Cyber-Tracker 2 (1995)

This may come as a shock to some of you, but the producers of this movie appear to have thought about their intellectual property for more than ten seconds and decided they’d probably ought to have a half-decent reason for making a sequel. Rather than just replace all the actors, keep the robot “trackers” and tell largely the same story again, they kept the characters, built on their stories and made a sequel which extends things in an interesting way.

I know, right? Now, none of this is to say it’s very good, but they deserve credit where it’s due. Returning are Don “The Dragon” Wilson as undercover Secret Service agent Eric Phillips, Stacie Foster as investigative journalist / former terrorist / Eric’s wife Connie, Steve Burton as good guy Jared, and Jim Maniaci as the Cyber-Tracker. Only by this point, Trackers are used as good guys, helping the cops out – Eric tries to get “No. 9” to refer to him by his first name, but No.9 is programmed for formality.

So, the plot. A lot of the plot is based around (I presume) the producer owning both a second-hand car lot and an explosives factory; because so many cars get blown up or wrecked, and so many gigantic explosions happen, that I began to wonder if this wasn’t a very specialised fetish video. A group of villains, led by Paris Morgan (the great Anthony DeLonghis, “Highlander: The Series”), is getting hold of government-issue cybernetic technology, lots of weapons, and is…well, it’s one of your generic world domination things, I think. They’re well aware that no-one came for the plot, so that’s dispensed with as quickly as possible.

A large portion of the movie is based on Morgan making perfect cyber-copies of Eric and Connie, and setting them loose to cause destruction, kill off their enemies in the police department, and so on. Herein lies a problem, one of the sorts of problems that movies like this come across from time to time. If the plan was to take over local government, start building a power base and spread from there, why bother antagonising the guy who whupped a load of Tracker ass in the last movie? Why not just try and not mess with him or his wife, who has the ear of the world’s media, at all? But, even though their plan is dumb and hinges on normal Eric and cyber-Eric never being seen at the same time by anyone who cyber-Eric doesn’t immediately kill, the plan works for the entire second act of the movie.

Stop thinking about it. “But, he’s a huge hero. Why would he wipe out a whole police station?” Sshhhh. Leave it.

I like how they try to give us a little taste of the future, still, which indicates someone thought about the world they were inhabiting. Eric appears to have upgraded his sexy home security system to one with a hologram of the top half of a beautiful woman – she still flirts with him, and gives them an “I know what you’re doing” look when they ask for privacy mode to be enabled so they can have sex. I’m not sure I’d be thrilled with my own home becoming jealous of me, but so be it! And the police chief’s daughter pops over to train in martial arts, which involves her plugging in a VR headset and fighting the cheesiest computer simulation. I wonder if it’d have looked impressive in 1995? Maybe not.

But the plot and the world building, much like in the last movie, takes second place to fights, car chases and explosions. So many explosions! There are a couple of gun-battles which go on for what feels like forever, and they follow the path of the first one – indestructible robot stands in the middle of a bunch of people who can’t shoot or find cover, several hundred bullets fly about, eventually the non-robots fall over. Then there’s a ton of car chases as well, one in the huge LA storm “drains”, the other in “that” motorway tunnel; both locations have been in hundreds of movies.

There’s a character called Kessel, played by Athena Massey, and she’s great. The villain’s main assistant, I was really looking forward to her chewing some scenery and having a cool death scene, but she’s relegated to feuding with the heroes’ third banana Jared, who I honestly didn’t even remember was also in the first movie (and I watched them two days apart). Way too much time is given to the robotic Eric and Connie.

And, while we’re being honest, there’s way too much borrowing of scenes from other, better movies – for instance, there’s the police station scene which is a direct lift from “The Terminator” (but in this, no-one wonders how one apparently normal man can slaughter an entire police station, get shot dozens of times but be completely fine). The whole experience leaves you, honestly, feeling slightly numb. There’s so much gunplay, and so many explosions, fights, and car chases, that no one bit stands out. I never thought I’d say this, but I kept wishing for a quiet conversation or something, just to break it up.

I do want to mention one last thing, perhaps the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in a reasonably budgeted b-movie. At around 1:21:00 (it’s on Youtube, you can watch it yourself if you like), there’s a shot of a guy standing in a corridor, only they forgot to put anything on the blue screen behind him! So, he’s stood in front of an effect which isn’t there, and then he gets shot and the crashmats he lands on are clearly visible, and not just for a tiny instant either. It’s one of the most egregious errors I can think of in a movie of this stature, and I love it a little bit more because of it.

I’ve spent a long time criticising this, and it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s so energetic that you can forgive it a lot. Apparently, PM Entertainment are a company that specialised in wild OTT movies like this, so expect more reviews of their stuff in the weeks to come.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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CyberTracker (1994)

Much like the “observer effect” in quantum physics, where the mere observation of an experiment causes a change to its state, so too it is with 1990s straight-to-video action movies. Just when you think you’ve reviewed all the half-decent ones, yet more emerge from the woodwork (okay, that’s nothing like the observer effect). But even though the ISCFC has featured over a thousand reviews, with mine personally coming in at a little over 900, I’d never even heard of this one until a few days ago.

The whole “never heard of it” thing is even more surprising when you factor in the two stars – Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Richard Norton. We covered the entirety of Wilson’s “Bloodfist” series a little while ago, and we’ve been fans of Norton’s ever since we saw him in a few Cynthia Rothrock movies. And here, we even get to hear Norton’s real accent!

Right from the beginning, we’re given a world which is something of a conundrum. Outside a club is a hologram person, imploring people to come in as they’ve got it all – “beer, whisky, heroin, cocaine”. So, this is a world where everything is legal, or where the forces of law & order have broken down completely, right? Well, not quite. In this heady far-off future of 2015, the US Government has merged with a corporation (I think? They’re sort of unclear on that point, the flags are different though) and we’ve now got the Computerised Judicial System. How crimes are investigated is a matter we’re never informed about, but people aren’t so much arrested as brutally murdered by a huge bald cyborg. Perhaps the cyborgs only go after the big crimes? Again, information we’re not given, although there is a sequel which may fill in all these holes, much like “Prometheus”.

Wilson is Eric Philips, low-level security guard for Senator Dilly (John Aprea, last seen by us in “Savage Beach” and “Dead Man On Campus”); Norton is Dilly’s right-hand man, Ross. Eric and Ross help to thwart an attempt on Dilly’s life by the UHR – “Union For Human Rights” – and because Eric is so awesome, he’s let into the inner circle. Although, the inner circle is basically Dilly going “watch me murder this unarmed protestor”, so Eric runs away, horrified at the person he’s working for.

Director Richard Pepin is no slouch – we’ve already covered his stuff in “T-Force” and “Hologram Man” – and he makes as much effort as his budget will allow to build a world. This is stuff like the bizarrely flirtatious relationship Eric has with the AI running his house; the scene where he turns her “perception” down so she won’t question his crap opens a whole can of philosophical worms. Then there’s the work of TV newsreader Connie (Stacie Foster), whose piece about the UHR is the most friendly-to-terrorism piece of news reporting perhaps ever. She’s as fine and obvious a love interest as b-movies have ever given us, even if I was worrying that she’d still not met Eric by the halfway point.

So, a fairly solid man-on-the-run plot; just one with cyborgs in it. When you’ve got Richard Norton and Don “The Dragon” Wilson as your stars, you can also expect plenty of fighting, and they’re both of course brilliant. One of the many plus points about low-budget cinema is you’ll get the main guys doing their own fighting, so you can keep the camera in close (no need to cut around faces or obviously incorrect haircuts). But the gun-play leaves a little to be desired. As the Cyber Trackers are made of some weird magic super-hard skin stuff, they don’t need to worry about dodging bullets or finding cover; and they’re also terrible shots, meaning there are a few more scenes than strictly necessary of a Tracker stood in the middle of a room, shots bouncing harmlessly off him, missing large numbers of people who aren’t making any attempt to cover themselves either.

I mentioned the low budget, but if you were counting the number of cars that blow up, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s got a much larger amount of money spent on it. Explosion after explosion after explosion…they even blow up a fire-truck at one point, which can’t have been cheap. Stock footage or the fact the director is also the boss of the production company? Seriously though, if you miss the explosions, wait two minutes and another one will be along.

A couple of splendid tropes of low budget cinema pop up here too. One is the “Access File” screen. You’ll have seen it yourself dozens of times, the good guy trying to log on to the villain’s computer, and rather than using Windows or Linux, it’s just a screen where you type in “Access File X” and it pops straight up. Perhaps Hollywood has its own OS that it’s holding out on us about? And the second, my personal favourite, is the Overconfident Villain. You know the deal – villain has guns, hero is trapped, villain goes “I don’t need guns to beat you!”, puts the guns down and immediately gets his ass kicked by the hero. The ur-example of this is the great Vernon Wells in “Commando”, but this is a fine entry in that particular tradition.

If you like people always doing the dumbest thing in every circumstance, then “CyberTracker” could be the movie for you. Some silly sci-fi, lots of terrible wooden acting, the occasional whisper of a sense of humour, terrible gunfights and excellent hand-to-hand fights. The usual. Let’s see if part 2 is any better!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Scanners 3: The Takeover (1992)

These people aren’t in the movie

After a part 2 which starred a man who we know from his TV appearances is a strong comic actor, but was almost entirely serious, we come to a part 3, with a guy who isn’t a strong anything actor, that fully steers into the ludcrousness of the whole enterprise and is almost entirely comedic!

Despite having the same director and one of the same writers, this movie couldn’t be any more different. Perhaps a quick “Scanners” history lesson will be handy. While the first movie was being made, producer Pierre David bought the rights to make sequels, and then waited ten years (presumably for a time when exploding head special effects became cheaper). So, much like “XTRO” had two sequels in name only, because the director had the rights to the name but nothing else, “Scanners” has two sequels pretty much entirely because some guy had paid for it years previously.

In further timeline fun – you may remember the children of the guy from part 1 showing up in part 2, both in their 30s, despite the movies being ten years apart – it’s so long since the scanners from part 2 did their thing in front of a bunch of TV cameras, that they’re now creatures of myth, eliciting only vague amusement from a birthday party full of whatever the Canadian 90s equivalent of hipsters was. Alex (Steve Parrish) is asked to show off his scanner powers, and is happy to do this little parlor trick, pushing his friend backwards with just his mind, until he’s distracted and accidentally shoves him out of the window, killing him.

He’s found not guilty, pretty luckily, and decides to go to a Buddhist monastery in Thailand and find himself, learn to take control of his powers, whatever it is. Alex’s girlfriend Joyce (Valérie Valois) and stepsister Helena (Liliana Komorowska) remain friends, until a couple of years later, when a gang attacks them in an alley and Helena uses her scanning powers to mess them up. She’s struggling with the same problems Alex had, the incessant din of human thoughts being beamed into her head, but rather than going to meditate, she decides to hassle her stepdad, famed neuroscientist Elton Monet (Colin Fox). He’s invented EPH-3 (the only link between this and the previous two movies), but it’s super-experimental; she offers to be the guinea pig but he refuses.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. Helena just steals the supply and applies an EPH-3 patch (which is a large circle of plastic with a little blue light on it, stuck behind her ear) and immediately turns evil; she takes over a worldwide media company and her Dad’s company, by the “traditional” method of advancement (murdering everyone). Alex eventually turns back up and after a while, it’s on. There’s a whole weird subplot about a group of scanners that Helena liberates all dressing and acting like 1930s gangsters, but I’ve got no idea what that was about.

The first thing to notice about “Scanners 3” is that it has a similar structure to part 2, in that the alleged star of the movie drops out of it for a significant portion of the early running. This is very definitely a movie about the villain, rather than the hero, and it’s all the better for it. She has an interesting plan and she’s not afraid to go after it. There’s perhaps a good reason for this assignation of screen time though.

Liliana Komorowska is amazing, and Steve Parrish is terrible. She fully understands just how silly the plot and script are, and really runs with it. Every scene she’s in is full of scenery-chewing magic; whereas not only does he have a face that’s sort of annoying to look at, he’s just not a good enough actor to relax and have fun with a movie that’s clearly intended to be a comedy. I mean, there’s a scene where he has an underwater scanner fight (underwater! This is brilliant!) and he’s just there, playing it straight. It’s quite curious that in three “Scanners” movies, the lead actor has been a wooden non-presence in two of them, and it’s not like David Hewlett gave the best performance in part 2 either.

I feel like this movie really ought to have been rediscovered by the bad movie brigade by now, but quite a lot of reviews of it seem to treat it moderately seriously, like the comedy is unintentional? Well, watch the autopsy scene and tell me that’s not supposed to make you laugh – some fine comic timing from a character with only a few lines. Or the TV broadcast where Helena puts her plan into effect, which is so crazy there’s no possible way you coul take it seriously. On that note – the plot of the movie hinges on scanning powers being something you can record on videotape and broadcast via TV, which indicates someone involved with it would rather have been remaking “Videodrome”.

Any Buddhists reading this review will be pleased to note that, after spending years in a monastery, he’s progressed a great deal as an individual. Oh, sorry, I meant to write that as soon as he gets home, he starts murdering people with his mind – okay, they’re bad guys, but I’m pretty sure the Buddha never said “murder’s cool, as long as the victim is a dick”.

They throw in a completely wild, OTT ending, and a set of closing credits with no music behind them, as if they wanted to creep you out right at the last minute. It’s often hilarious, and while the plot is just as dumb as part 2, they at least acknowledge that (even the head-wobbling “fights” are done with tongue slightly in cheek).

This has been one of the most thoroughly entertaining b-movies we’ve covered on this site. Recommended with no problem whatsoever.

Rating: thumbs up