In Italy during WW II, a patrol of American soldiers discover a space ship that has crash-landed in the woods, and they come across its alien crew. A nearby Nazi unit also finds out about the alien craft, and sends a patrol to capture it and the Americans.
Zone Troopers is about as sterilized and campy as films from the era it is set in. Because the movie is meant as a hokey B-film about Nazis attempting to capture and harness the power of Martians during World War II, Zone Troopers isn’t really meant to be taken seriously; instead, it feels just as much like a slapstick comedy akin to Abbott and Costello as it does to ‘50s science fiction flicks.
Zone Troopers is more focused on the war than it is on its aliens, so throughout the film there is a major focus on soldiers, gun battles, and Nazis. Unfortunately, it sounds more fun on paper than it actually is in the movie. The skirmishes are rarely believable, often meant as funny moments where soldiers get shot by random bursts of weaponry and fall to their deaths with no blood spilt or drama whatsoever. It seems as though the film attempts to dispel the terrors of war by joking about it instead, which works when actors Art LaFleur and Timothy Van Patten crack wise about punching Hitler in the face or taking down dirty Krauts. But to be fair, Zone Troopers is a film that tries to turn Americans into the heroes of the war without recognizing the more serious history of World War II.
The humor often limits the film’s ability to become dramatic, though, once one of the soldiers dies in battle. It’s supposed to be a sad moment, one where the viewer reflects the good that the man did throughout the film. But since Zone Troopers is more slapstick than war drama, it’s difficult to find anything heartbreaking about the experience. Actually, it almost feels like the man didn’t really die, but simply went to some other place where he could return at any time with a joke, a smoke, and a crack at Nazis.
This also transfers over to the science fiction side of the movie, since for half of the film the aliens that the men encounter during their trek behind enemy lines are meant as threatening beasts. The alien designs feel decidedly ‘50s, and the nod towards older B-campfests is appreciated. But the aliens are never imposing enough to feel as dangerous as the soldiers make them appear. The two scenes where the creatures are seen don’t create any fear, but they do prepare the viewer for the twist that’s to come.
You see, the aliens are not out to hurt humanity (at least not the Americans, god bless ‘em), but simply want to return home after their ship crashes into Earth. It might be a more startling revelation later in the film if it wasn’t the Nazis that were harvesting the aliens, but some other nation or group of people who didn’t already seem evil. But since the aliens are being hunted down by the Nazis, it becomes inevitable that the aliens will decide to side with the Americans to help them stop the terrible regime.
Since the film never defies expectation, Zone Troopers simply becomes a tedious experience. It’s not a bad film, it’s just a bit boring. The battles, the comedy, and the attempt at comedy sci-fi all feel tired, as though the film is really reaching to establish itself but keeps falling into a generic rut. There’s nothing about Zone Troopers that feels so atrocious it’s not worth a watch, but then again, there’s also nothing within the film that warrants a must-see watch over 20 years after its release.
But taken in the right context, some viewers who are fans of these types of hokey sci-fi comedies might find Zone Troopers a delightful distraction. It is, at least, a film which recognizes the atrocities of World War II and attempts to lighten them by mocking Hitler and envisioning a scenario where Nazis also tried to enslave aliens to do their evil bidding. Zone Troopers is a harmless film through and through, and though it might not have the same type of weight as movies with more serious tones, it does manage to tackle heavy subjects in its own plodding way.
Zone Troopers (1985)