He-Man's new pal looks just like him, just more metallic and see-through.
Though nowhere near as bad as some claim, Heartbeeps was a dismal failure that hurt the careers of everyone involved with it. The movies arrived in 1981 amidst a barrage of poor reviews and public disinterest, raking in less than a fourth of its budget at the box office. With Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters on the cast, how could it go so terribly wrong?
Basically, it's a kid flick about robots who explore their emotional capacities on a trek towards love and oil. Vaguely set sometime in Earth's future, the world is pretty much the same save for the trillions of specially built androids helping mankind fight crime and serve drinks. Whereas another movie might seek to take advantage of such a fantastic setting, Heartbeeps seemed insistent on dwelling in the mundane. The starring robots spend most of the film carousing through the forest, executing a by-the-numbers plot that's neither 'fun' or even all that interesting. It's played mostly straight, too, so there's rarely any glimpses of an offbeat charm big enough to make it a cult hit. Heartbeeps is about as remembered as the gum wad stuck to my fifth grade sneakers, but the concept was unique enough to get a recommendation out of me. For curiosity's sake, you may wanna check it out.
As for Kaufman and Peters, well, that's another story. I've always felt kinda bad for Bernadette, since she never quite made the major major leagues despite her very obvious talents. (you'd probably remember her best as Steve Martin's beau from The Jerk) If this movie had a saving grace, she was it. Kaufman, though, seems totally out of place even by his standards. He seemed focused on playing a robot character ultra-realistically, robbing the audience of the patented insanity he was famous for. The make-up effects, by design, do little to mask Kaufman's appearance. It's the same guy with a few pieces of latex taped to his head. So, even though you're clearing watching an Andy Kaufman movie, you're watching Andy Kaufman try to play something so far from and so much drier than his usual repertoire that his role becomes mostly wasted.
On the upside, it's still a film about robots. Probably the only film about robots of its kind. And Randy Quaid cameos! QUAID CAMEO! His part was too small to even work into the review, but if you're a Quaid maniac, yeah, he's here. You know who else had a cameo? Mr. Futterman from the Gremlins movies. This, sadly, disproves my theory that anything and everything in the world is made better with the addition of Murray Futterman. Finding that out makes me want to sleep my troubles away for thirty-six hours, but before I do, here's X-E's review of Heartbeeps...
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Kaufman plays 'Val,' a robot built for domestic companionship and relations. The costume is essentially a puffy, three-piece suit and some globs of orange rubber, but Andy's mannerisms were good enough to bring it up to robot standards. Now I've gotta tell ya - when you're watching a movie like Heartbeeps for the first time, a lot of the little details fall through the cracks. Val explains a buncha shit that might be important to the plot when he's introduced, but I can't remember any of it because I was watching ANDY KAUFMAN DRESSED AS C-3P0 WITH HIS HEAD ON BACKWARDS. You'll have to excuse me if my memory is sketchy, but I think the deal here is that Val was brought into some kind of robot warehouse/repair shop, either to wait for his next gig or to get one of his legs tightened. The human workers at the place go gaga over him, so I guess Val was one of the newer models. (they show some older robots, too, with nondescript features that look sort of like oversized Lego people) The humans take off after Val's put into place, and our herobot realizes that he ain't alone...
Peters plays 'Aqua,' who shared similar functions with Val but had a much bigger initial interest in becoming 'more like a real person.' This leads to a fairly drawn-out sequence where the robots discuss what being 'more like a real person' means, with Aqua asking for banana daiquiris and explaining that men ask girls out on dates. Heartbeeps was a big proponent of the slow build, so this goes on for approximately 912 minutes.
The makeup effects for Aqua were a little more bot-ish, with Peters wearing some kind of foam over her teeth to illustrate that they weren't really teeth! I'm still a little unclear as to where the baby doll dress she's wearing around her neck fits into things, but I should've expected to raise my brow a few times while watching a movie about Andy Kaufman robots. Both robots have 'gold' 'skin,' 'skin' being quotationed because it's not really skin and 'gold' being quotiationed because it's more like shit brown. Still, the guy who did these effects was OSCAR NOMINATED, so all gripes are discounted anyway. I hate it when Oscar nominates my punchlines. I hate Oscar.
It doesn't take too long for Val and Aqua to seem a little more than just friendly with each other. They even manage to get to the hand-holding stage after a simple conversation about daiquiris, proving Val to be a much better playa than yours truly. These scenes are going to be particularly tough for the uninterested to swallow, as they never end and never exceed a rate of more than three words per minute. The script is pretty lacking, too, and I'd bet that both Kaufman and Peters only signed onto Heartbeeps for the fact that they could hide their shame beneath masks of spray-painted rubber and styrofoam robot parts. Kaufman's Val makes Kaufman's Latka look like a Denis Leary speedshow when he's really gotta sell you on the idea of a new long distance plan.
Even robot casts aren't complete without their play-off guys and bit parters, so here's 'Catskill,' a no-legged clod who's sole function is to tell really bad jokes. You'd think Catskill was writing this review. I have to admit, I thought he was pretty scary looking at first. I can't imagine what I would've thought when I was five, which incidentally is the target audience of Heartbeeps. Five, and preferably retarded. Catskill soon befriends Val and Aqua, who were able to see through his gruff and jokey exterior to the heart of gold underneath. As an added bonus, the comedian-bot is able to smoke real cigars! And the corsage on his jacket? IT NEVER DIES NEVER!
Val and Aqua start believing in emotion a little more after decucing that the rainbows in the sky only served the purpose of tempting human hearts, so they conjure up a phony excuse about wanting to examine some tree or mountain outdoors a little closer. In truth, they just want to make out in the woods. No really, that's what's happening. They agree to accompany each other on the 'mission,' with smiles so wide and perverted that I was half-waiting for a Trojan logo to pop on the screen before Catskill added that they needed a room. I wouldn't want to watch Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters do it even if they weren't playing strangely inquisitive robots -- now it's just plum damn freaky.
So, with Catskill at their side, the Terrific Trio hijacks a van and makes off for the forest. Both lead actors alternate between playing it like real robots and playing it absolutely nothing like robots, making the movie pretty confusing to watch. The storyline here is one of patience - GREAT BIG PILES OF IT - and your 'enjoyment' is to come from the robots' progress as they become more and more like real people. Since Val and Aqua switch off from being very-machine to very-human so often, it's impossible to keep track of anything. Hell, I thought the guy's name was 'Vale' until I looked up Heartbeeps' IMDB entry.
But wait, there's trouble! Not only are the robots being hunted by the human workers, but they're also being followed by 'Crimebuster,' a tank-like beast who speaks loudly and shoots huge balls of fire. Sort of looks like a cross between a retail soda cooler and one of those things from Doctor Who. Crimebuster hasn't found our heroes yet, but he's making sure to blow up any rabbits he sees along the way. For real.
Anyway, if you're wondering what Val and Aqua were up to, here's the end result:
They have a baby! The turnaround time on robot pregnancies is remarkable. Actually, 'Phil' was created from Val and Aqua's own parts, whichever ones they could pull off their bodies without shutting down. Phil looks like a Short Circuit production sketch, but his beeps are strictly R2-D2 in nature. Come to think of it, Heartbeeps came out smack in the middle of the Star Wars trilogy, so I guess all the familiar beeps and robots-painted-gold were byproducts of what was hot at the time.
In any event, Phil was pretty decent looking - probably the only 'real' robot in the film, and something I've tried to make out of fishbowls and old go-cart engines since childhood. He's even got cool treads, which would've been great if anyone needed their names lightly spelled out on the sands of Waikiki. They're in the woods though, and the things really limit Phil's movement. He'll often get lost, which is always your cue to mute the television since it invariably leads to fifty-second beeping montages as Phil cries for his parents in various poses of duress. Wait, sixty-second montages. Loud sixty-second beeping montages. The montages men fear.
Val and Aqua really start exploring their human sides after Phil's birth, even arguing over who should look after him while the other one does their comical, pointless zombie-walk silently for ten minute stretches which somehow made the final cut. Like I said earlier, Peters saves this movie from being a total travesty. It's kind of like...you know it's awful, but you'll like Peters too much to want to admit it. Conversely, Kaufman looks totally out of it and uninterested for the most part, and I don't think even his most devoted fans would argue that this was one of his career's darkest hours.
I can see why he took the risk, though. Had Heartbeeps been mega-successful, it would've shot him into the stratosphere. Eccentricity took the guy to a major level, but if he could mix that eccentricity with being a proven and unbounded commercial success, he would've been able to afford SIXTEEN CARS AT LEAST! GUY COULDA BOUGHT HIS VERY OWN VAL! WHAT'S WITH ALL THE CAPS-LOCKS LATELY?! ONCE POPPED CAN'T STOP.
After fending off a grizzly bear, the troops are finally confronted by Crimebuster. Earlier scenes established the robot as a loose cannon, both figuratively and literally. If Val says the wrong thing, Crimebuster will blow up his girlfriend. That would set off another sixty-second beeping montage by Phil. We've got a lot riding on this, folks.
Ah, we lucked out. The heroes make a narrow escape by disguising themselves as 'Bushbots,' which works only temporarily. Crimebuster starts spitting fire, so Val shouts out an unanswerable question, sending the villainous peacemaker's logic circuits into confusion and explosions. Good thing Val knew that would happen!
Crimebuster appears sporadically from here on out, usually setting more things on fire. He's unable to ever catch the robots, so this is his last appearance in the review. Until we get to the videos section, at least. Oh yes. A Crimebuster video download. Where he blows up a skunk. Stay tuned, or scroll to the bottom if I'm not doing enough for you with boring words.
Val leads his family and comedian robot friend to a nearby junkyard, where they scavenge for more 'energy packs.' (read: batteries, which will be important to the plot later) The couple who owns the junkyard finds the robots' apparent self-sufficiency strange, but hey, who are they to judge? People who live in junkyards don't throw stones. Instead, they befriend the androids.
Val asks if they have the necessary parts to make Phil more efficient, which is robot speak for 'more human.' The junkyard dogs agree that there's only one way to do that -- Phil will have to get adjustments at the very same factory his parents escaped. It's here we learn that the robots never really planned to stay away from the factory forever. They just wanted some private time to do whatever it is robots do to make babies. Speaking of which -- they do show a quasi-sex scene, with Val and Aqua caressing each other's 'pleasure centers' (dials on their backs) while making the same face anyone makes when really long tongues are near their crotch. The group bids farewell to the skanky hobos and heads off for the factory...
Val shares a father-and-son moment with Phil, explaining all the things he wanted to teach the baby bot before he went to the scrap heap. Speaking of which, all of the robots are suffering from a major energy drain - Val only had 32% of his power left, but poor Phil stands with a dismal 2%. 2% is only attractive if you're trying to make bowls of cereal less fattening. Aqua's energy levels are also dangerously low, and things are looking grim. How will the smallfry ever make it back to the factory with a measly 2% of his power, especially when he's making all those battery-sucking beeps every three seconds? It can't be done, and Val's real botpressed about it. Untillll...
Catskill sacrifices himself by switching his half-full energy pack with Phil's, and soon tapers off into a static, silent, 'off' position. His friends are upset, but admire Catskill's selflessness and cool silver head. With no choice but to leave the comedy massa behind, the family continues their journey. We're almost done, I promise.
Just when they're that close, Val and Aqua's energy runs out. They're smack dab in the middle of professing their love for one another too, so this was seriously bad timing. Phil circles his frozen parents curiously, eventually heading off into the forest himself after realizing that frozen parents aren't at all entertaining. It seemed like the movie was going to end on this sour note, but the epilogue gives us a much happier finale.
The human workers who've been on the hunt for the film's duration finally find our heroes, and as they explain it in a 'Few Weeks Later' scene, the poor robots were junked for being inable to perform their functions as requested. Yes, they became 'too human.' Fortunately, since they were 'junked,' they all ended up at the junkyard. Remember, Val has friends in the junkyard! He's got junkyard pals! And they know how to rebuild robots! Woo!
Val, Aqua, and the rest of the group are all good as new, living with the street rat people and happier than robot clams. They even get some new threads, with Val swapping out his puffy suit for the more casual 80-year-old golfer motif. Everyone lives happily ever after, blah blah blah.
Look, they even had another kid! A girl! Heartbeeps ends here, 79 minutes after it started. The movie performed so poorly in theaters that Kaufman actually had an upcoming role or two canceled. Raking in just a little more than two million, Heartbeeps is sadly remembered foremost as a gigantic failure. Even failures can be interesting to watch, so I wouldn't tell you to balk at the chance to see this one. While stupid and plodding, it's not an easy flick to forget. Anyone willing to make a movie about robots who fall in love and start families deserves at least a few points for effort, and if you can get past all the bullshit scenes without giving up, you might even enjoy it. 4 out of 10 for normal people, 6 out of 10 for people who like their movies dumb.
VIDEO #1: ROBOT LOVE! Our android heroes meet and greet. And look weird.
VIDEO #2: CRIMEBUSTER! Crimebuster arrives and blows up a skunk. Really.
VIDEO #3: BABY BOT! The lovechild makes his first appearance.