We review all sorts of films here – from comedy to horror to oddball documentaries to martial arts. My real love, though, is for the B-movies of the 80s and 90s – when video rental meant that there was budget enough for even relatively cheap films to look great (compared to movies of a similar ilk from today). If it’s vaguely sci-fi-related and was made in the era of straight-to-VHS, chances are I’ll give it the time of day.
Even though he’s not even the star of this movie, the same applies double to Tim Thomerson. We’ve long admired his stuff at the ISCFC – from the “Trancers” series, to “Metalstorm”, to “Dollman” (with which this film shares a director and a few cast members) – he’s a former standup who made the move into acting, and has been busy pretty much constantly since the early 80s.
In this one, he’s the police commissioner Farnsworth in the year 2027, trying to coax Alex (Olivier Gruner) out of “retirement”. Now, things will immediately get complicated, and if you want a badly written recap of the film you can just go to Wikipedia, so I’ll try and sum it up quickly for you. Alex is a cop, who is forced by injury to get more and more cybernetic enhancements, and feels a bit ambivalent about this. He meets a group called the Red Army Hammerheads, who realise there’s some cyber-armageddon coming and want to save humanity from robot clones and so on. He quits the police, then becomes a smuggler, then is captured by Farnsworth and sent off to try and track down his former partner, who’s stolen some cybernetic secrets or other.
There’s double-crossing, and discussion about what it means to be human, oh and Alex has a bomb implanted in his heart on the off chance he doesn’t want to help Farnsworth out. You know, normal stuff. The majority of the film, just about, is set in a place called Shang-Lu, which is designed to represent the melting pot that is the future (Japan and the USA have merged, with the USA the weak partner, which tells you the age of this film better than a birth certificate). But you’re left on the back foot a little by the direction – he goes from being a cop, to being a burnout in some remote village, to being an undercover cop in Shang-Lu, and there’s no real sense of transition between the scenes. You have to be on the ball to follow it, that’s for sure.
The one thing this film absolutely nails is the action scenes, though. Gruner is a former kickboxer and Army special forces guy, and despite this being only his second film, he does what he needs to do pretty well. He was probably never going to be a star on the level of a Schwarzenegger or a Norris or even a JCVD, but he’s a reasonable actor and great at the physical stuff. He’s helped with some surprisingly inventive special effects and stunt work – them running from a gigantic collapsing industrial tower is absolutely real (and must have been pretty terrifying), and a scene where Gruner takes a very short route to the ground floor of a building has been copied in bigger-budget films since.
Along with Thomerson, this film also features some B-movie royalty, in the shape of Brion James, and two people who went on to bigger and better things, Jackie Earle Haley (who was also in “Dollman”) and Thomas Jane. Jane is entirely naked during his performance, even though you only see a back view, should that be your cup of tea.
Albert Pyun is renowned as one of the worst directors ever, apparently, but I’ve rather enjoyed the films of his I’ve seen. His original idea for this film was to cast a 13-year old Megan Ward as the Olivier Gruner character, but his backers told him he could do whatever he wanted as long as he changed the star to their prefered person. I think he slipped in a few references to this – there are a lot of androgynous names in this, or women with traditionally “male” names. There’s some oddities, like he can’t do transitions worth a damn (Gruner and his sidekick go for a run near the end, and go through jungle, forests and a snowy mountainous region all in the same jog). But otherwise he’s made a tense, action-packed sci-fi thriller whose only flaw really is the plot is a bit too dense.
So hopefully you’ve already watched it now, because I just wanted to chat about the ending a little. Gruner and his sidekick, having defeated all comers, are on their way to finish off the cyborg baddies. Credits ready to roll, and then as they walk off into the distance we hear a voice saying “shall we kill them now?” and Tim Thomerson replies “why wait?” Even though they’d shot his skin off in one of the more amazing stunts in the film, and then destroyed his robot body, there he was at the end, still alive and kicking. BORING! Why do films feel it’s a cheat to just have a happy ending?
Anyway, that minor criticism aside, this is a fun film, and with three sequels (none of which had any Gruner involvement, apparently), it’s tickled my fancy enough that we’ll be reviewing all four.
Rating: thumbs up