'Pacific Rim' Rated PG-13: 131 minutes

It's one of the saving graces of "Pacific Rim," Guillermo del Toro's new mega-budget monsters vs. robots extravaganza, that it knows how to make fun of itself.

This welcome bit of comic relief amid all the crunching, smashing and groaning in 3-D comes just as the good guys - that would be the robots, or rather the humans operating the 25-story machines built to save humanity - have hit a snag. These massive, digitally controlled contraptions suddenly all fail at once.

But then - eureka! - someone points out that one rusty old robot is analog. And so, in a movie that has spent some $200 million to boast the very best in state-of-the-art tradecraft, an analog machine saves the day, at least temporarily.

Ha! Holy retro technology.

It's too bad del Toro's film, a throwback to the Japanese Kaiju monster films made famous by "Godzilla," doesn't have more deft moments.

Though it's made by an obviously gifted director and will likely please devotees of the genre, it ultimately feels very short on character and long on noise, noise, noise. Did we mention the crunching, smashing and groaning?

Happily, the plot is not convoluted (the script is by Travis Beacham and del Toro) and there's at least one really cool concept, called "The Drift."

It's the mind-melding that occurs between the two pilots of each Jaeger, the mega-robots humans have built to fight the monsters rising from the sea. Subjected to a pre-flight "neural handshake," the pilots are suddenly sharing brains, the better to command their robot.

This leads to amusing dialogue, such as: "You know what I'm thinking?" Beat. "I'm in your brain!" That's meant to be funny, but a later remark seems inadvertently so, when the hero balks at going back to battle: "I can't have anyone in my head again!"

The real action begins some seven years into the Kaiju offensive (circa 2020.) The Jaeger program, once successful, is failing.

Global defense authorities decide to drop it and go for a giant coastal wall. Didn't they see "World War Z?" Ask Brad Pitt: Walls don't keep out zombies, and they won't keep Kaiju out, either. It's back to the Jaegers.

Enter jaded former pilot Raleigh Becket (a handsome but bland Charlie Hunnam). Raleigh lost his co-pilot and brother in a Jaeger fight, and is in no mind to share his, er, mind again.

But humanity's at stake.

His new co-pilot is a Japanese woman, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), with a serious beef against the Kaiju. Showy supporting parts are played by Idris Elba as the impressively named commander Stacker Pentecost; Charlie Day as a manic, nerdy scientist (but not as funny as he could be); and Ron Perlman as a shadowy Kaiju-parts dealer.

It takes a good hour for the real battle to get going. Mostly, you wish the mind-melding concept had been mined more fully. Too bad del Toro doesn't share a bit more of that terrific side of his moviemaking mind with us here. (Jocelyn Noveck, The Associated Press)