Cyborg Cop 3 (1995)

Welcome back to the world of the “unquel”, where part of a numbered series of movies bears no relation to what’s gone on before it. The first two entries in the Cyborg Cop-verse, although they bore precious little relation to each other, starred the same man; part 3 has nothing in common with parts 1 and 2 at all. But! In terms of trashy 90s genre movies, the entire series has been a great deal of fun to watch, and they’re all available on Youtube (I think).

Starring in “Cyborg Cop 3” are ISCFC favourites Bryan Genesse (“Screwballs 2”) and Frank Zagarino, who we’ve already covered together in “Project Shadowchaser 2”. Evidently, they enjoyed working with each other (they appeared in four movies together) and they have an easy camaraderie – I would have totally enjoyed a series of movies of them wisecracking their way through cyborg-based shenanigans. But one is all we have!

So, our friends are Federal Marshalls – although their whole business operation seems more bounty hunter than legit federal agent – Saint (Zagarino) and Max (Genesse), doing their best to make this a late entry into the buddy-cop genre. They both kick ass, but only get themselves associated with the main storyline by accident. They eventually meet Evelyn, an investigative TV journalist, because they both pull up at the same gas station. She’s discovered a plot by Delta Tech to turn college students into super-powerful cyborgs, so they can go into nuclear meltdown places and clean up with no fear of injury or radiation poisoning. What I think is important to note that the cyborgs in the three volumes of this fine story bear no relation to each other at all, and the ones in part 3 seem significantly less good than the ones in part 2. Ah, who cares?

There are some curious choices in this movie, perhaps most notably the way it uses the cast. After establishing Saint and Max, it then goes to Evelyn’s story for a solid 15 minutes or so, and she’s sort of dull, comparatively. Director Yossi Wein is better known as a cinematographer, if you can call a guy who’s never made a film anyone sensible will have heard of, known in any way, and the flow of things in the early running is a bit weird. They’re by far the most entertaining thing about “Cyborg Cop 3”, and whenever they’re not on screen you’re a bit “hey, where are Max and Saint? Max and Saint should be here now” It’s not like they even set Evelyn up as a love interest, so there’s even less point to give so much of the movie to her.

There’s also a curious use of sets. Despite them having an office, and using Saint’s house (Max apparently lives in a hovel) for a few sitcom-like scenes, they have a base which is a slightly disused museum. Paintings and objets d’art all over the place, but whoever owns it is fine with a couple of marshalls bringing waifs and strays back to it. Then…they arrange to meet the villain in a junkyard, pretty much just because the film crew found one they could use and they couldn’t be bothered to write it organically into the movie. I admire them just going “ah, screw it, junkyards are cool”.

One would hope a cinematographer would know better how to film action, as well. There’s a crop duster chase scene which could have been brilliant, but in reality it just left you thinking “why doesn’t the guy behind just pull up and away from the stream of chemicals?” Although it does set up one of the dumbest endings in recent memory, and a use of miniatures almost as egregious as the models they used to blow up in “Cyborg Cop 2”.

Still, it’s a lot of fun. Genesse and Zagarino have gotten a pretty rough deal from other reviewers but I like them, and despite this being yet another movie where the lead characters are neither cops or cyborgs, you’ll be solidly entertained by it. Watching trash from the 90s, you find the odd idea that you wish had been developed, and these two guys kicking cyborg ass was one of them. We got 13 “Witchcraft” movies but not another in this series?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Terminal Virus (1995)

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Perhaps you can help me, dear reader – I need a new term for a film where the first thing you see is boobs. Boobception maybe? If you have any ideas, please let me know. What boobceptions always are, is classy entertainment, and that’s certainly the case here, where the boobs in question belong to a young lady being chased through an arid landscape by a filthy lunatic. Yes, it’s more of that 90s post-apocalyptic action we’ve come to know and love, with its brown landscapes, rags-for-clothes, shoddily patched up cars, and so on.

 

This, at least, tries to put a fresh spin on the situation. 23 years ago, a great war of some sort ended with a chemical weapon of unusual hideousness – a virus that means any time men and women have sex, they both die. This has led to forced celibacy, and the entirety of humanity appears to be represented by a camp of guys and then, relatively nearby, a camp of women. Rather shockingly, the potential rapist and the woman involved are both killed by their respective communities, so you can tell the stakes are very high; but on their way back from killing the guy, the group of men (led by all-time great movie villain Richard Lynch, as “Calloway”) happen upon a perfectly preserved pre-war “outpost”. This outpost is small neat houses, and a few low buildings, and for absolutely no reason at all, Calloway and his men break the fence down and kill everyone.

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However, one person was away from the base, catching snakes; he’s Joe Knight (Bryan Genesse, “Screwballs 2”, “The Circuit”). With his dying breath, Joe’s Dad tells him to go down into the basement, which is a huge scientific complex, and there he finds a cure for the virus! His big plan is to find a man and a woman, give them the antidote and persuade them to have sex, they won’t die, everyone will be impressed and peace will reign. He has a friend in this mission – McCabe (James “husband of Barbara Streisand” Brolin), a wisecracking nomad who we first meet escaping from a Calloway-led execution. They kidnap a woman from outside the female camp, and for some reason which was presumably explained in a piece of dialogue I didn’t listen to, McCabe can’t have sex with her – luckily, one of Calloway’s goons is captured trying to break in, so he’s chained to the lovely lady and they’re both plied with champagne and romantic music.

 

As you may have guessed, it goes a bit silly around this point. For a bleak future with tons of murder, it’s awfully light-hearted! Perhaps Brolin turned up and went “hey guys, I’ve written a load of jokes, can I put them in the movie?” and no-one had the heart / guts to tell him no. While he’s not an A-lister, he’s a bit too big a name to be in trash like this so his influence could have been large.

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So, aside from Brolin, you’ve got Genesse as a naïve type (he’s one of the only children born after the virus, and despite being 32 at the time of filming and looking every day of it, plays a man of 20) and plenty of strong support. It’s a weird thing to say about a cheesy low-budget 90s movie I’d never even heard of until I picked it up for this review, but there are no super weak links in the cast.

 

But there are plenty of weak links. First up is just kidnapping a woman to procreate with, “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” style. It’s really very oddly done, and her falling in love with Genesse, while inevitable, is just the crappy icing on the awful cake. There’s the sheer number of double-crosses and “hey, can you unlock these handcuffs so I can use the toilet – whoops, I’m running off” scenes that make you want to slap several of the main characters too.

 

Worst of all, I think, is the big fight, as the women (who, it turns out, were amenable to a decent argument and didn’t need to be fought with) take on the men who are trying to blow up the laboratory and ensure the serum is destroyed for ever. Actually, why is Richard Lynch so desperate to never have sex again? Does he like ruling over a gang of rough-looking guys that much? Anyway, the fight is almost unbearable, going on for ever. In a movie that’s only just over 70 minutes long, having one fight scene go on for what feels like 20 minutes is a no-no. And if you’re really willing to go deep, hundreds of guys die in that scene and not a single woman, yet there’s still dozens of guys alive to be captured at the end. You never see more than…ten men with Lynch, but at least 50 of them get offed in that battle. Genesse, as we fans of trash know, has legit martial arts skills, but fights like an idiot until the very last scene, when suddenly he busts out a bunch of sweet roundhouse kicks. What?

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It’s very short for a “proper” B movie, so I wonder if they ran out of money. That explains the extreme length of the gunfight, as they used every bit of footage they had, and the way the last scene feels a bit tacked on. Or perhaps it’s just why director Dan Golden is now better known as a stills photographer (didn’t realise there was a career in that, in the movies); or we could look at how this is the sole credit for two of its three writers. Ah, I don’t know. Brolin is fun if a little too over the top with the wisecracks, Genesse is fine, it’s sort of a cool idea, just executed pretty poorly.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Circuit (2002)

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I think we’ve reached the ultimate ISCFC movie. In terms of our martial arts reviews, this represents a coming together of elements of almost everything. Let’s list the main names:

Directed by:

Jalal Merhi (“Tiger Claws”, plus he has a cameo and is as terrible as ever)

Starring:

Olivier Gruner (“Nemesis”)

Bryan Genesse (“Screwballs 2: Loose Screws”, “Project Shadowchaser 2”, “Live Wire: Human Timebomb”)

Loren Avedon (“No Retreat: No Surrender 2”, many others)

Billy Drago (“Cyborg 2”, “Karate Cop”)

When I saw the opening credits, I was so excited! What I assumed would be just another “guy avenges dead brother in illicit martial arts tournament” movie would be so much more. What would Merhi do with the director’s chair, and would it be just as crazily incompetent as the acting and producing he did in the “Tiger Claws” trilogy?

Oh, you know he doesn’t disappoint! Olivier Gruner is Dirk Longstreet, a college athletics teacher. His younger brother Jeremy is a student there, and Jeremy’s girlfriend Denise is becoming increasingly unhappy with Jeremy’s disappearances. Dirk has to go and rescue her from a bunch of drunk assholes in a bar, and that’s when he’s seen by Kwan, the undefeated champion of The Circuit (Denise’s friend, even drunker than her, is either Ali Larter or an extremely good lookalike, but I can’t see why an already famous Larter would do an uncredited cameo for Jalal Merhi, so I’m probably wrong).

Genesse is Kwan’s sidekick Vixton Hack, the public face of the Circuit; and Avedon is Detective Sykes, a cop who’s interested in bringing them down. Sykes does absolutely nothing and could comfortably be removed from the movie and cause no problems at all – plus, it’d be a slightly shorter experience. Rounding out the cast is Merhi as the editor of a newspaper (who gets one of his scoops from just watching the TV news, a wonderful moment) and Gail Harris as Nicole Kent, ace investigative reporter and Dirk’s love interest. She’s from Batley, just up the road from where I’m writing this, and her local (to me) accent shines through quite a lot.

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Turns out Dirk is a former champion of The Circuit, undefeated and completely uninjured during his reign, and he’s the only person who’s ever managed to “escape”. Kwan wants to prove his superiority but, knowing Dirk won’t return by being asked politely, sets an oddly complicated plan in motion, which involves Vixton loaning Jeremy money to bet on a fight, then fixing the fight so Jeremy loses, then when Jeremy can’t pay him back forcing him to fight in the Circuit. This plan relies on Jeremy betting against the undefeated Kwan, by the way. It must be said that their plan trails off around here, and the only reason Dirk fights is down to the death of Billy Drago – the crippled trainer who’s secretly a good guy and helps him get ready.

Okay, if you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve seen at least one movie of this sort. Brother dies, hero has to train in order to defeat the villain. Simple, effective, and relatively tough to mess up. “The Circuit”, on the other hand, throws every bit of logic related to this archetype out of the window. Let’s have a go at breaking it down:

Act 1 – introducing the characters, and killing off the “brother”

Act 2 – hero trains in new martial arts style

Act 3 – revenge!

“The Circuit” keeps Jeremy alive, though, and has Drago be the sacrifice, way too close to the end, which leads to the odd image of Dirk training at a point in the movie when he has no real reason to do so. In fact, Dirk could just call the police as soon as he knows where the Circuit is, as his actions past that point have no real impact on how it ends. Also, they spend a decent amount of time at the beginning telling us that Dirk is a basically invincible fighter, so the whole training thing seems a bit on the pointless side, especially given he doesn’t use any of the “new” techniques he’s been taught in the big battle at the end. In case you think I’m being a bit facetious, Drago tells him “you’re using too many punches, we need to train you to do one punch, one knockout”. How many one-punch knockouts do you think feature in the rest of the action? Are you feeling the confusion of watching this movie yet? Act 1 sort of sloppily carries on til past the hour mark, act 2 is pointless and act 3 lasts about five minutes.

We could also talk weird tonal shifts and how they grate with the overall flow of the movie (such as it is). Nicole invites herself over for a “picnic” with Dirk, which inspires a whole scene where Dirk hurriedly cleans his house, set to comedy-style music. Okay, he’s horny, but…he’s in training for a fight to the death to save his brother! Then there’s Kwan, who after every victory…can’t quite believe I’m writing this…does a little Michael Jackson dance. He just killed someone! I get the feeling Merhi was all “yes, this is what normal Americans do”.

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Let’s go deeper. If you get a sport where one team or individual dominates, you run the risk of people getting bored and stopping spending their money on tickets or betting. Observe the Schumacher-dominated years of Formula 1 or any long undefeated period in boxing for an example of this. But not the Circuit, apparently! Kwan dominates (via cheating, which the opening credits handily gives us a clue about) and if I was going to a show, I’d just bet on him. I wouldn’t win a lot, but I’d definitely win, and if everyone did the same, the Circuit would be out of business immediately. Kwan’s fights also seem crazily one-sided, to the point I wrote down “who’s paying money and risking arrest to go and see this?”

I haven’t even talked about the fighting yet! It’s a relatively early example of MMA being used instead of just straight kung-fu or kickboxing, so Gruner does grapples and submission moves…it’s not terrible, and Gruner is decent. But the fights are all shot identically and don’t advance the story (most of the fights don’t even feature cast members, oddly); and they don’t even have Avedon or Genesse (both excellent screen fighters) kick any ass! But they did hire Bruce Buffer, the UFC announcer, to do the same job for the Circuit, which was a fun idea (even if Buffer’s introductions sounded like they were written by a crazy person and his phrasing was bizarre).

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Mix up some bad action, terrible acting, and a plot that makes less than no sense, and you’ve got yourself a winner. And we’ve got two sequels to look forward to!

Rating: thumbs up

Live Wire: Human Timebomb (1995)

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This is perhaps the first movie we’ve done here at the ISCFC where it’s such an “unquel” that I didn’t even realise it was the sequel to something else. 1992’s “Live Wire” is a Pierce Brosnan-starring thriller about people coated with some sort of liquid explosive being sent to assassinate politicians (I think, I’ve never seen it as it sounds terrible), and “Human Timebomb” is about brainwashed super-soldiers. No cast or crew are shared, which is just the way we like our unquels.

 

We last saw Bryan Genesse in all-time cast iron classic “Screwballs 2: Loose Screws” and he thankfully keeps the same cheeky grin from that movie, here playing wisecracking FBI agent Parker. In a pretty well-shot and fun opening scene, he’s the lead man at a huge arrest at a drug deal taking place in a real disused drive-in cinema, with a group of Cubans buying what looks like a tiny piece of gold in a small glass case with a suitcase full of cocaine. Why are they so interested in this tiny thing?

 

Unfortunately, the plot sort of falls apart right here. Arriving on the scene after the arrests have been made is CIA agent Gina Young (J Cynthia Brooks), who informs Parker that the lead Cuban drug guy is the nephew of a Cuban general, and therefore has diplomatic immunity. Fun fact: the US and Cuba had no diplomatic relations in 1995 and there’s absolutely no chance that they’d have honoured diplomatic immunity for a drug-smuggling murderer. But let’s not worry about that! Gina takes the nephew back to Cuba on a pretty small, non-official-looking plane and Parker decides pretty much on the spur of the moment to tag along, which brings us to the subject of coincidences.

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Coincidences happen in movies because it’s difficult to figure out ways to bring characters together and have them either come into conflict or fight on the same side. I understand that. But if they’re too big, too tenuous, or there’s too many of them then it becomes too stupid and takes you way out of the movie. Wonder if you can guess where I’m going with this particular review?  So, it turns out that Parker was in the military, and his best buddy was left behind in some shady operation in Cuba, missing presumed dead. This best buddy is also the brother of Gina, and she’s kind of being blackmailed by a rogue Cuban general to bring across that tiny piece of gold which is actually a chip that turns people into mindless killing machines, as her brother is still alive! And they also need Parker to become the latest chip-controlled automaton and kill a bunch of people at the upcoming US / Cuba trade negotiation, allowing the rogue General to take over!

 

I haven’t even mentioned Joe Lara yet, the sole reason anyone would possibly want to watch this movie. He’s Price, a former US soldier who went to work for the rogue General, and is in charge of his team of killers – leading to a classic “here’s my men training” montage (which “Wayne’s World” mocked so well a few years previously). To say he’s a bit evil is to say water is a bit wet, and he’s the best thing about every scene he’s in. I was sort of fooled by the publicity for this movie, expecting it to be a little futuristic, but it’s not; although it’s a great Lara performance, so it goes into his season of movie reviews.

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Parker is captured, gets implanted and becomes a killer for Price, although all it takes is banging his head on a steel pipe for his chip to malfunction and his previous personality to be restored. Hurrah! The movie spends a substantial amount of time in Cuba before rushing to Miami for the trade negotiations and denouement, and it’s amazing. Imagine in 2015 a trade deal between the Secretaries of State for two countries – think about how much security there’d be, and its location. Back in 1995, all they got was a normal hotel full of holidaymakers and a couple of security guys circling the hotel on a monorail (best guess – this hilarious image was crowbarred in because the hotel that let them film in return for free publicity demanded they show off their sweet new purchase).

 

You take what you can get from straight-to-video action/thriller movies, and this one was pretty rough in places. The plot is ludicrous, the acting is ropey, it borrows the US-to-Cuba-to-the-US timeline from one of the worst movies ever (“Red Zone Cuba”), and even if you accept its premise, it still makes no sense. Aside from all the stupid inconsistencies and plot holes and gibberish all movies like this have to an extent, the main issue is that the US is fighting to protect Fidel Castro’s regime against a coup from someone who sounds like he’d be much more amenable to Washington. Even the most undiscerning video store renter in the 1990s must have scratched their heads at the ultimate meaning of this movie.

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Add in some of the worst music ever, and one of the more unusual endings in movie history:

“You’re some piece of work, Parker”

“Yeah”

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And…well, you’ve got yourself a movie. If you’re in an extremely forgiving mood or are more of a Joe Lara completist than I am, give it a go!

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle