TV debut on HBO back in early June 1995 (it would later make its home video debut in November of 1995).



Warning: This review contains spoilers

Automatic, directed by John Murlowski, is a low budget sci-fi action flick that I’ve been in love with since I first saw it on HBO back in 1995. I was super interested in the movie as soon as I found out that real deal martial artist Olivier Gruner was in it as I was obsessed with the low budget sci-fi action flick he made with the great Albert Pyun, Nemesis, and I figured that Automatic was going to be more of the same (badass action set pieces, Gruner looking cool as hell playing another cyborg, stuff like that). While Automatic does have multiple badass action set pieces and Gruner being cool as a cyborg, it’s a different experience. Automatic may very well be Gruner’s best performance, and Automatic may be his best movie.

Automatic takes place in a future world where cyborgs and other assorted robotic technology is rampant in everyday life. The top cyborg company is Robgen Industries, owned and operated by Goddard Marx (John Glover), and Robgen’s top seller is the “J-series” protection cyborg (all J-series cyborgs are played by Gruner). As the movie begins, we find out that Robgen is in deep financial trouble as the company is being undercut by its competitors. Marx, though, has a new cyborg product that, he believes, will change his company’s fortunes and alter the course of mankind (Marx actually says this). Raymond Hammer (Dennis Lipscomb), the representative from the bank that Robgen deals with, doesn’t believe Marx’s new product will save the company but, because Marx is such a good bullshitter, agrees to give Robgen two months to turn its financial situation around. If the new product doesn’t produce, Hammer will tell the bank to pull all of its money out of Robgen and shut the company down.

After the big hooha meeting where Hammer gives Marx money and time to turn Robgen around, a Robgen executive (Seth Barker, as played by Stanley Kamel) sexually assaults his secretary Nora Rochester (Daphne Ashbrook). The assault alerts J269, one of the many J-series cyborgs that act as security at Robgen headquarters. Barker tells J269 to leave the area because “nothing happened,” but J269 knows that something is wrong and tries to follow its programming and rescue/save Rochester. Barker pulls a gun on J269 and J269 quickly disarms him and then accidentally kills him. Now, in general, a J-series cyborg, known as an “automatic,” shouldn’t be able to directly kill someone. Explicitly killing people is just not in automatic programming. When Robgen HQ head of security Buck James (Troy Evans) funds out what J269 did, he orders the cyborg to stay in Barker’s office with Rochester and await further instructions. James then calls Marx to find out what to do next. An automatic isn’t supposed to kill people. What the hell happened?


So James calls Marx, Marx arrives at Robgen HQ and tries to figure out what happened. After interrogating J269, Marx determines that J269 is malfunctioning somehow and that the cyborg will have to be shut down. Marx tries to get J269 to leave Barker’s office and head to a different area in the building but J269 refuses. J269 tells Marx over and over again that the proper protocol for this situation is to call the police (calling the police is part of automatic programming). Marx can’t have the police show up at Robgen HQ, especially the night before his big new product reveal, as a police presence will alert the news media. And Marx sure as hell can’t let it get out that one of his executives tried to rape a woman in Robgen HQ. How the hell is this problem going to get fixed? Marx comes up with a plan.

What’s the plan? Marx has James shut the entire building down, seal off where J269 is with Rochester, and then call in a team of badass mercenaries to eliminate both J269 and Rochester. The mercenaries, led by Major Simon West (Jeff Kober), are the best in the mercenary business. Major West is also excited to get the opportunity to take on and destroy an automatic, or a “tic,” as West despises the machines. West isn’t too fond of Marx, either, but Marx is paying him and his team a gigantic pile of money and West will follow orders and do what is necessary to complete his mission.

So Major West and his team arrive at Robgen HQ via flying transport and attempt to surround J269. As soon as J269 figures out what’s going on he springs into action and kills several of West’s men and blows up the team’s flying transport (part of West’s plan was to have the transport hover just outside the window of the room J269 and Rochester are holed up in and then use the transport’s mega machine gun to obliterate the room in the event that his team can’t kill the automatic up close. After killing several of West’s fellow mercenaries J269 grabs one of the dead merc guns and shoots at the transports mega machine gun, blowing up the transport in the process). West then loses several more mercenaries trying to keep J269 and Rochester from moving to another floor of the building.

As all of this is going on, the protestors outside Robgen HQ (some people believe that the new Robgen product is going to be some sort of “labor robot” that will help big business eliminate human workers all together, killing various good paying manufacturing jobs. As a result of this fear, Robgen HQ is usually surrounded by protestors), along with local reporter Gloria Takamatsu (Annabelle Gurwitch), see the flying transport arrive at the top of Robgen HQ and then subsequently see the aircraft explode. What the hell is going on inside Robgen? Takamatsu tries to find out. She actually calls Marx and eventually gets him to talk to her (Marx, of course, bullshits her, too).


So J269 and Rochester regroup inside one of the building’s research labs so J269 get fixed up (despite taking out multiple mercenaries, J269 is shot up a bit and needs various repairs done so he can continue protecting Rochester). It’s here that J269 admits to being upset about what’s happening and being referred to as something less than human (J269 is worried that he doesn’t have a heart and doesn’t like it when people call him “Tin Man,” like from The Wizard of Oz). Rochester, scared out of her mind because she’s just a secretary and has no idea why the hell heavily armed men are coming after her, tries to let J269 know that he is sort of human and that he shouldn’t worry about what other people say about him. While all of this is happening, Major West calls in Epsilon (Marjean Holden), a fellow badass mercenary team leader and tic hater. Major West believes that with what’s left of his team and Epsilon’s team they will be able to defeat J269, kill Rochester, and complete the mission. Two kill teams are better than one.

Well, under normal circumstances that would be true. But in the case of J269?


The rest of Automatic is one big chase scene as J269 and Rochester evade and kill off West’s team and Epsilon’s team. Both mercenary teams try to outsmart their cyborg enemy but they fail at every turn. And as all of that happens, Marx tries to contain both the media (Takamatsu threatens to go live on the air with what she thinks is going on inside Robgen HQ) and a super pissed off Hammer (Marx’s call from Hammer is the funniest thing in the movie). Bad publicity. The bank pulling its money out of Robgen before the big new product reveal. This can’t be happening, and yet it is. What the hell?

After multiple gun battles and brutal fight scenes, where we see J269 eliminate both members of West’s mercenary team and Epsilon’s team, J269 and Rochester end up in a massive hangar that is housing Robgen’s newest product. And it’s here that J269, Rochester, and the audience find out what, exactly is such a big deal and what will, according to Marx, change the “future of mankind.” So what’s the new product?

Automatics that look like Rochester. Rochester also finds out that she, too, is an automatic. This big reveal blew my goddamn mind back in 1995 and still feels like a bit of a mindfuck today. Would a robot that looks like Nora Rochester really change the trajectory of the world and of mankind? When you think back to what Seth Barker tried to do when he found out what Rochester really was, a Rochester automatic probably would change the world. Rich and poor dudes would try to buy their own Rochester to have sex with it, and human women would try to act like/look like Rochester (unless the second part of Marx’s big product reveal was set to be a male sex robot for women, which could have happened if the lead up to the Rochester product reveal didn’t go so spectacularly bad).

The movie ends with a final big hooha action scene, with J269 taking out West and the rest of his mercenary team (poor Epsilon gets wiped out by Rochester) and then throwing Marx into a wall of computer monitors, causing the wall to explode. The protestors are also let inside the complex to burn it down (head of security James eventually becomes disillusioned with Marx and the company and opens the building up so the protestors can get inside). The final scene has J269 and Rochester walk away together into an uncertain but still kind of hopeful future.

Every aspect of Automatic works. From its poignant story to its action filled plot to its terrific performances, Automatic is moviemaking of the highest order. I know that sounds ridiculous to loads of people because of Automatic’s B-movie pedigree, but it’s the truth. Automatic is top notch moviemaking regardless of its genre or budget trappings. There are “A” movies that wish they were half as entertaining, exciting, and thought provoking as Automatic. It’s a perfect movie. It’s a movie that never gets old and is still just as relevant twenty-six years later. Again, it’s a perfect movie. I can’t stress that enough.

The movie’s action set pieces are true things of beauty. From the movie’s multiple gun battles to the brutal hand-to-hand fights choreographed by star Gruner, there isn’t a dull moment in the movie’s 86 minute runtime. Every gun battle and hand-to-hand brawl is different and I’d suspect that most scenes will make you wince (Gruner’s punches and kicks in this movie are some of the most painful looking martial arts you will likely ever see in any sort of American movie). The movie’s pacing is also superb. Director Murlowski doesn’t waste a second, and when the movie is over you wish that it wasn’t. And check out that goddamn elevator shaft sequence. The tension will eat you alive.

The movie’s set design is low budget sci-fi perfection. The world of Automatic looks and feels like some sort of future, and while it’s obvious that the producers didn’t spend millions of dollars on the sets and CGI special effects and whatnot, the movie rings out all of the production value it can out of what it has and makes the movie look way more expensive than it actually is. The movie’s music, composed by David Wurst and Eric Wurst, also helps with this (the movie’s theme sounds like it was played by a full orchestra but it was likely just a few synthesizers). I would love to have a soundtrack CD of this movie’s music.


The movie’s various performances are all insanely good. There isn’t a lame or half-assed performance amongst the entire cast. Gruner performs at an exceptionally high level as J269 as well as all of the other J-series automatics we see in the movie. You can see it in his eyes and the way he tries to interact with Rochester when he isn’t protecting her that he’s confused and conflicted about what he’s doing and what’s happening to him. He knows that he has programming that he has to follow and he believes that he is, but everyone around him, from Marx to Rochester, keeps telling him that he’s malfunctioning. What does that mean? How is he malfunctioning? And why do these other people keep telling him that he isn’t human, that he’s something else entirely? He doesn’t know how to reconcile any of this and it’s heartbreaking. As for the two other “main” J-series automatics we see Gruner play: one that’s standing guard at the gate to Robgen HQ and just doing its job (I believe this one is called J359) and J12, James’s best friend. When Marx sees J12 act in solidarity with J269 inside the security control room and he then removes J12’s power supply (he pulls the goddamn thing right out of J12’s head) Gruner will make you scream in pain. It’s so fucking sad. And then there’s the J-series automatic that Rochester finds in the lab, locked inside of a cabinet. This automatic is one that Robgen scientists experiment on. Gruner’s facial expressions here will make you cry as you realize that this automatic is just like J269: conflicted about what’s going on. Again, it’s so fucking sad. Gruner deserved more recognition for his performance in this movie back in 1995/1996. He didn’t get it because Automatic is “just a silly B-movie” and Gruner is “just a low budget action star,” and those assertions are an absolute disgrace. Gruner gave the performance of his life and he should have been commended for it. He should have become a bigger star because of this performance. It didn’t happen. And that sucks.

Daphne Ashbrook is great as Nora Rochester, the secretary being protected by a malfunctioning cyborg and being pursued by heavily armed mercenaries. She plays Rochester as a normal person stuck in an extraordinary situation and she’s doing the best she can to survive. She’s not fond of the “malfunctioning cyborg” but will follow his lead because what the hell else is she going to do? She’s just a secretary. When she finds out what’s really going on and who and what she really is she’s dumbfounded. It can’t possibly be true that she’s a cyborg just like J269, and yet it is. Her mind, much like the audience, is fucking blown, and she needs to figure out how to survive this newfound knowledge, too. What the hell is she going to do?


John Glover gives the performance of his life as Goddard Marx. You know that as soon as you see Marx and hear him talk and try to convince the bank guy to keep supporting him and Robgen that Marx is an excellent bullshitter and a guy that you can’t really trust wholeheartedly. At the same time, the more you hear him talk he gets you, for a few moments, to see the situation from his point of view. You start feeling sympathy for him. You don’t want to see Robgen fail and you want him to somehow succeed. You never want to see J269 or Rochester die, you want them to get away, but you also don’t want to see Marx fail. Those feelings eventually disappear as you realize just how terrible Marx is as a person. All of that “future of mankind” stuff? It’s all a big scam to get rich. And then you hate yourself for falling for his sleazy fucking actions. How many times can you honestly say that you’ve ever felt that way about an asshole businessman in a movie or in real life? I’m also a big fan of the way Glover always tries to make Marx seem positive, even when he knows he’s doing absolutely terrible things. It’s terrifying. Does he really believe his own bullshit? He really might. Again, that’s terrifying. Just great stuff from Glover.


Jeff Kober will make your skin crawl as Major West, the mercenary team leader. From his sleazy smile when he talks about what he wants to do to automatics and, eventually, Rochester, to the way he interacts with Marx, you just can’t stand him and you can’t wait to see him get his ass kicked. And it’s fun as hell to see him repeatedly fail trying to take down J269. Marx even tells West that he can’t underestimate J269 and that he needs to be careful and West keeps making mistake after mistake. You’d think that a top notch mercenary would figure out very quickly that he needs to change tactics, but for some reason West is just stubborn. It is so goddamn satisfying when J269 takes him out. I wish the big fight scene between West and J269 was even bigger, more violent, and just nastier (I wanted to see a fucking blade go into his chest or neck or whatever goddamit. That’s how much you’re going to hate Kober). I love hating Jeff Kober’s characters, I really do.

Marjean Holden is awesome as Epsilon, the backup mercenary team leader. She has terrific sleazebag chemistry with Kober’s Major West and she just exudes the kind of badass credibility that only a real deal martial artist can (and Holden is a real deal martial artist). It’s almost a damn shame what happens to her, but then she does hang out with Major West and so she deserves whatever happens to her.

Dennis Lipscomb is hilarious as Raymond Hammer, the bank representative that really doesn’t want to give Robgen more money but ends up getting talked into it by Marx. Hammer is so pissed off all of the time that you start to worry about the man’s blood pressure. And you end up feeling actual sympathy for Hammer when he has his final meltdown towards the end of the movie. Marx is screwing everything up and he needs to pull Marx’s money before he sinks the bank, too. I also want to commend Lipscomb for his timing during his big call with Marx where he tries to explain how the bank has a conservative image to maintain while two naked women pop up in the background of his call. Do conservative bankers also want to have threesomes with hookers? Apparently they do. And what’s wrong with that?

Troy Evans does a wonderful job as Buck James, the head of security at Robgen Industries. He’s super conflicted the whole time you see him. James doesn’t want to do anything stupid or illegal or evil but he also doesn’t want to lose his job as being the head of security for Robgen HQ is way better than being a cop (he tells a brief story about his experiences as a cop and, Jesus Christ, why would anyone do that job?). You will cheer when he eventually makes the right decision towards the end of the movie. I know I did. And I definitely wanted to see James hang out with an automatic at a bar. Would the automatic get drunk? Could it? James is exactly the kind of guy that would try to find out.

Stanley Kamel is sleaze personified as Robgen executive Seth Barker. At first, you think he’s just an ass kisser with the way he carries on in front of Marx about how great Robgen is. But then he has Rochester stay late so he can rape her in his office and he’s absolutely disgusting (Kamel, too, will make your skin crawl in this movie). You end up wishing that his big death scene was longer and more drawn out. Getting leg swept by J269 and then cracking the back of his skull on the edge of a table is just too quick a death for a piece of shit like Barker.

Penny Johnson does a nice job as Julia Rodriguez, Rochester’s best friend at the office. She has believable friends chemistry with Ashbrook’s Rochester and it would be fun to see a spin-off short movie about their typical day at Robgen Industries. And Annabelle Gurwitch is funny as the serious but also kind of goofy TV reporter Gloria Takamatsu. She wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on at Robgen HQ, but she isn’t necessarily into the whole “get to the truth” thing. Takamatsu wants to get a bigger job in TV journalism, and this Robgen story might be her ticket to an anchor position at her network. I lost it when she said, at the end of the movie when she gets inside Robgen and sees the carnage, “make sure you get me in the shot with the dead chick behind me.” I would have loved to see a full on Gloria Takamatsu movie.

Automatic, for whatever reason, has never had a region 1 DVD or Blu-ray release. It does have a region 2 DVD of some sort, but it’s very expensive. The movie also isn’t available to stream anywhere that I’m aware of (it isn’t on Netflix or Tubi as I write this). The movie also hasn’t been on TV in decades. You can still find it on VHS, but I’d suspect that that’s hard to do. This reality is inexplicable and infuriating. I’m just going to assume that there’s some sort of rights issue preventing the movie from getting a new home video release but I really have no idea. I’m hoping that MVD or Vinegar Syndrome or someone like that eventually gets a chance to release the movie on Blu-ray but there’s no indication that will ever happen. It would also be cool if it showed up on Tubi or, maybe, HBO Max (the movie had its world cable premiere on HBO). Automatic is a movie that deserves to be readily available so everyone can see just how great it is. Because Automatic is a great movie. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a real deal B-movie classic. It deserves a higher profile.

See Automatic. It’s a real deal B-movie classic. It’s one of the greatest movies ever made. See it, see it, goddamn see it!


So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: At least 39

Explosions: Multiple, both big and small.

Nudity? : Briefly.

Doobage: Seeing the inside of a cyborg up close, a father turning on his home security system, home invasion hooey, TV commercial hooey, serious karate beat down, guy gets thrown through a wall, a big corporate meeting, talk of a big new product, multiple malfunctions, serious sexual innuendo, attempted rape, a cyborg that cares, leg sweeping, coffee table to the back of the head, a protective cyborg, booze drinking, talk about violating programming, mercenary hooey, attempted confusion, a messed up attack, mega machine gun hooey, massive explosion, grenade hooey, multiple interruptions via vacuum cleaners, a cool wrist knife, bullet to the leg, attempted e-mail, a serious face wound, face stapling, bullshitting the media, two naked women, cyborg knee fixing, skin stapling, a very disturbing experiment, exploding wall, shooting up a room, crawlspace firefight, serious elevator shaft stunts, air duct hooey, a museum shootout, cyanide gas attack, a machine gun diversion, more bullshitting the media, a brutal power source removal scene, serious neck breaking, knife to the back, bullets to the back, protestor hooey, a warehouse hangar filled with new product, more attempted confusion, a big hooha hand-to-hand fight, electrocution via hand wound, knife throwing, knife to the throat, another shootout, more grenade hooey, a cyborg fucking destroying a man, exploding wall of monitors, and an almost hopeful ending.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: John Glover, Olivier Gruner, Olivier Gruner playing a badass cyborg, Olivier Gruner playing multiple badass cyborgs, mention of a company called “General Cyborg,” “The Future of mankind!,” a woman wondering what it would be like to have sex with a cyborg, Stanley Kamel, robot vacuum cleaners that come out of the wall, a desk gun, a labor protest, dental I.D. search, corporate bullshit, talk of The Wizard of Oz, Jeff Kober, mercenary bullshit, internal repairs, talk of a heartbeat, two naked women, Marjean Holden, mercenary banter, using a mercenary as a human shield, a mind blowing twist, and an almost hopeful ending.

Best lines: “Hello, I’m Godard Marx, president of Robgen Industries,” “Remember, my only purpose is to serve and protect you,” “I’ve been spending the money on lottery tickets,” “Marx, this is really becoming pathetic,” “I hate it when you guys do that,” “Ouch! Can I be of assistance? I don’t know, can you? You got a cute butt. Thank you,” “Is there a problem? Perhaps I can help? No, get out, I don’t need a tinman up here fucking me! This doesn’t concern you! Get out!,” “J12? Get me Mr. Marx. We’ve got an emergency,” “Excuse me, what is a tinman?,” “James, when one has a great social vision it takes sacrifices to drive it through, to make it work. You’ve seen the ugliness, the sheer lust for violence of mankind. If we want to change this world, to make it into a better world, we’ve got to be willing to sacrifice ourselves or sometimes people we like. Right?,” “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of everything,” “Automatics don’t kill!,” “Asshole. Cretin,” “We got the tic! He’s down! Make sure,” “West! What’s going on?,” “Excuse me, can you please stop grabbing my arm?,” “In the old days I would have raped and tortured you for hours before killing you. Oh, yeah, this would have been special. There’s just not enough time for life’s simple pleasures. Oh, well. Goodnight,” “Would you get lost, you little pervert, we’re trying to have a romantic conversation here!,” “What are you doing? What are you doing?,” “Raymond, I respect your need for, uh, wholesomeness and respectability,” “Automatics like children and dislike violence. Goodnight,” “Automatics are actually warmer than humans,” “Is there another way out of here? These people have just tried to kill me and your fellow automatic here. Doesn’t that bother you? Come on!,” “Crawlspace,” “Ding-a-ling-a-ling darling,” “Look at this heap of bioelectrical garbage,” “Splattered human brains make an interesting pattern on a wall. I wonder what automatic spray would look like,” “What? Sonofabitch! This tic is making me look bad!,” “Enjoy the ride!,” “So I do have a heart,” “God, this guy is awesome. I mean, this is awful,” “Loser buys breakfast,” “This leads to the incinerator!,” “Come on, Ray! We’ve got work to do!,” “Humanity is wasted on humans,” “Epsilon, wait! Epsilon! Come in, Epsilon!,” “Well, well, well. You never know what you’re going to find crawling around in the basement,” “I’m gonna tear that fucking freak apart!,” “86 the tics! 86 the tics!,” “Oh my God,” “I guess you could shoot me, J269. But that would disappoint me greatly,” “Burn, tic, burn! Burn, tic, burn!,” “No! Noo!,” “This is pathetic. You really don’t know when you’re beat, do you, tinman? I guess I’m just going to have to cut your heart out,” “As your lights blink out, I want you to be thinking about what I’m gonna be doing, in a minute or two, to Mrs. Tinman!,” “Listen to me, this is hurting me more than it’s hurting you!,” “I made you. I gave you life. I created you to protect humanity,” and “We made it.”

Rating: 10.0/10.0


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B-movies rule. Always remember that.


Olivier Gruner– J269
Daphne Ashbrook– Nora Rochester
John Glover– Goddard Marx
Jeff Kober– Major Simon West
Marjean Holden– Epsilon
Troy Evans– Buck James
Dennis Lipscomb– Raymond Hammer
Penny Johnson– Julia Rodriguez
Stanley Kamel– Seth Barker
Annabelle Gurwitch– Gloria Takamatsu

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by John Murlowski
Screenplay by Avi Nesher (as Patrick Highsmith) and Susan Lambert, based on a story by Avi Nesher (as Patrick Highsmith)

Distributed by Republic Pictures Home Video

Rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity
Runtime– 86 minutes

This movie isn’t available on DVD or Blu-ray. It can be found on VHS. The movie isn’t streaming anywhere that I’m aware of. That’s unconscionable. Automatic needs a Region 1 DVD or Blu-ray release.