Decades ago scientists decoded an alien message warning of an impending threat from outer space. Since then the American military have trained a lone champion named Adam (Alan Ritchson, one-time Aquaman on TV's Smallville) to physical perfection in preparation for a combat suit sent to Earth by the friendly alien Antarians. Unfortunately a mishap has different parts of the suit end up with hapless small town cop Hagan (Burnie Burns), embittered former football star Herman (Colton Dunn), dimwitted stoner Woody (Gavin Free) and obnoxious high school jock Zach (Michael Jones). Whereupon these selfish, inept losers become humanity's last chance for survival against the evil alien Worg. With a reluctant Adam drafted as coach the self-dubbed Lazer Team set aside their differences and learn to work together in order to save the world.
Produced directly for YouTube's subscription streaming service: YouTube Red, Lazer Team is the first feature film from Rooster Teeth. Based in Austin, Texas, this online comedy video and gaming collective have a substantial fan-following and were also behind cult anime pastiche RWBY (2013). It is also a return to indie filmmaking for star/co-writer Burnie Burns and director/co-writer Matt Hullum, two decades on from their now-obscure feature debut The Schedule (2017). This silly, sporadically endearing sci-fi comedy shares elements in common with the far bigger-budgeted Pixels which was released around the same time but musters a somewhat more convincing degree of empathy for its downtrodden loser heroes than that instantly-infamous Adam Sandler train-wreck.
Very much a film made by sci-fi game geeks for sci-fi game geeks, Lazer Team has some of the handmade charm of regional fan-boy filmmaking but also a lot of its drawbacks including stilted performances, a lot of frantic mugging and screaming in place of genuine wit, cameos from online celebrities, an overdose of sci-fi and videogame references, juvenile humour that is wildly hit-and-miss and an inability to draw female characters as anything beyond sex objects. On the surface the plot seems to be building a moral about the value of teamwork. Much like Pixels the film constructs an elaborate sports analogy wherein the dysfunctional heroes try to transcend their petty grievances and endless bickering and learn to work as a team. Yet the subtext transparently strives to make some kind of point about geeks inheriting the Earth. Note how all the antagonists are portrayed by lantern-jawed jocks, from the resentful Adam who struggles to cope knowing he is no longer Earth's champion, to the alien-possessed soldiers first seen victimizing the lone wimp in the group.
Oddly, the film undoes its own faltering attempt at satirizing the self-entitled jock mentality by presenting its would-be lovable losers as selfish, petty and relentlessly obnoxious. Even with the world facing certain destruction, Herman still obsesses over how Hogan blew an important football game. Meanwhile Zach's antics grow incredibly wearying as he relentlessly hits on Hogan's sexy cheerleader daughter Mindy (former Disney actress-turned-bikini model Alexandria DeBerry) and laughs whenever someone sustains an injury. On top of all that the film's big emotional moment centres on an act of self-sacrifice performed by a jock, which the supposedly downtrodden heroes shrug off all too easily. These problems aside the film pulls off the odd amusing moment, as when an alien-possessed Mindy flings Zach around the bedroom while outside her enraged dad mistakes the noise for energetic sex. Matt Hullum assembles a slick production with well-executed action sequences and visual effects that are pretty impressive for a YouTube original movie. The sports analogy reaches its apex with a finale that melds American football with a laser battle along with a surprisingly sinister plot twist. There is a sequel on its way.