The Turkish film industry is celebrated for its unique habit of taking Hollywood classics and remaking them into surreal, no-budget rip-offs (The Turkish Wizard of Oz, The Turkish Star Wars). While these films inspired audiences around the world to laugh themselves silly, they seem to have also inspired a group of filmmakers in the Philippines to display a happy disregard for copyright laws and good sense in making their own no-budget rip-off. While the 1991 “Alyas Batman and Robin” may not match the Turkish output in terms of sheer lunacy, it nonetheless hypnotizes the unsuspecting audience by mercilessly stomping over Bob Kane’s beloved creations in an outlandish so-bad-it’s-good production.
This time around, the Caped Crusaders are actually brothers who live in Manila (which is occasionally and confusingly referred to as Gotham City). The older brother has no immediate source of income, although he lives in a mansion decorated with some of the clumsiest artwork this side of a kindergarten finger-painting class. The younger brother is the star of the local high school swim team, and his shirtless presence creates such a riot among the young girls that they break into a swimming meet and chase him around the pool in a screaming frenzy. Much to their chagrin, their beloved Manila/Gotham is being vandalized by three extraordinary villains: the Joker (who sports a heavy handlebar mustache in the midst of his whiteface make-up), the Penguin (who wears the top hat and morning suit while sporting a baby umbrella and a four-foot-long cigarette holder) and Catwoman (who wears a sequined red mask, a red cape and a blue bodysuit). These criminals travel with a fairly large number of associate miscreants: men in pinstriped suits who carry Uzis and women in evening gowns who provide support in the musical numbers.
Yes, musical numbers. It seems Joker, Penguin and Catwoman can’t resist breaking into song and dance while stealing bags of cash from the local banks. Indeed, they are so inspiring that the bank tellers find themselves waving their arms and wiggling their bodies in time to the criminal music. But all good songs have to come to an end, and eventually Batman and Robin swing into action with their fists ready. Unfortunately, no one in the Philippines seems to know how to throw a decent punch and the Caped Crusaders and their male foes actually fight like a bunch of girls. The real girls don’t even bother fighting: at the first sign of trouble, Catwoman’s distaff gang runs away while the feline foe tries to kick Batman in the teeth but winds up subdued when Batman bites her on the neck.
“Alyas Batman and Robin” also gives Batman a love interest in the shapely body of Angelique, a reporter who bears more than a passing resemblance to Margot Kidder’s incarnation as Lois Lane in the Superman films. Batman actually brings her back to his Batcave and serves her his own special brand of Batcoffee. Later in the film, Batman dreams of saving Angelique from a gang of thugs who invade her swimming pool, but Batman loses his mask in the commotion and winds up wearing Angelique’s bikini top across his face to keep himself disguised.
While this is going on, Joker and Penguin keep finding their way back into the crime scene. This is curious, since during the course of the film they are actually arrested three times. At one point, they escape from jail by dismantling the toilet in their prison cell and sliding down the pipes into the sewers! This dastardly pair even tries to pull a heist dressed as Batman and Robin, but the real Dynamic Duo show up and soon everyone is slapping each other silly. Eventually the film concludes with the entire cast standing in a parking lot, singing and dancing “Let’s Be Good, Not Bad” to the melody of the old doo-wop song “At the Hop.” Angelique the reporter dresses herself as Wonder Woman for this number, for no very clear reason. In the midst of this madness, a dwarf in a Spiderman costume, a sumo wrestler, and a man dressed like Peter Pan (none of whom had anything to do with the film) abruptly appear and shimmy back and forth.
In many ways, “Alyas Batman and Robin” is a must-see campfest. Everything about the film is hopelessly wrong, from the shabby Halloween costumes worn by the eponymous heroes to the painfully embarrassing fight sequences where jabs fly a good 10 inches in front of faces while the soundtrack is clogged with clunky sound effects simulating connecting punches. Most of the film was clearly shot in private residences, schools and offices, giving the film an on-the-cheap home movie look while unintentionally forcing a lethal dose of reality into the world of the costumed crimefighters and their comic-mad enemies. Unlike the 1960s TV series or the Tim Burton films, which had specialized art decoration and set design to play up the comic book effect, “Alyas Batman and Robin” puts its characters in the real world and thus exposes the inanity of the concept in having two men in capes and masks doing the job that departments packed with professional law enforcement officers are incapable of handling.
But truth be told, “Alyas Batman and Robin” is hardly a non-stop joy. The film takes a particularly long time to get moving and often it lurches to strange stops for the most idiotic reasons (Robin and his high school sweetie sing a pop song love duet, Batman inexplicably vanishes and Robin has to fight a carload of villains on his own). Nor does it help that the entire cast is challenged in the charisma department; it is hard to recall another film where so many uninteresting people find themselves together in a single production.
Yet despite these problems, “Alyas Batman and Robin” should be sought out by fans of the Caped Crusaders and those who take a perverse joy in experiencing the very best of the very worst of global cinema. Holy masochistic pleasure, Batman!