Cyborg Cop (1993)

If you’ve ever heard of “Cyborg Cop”, you might wonder why the ISCFC has never covered it – it’s perfect for us, in terms of era, production company, stars and plot. Well, I watched it about a week before I answered a forum post saying “anyone want to review movies?” and started writing for this site, back in 2012, and I’ve needed this amount of time to forget enough stuff about it to watch it again, and it fits in nicely with our “— Cop” series of reviews.

It’s a welcome return for David Bradley – not the one from “Kes”, or the one from the “Harry Potter” movies, I’m talking about the famous one here – last seen by us in “American Samurai”. Here, he’s DEA agent Jack Ryan (generic name alert!) and he and his brother Philip (Todd Jensen) are tracking down some dealer through a disused factory. The dealer has a hostage and a vest, so Jack takes out his magic armour-piercing bullets, which you’d think would be referenced later during the climactic battle but totally aren’t, and shoots him. Hostage survives, bad guy dead, no problem, right? Well, the TV news, making Fox News look actually fair and balanced, are there within seconds, and as the dead guy is the son of a media magnate, Jack is out of a job.

Jack retires to a generic bar, to wear a leather jacket and a fanny-pack and look miserable. Philip, still a DEA guy, takes a team to storm the remote compound of Kessel, and here’s where I need to stop the review for a moment.

John Rhys Davies! Reviews of his movies litter our pages, and his run on TV show “Sliders” is a particular highlight – we can even leave aside his crappy Margaret Thatcher-supporting right wing views. But here, he clearly turned up for the first day of filming and said “hey, director! I’ve got an idea. How about I do a camp Yorkshire accent?” and then just refused to change it when everyone said it was not a good idea. As far as I’m aware, it’s not JRD’s real accent (having been born down south and brought up in Wales) and it appears this particular voice is not one of his strong suits. Anyway.

Philip is captured by Kessel and Jack has to go and look for him. As the title sort of gives it away, Kessel’s business plan, as well as selling drugs, is to create cyborg warriors and sell them to international terrorist organisations – the prototype is the guy who captures Philip. Before we go any further, Quincy (the prototype’s name) has an amazing knife-hand thing, like a combination of Freddy Krueger and Wolverine, and his impassive performance is a minor gem. Anyway, Jack gets to (Mysterious Unnamed Caribbean Island) and wouldn’t you know it, the reporter who exposed him back at the beginning of the movie is here on the island to look into the same thing! It may take you at least three seconds to figure out they’ll be having sex at some point soon; but Alonna Shaw, who plays Cathy, is actually a pretty good actress, so it’s still fun to watch.

The movie progresses pretty much like you expect it to. Jack and Cathy investigate things, get involved in chases and fights, and Kessel tries to track them down, or kill them, or both. Director Sam Firstenberg (who also did the first two “American Ninja” movies, as well as “American Samurai”) knows how to keep things going at a good pace. There’s a fine example of something which is lost in movies today – good blood squibs. There’s so much CGI shooting these days that it’s fun to see someone doing it the old way, and doing it well too.

Also, kudos to writer Greg Latter, who’s got some comedy form. As well as JRD’s performance (which we could charitably describe as OTT on purpose), there’s some decent banter between the two stars, and some decent comic relief from Kurt Egelhof as “Rastaman”. Plus, a guy gets a hole punched right through his head, which (I hope for my sanity) was put in there as a grim joke.

This is another Nu Image production. They were founded by executives from Cannon after that company folded (check out our review of the Cannon documentary HERE) and decided to make movies just as cheesy as Cannon did, but to actually have a control on their finances and so on. That’s why Golan and Globus are a joke now and Nu Image is making the Expendables movies and sitting on a large pile of cash. We have the solid performance and low-ish budgets of movies like “Cyborg Cop” to thank for that success. Hurray, I guess?

Both main stars never made another movie past the late 90s, and I think that’s a shame. David Bradley was a great martial artist, looked like a leading man and, towards the end, bothered to learn acting (he’s totally fine in this, for example). Alonna Shaw is way better than I expected a former model to be, too, so there’s precious few of those moments where your brain tunes out because you can tell everyone on screen is struggling with their lines.

So, it’s a lot of fun, there’s plenty of action, and cyborgs too! ISCFC readers will no doubt have a fine time with this one. Join us in a few days to see if part 2 is anywhere near as good!

Rating: thumbs up

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Endangered Species (2003)

Don't know who this bloke is, but he's not in this movie

Don’t know who this bloke is, but he’s not in this movie

John Rhys-Davies is a first-ballot ISCFC Hall of Famer, without a doubt. As well as entertaining us for all the good seasons of “Sliders”, he’s done sterling work in a number of Asylum movies, something called “Lord of the Rings” (too big-budget for us) and , if you look at his IMDB credits, what looks like every sci-fi or horror movie of the last twenty years. He’s clearly a guy who loves working, and while that brings honourable failures and enormous successes, sometimes it leaves us with “what the hell were you going for?” choices, like “Endangered Species”. But more on him later.

One thing you could not accuse this movie of is originality. Take a smidgeon of “Predator 2”, a hefty bit of “The Hidden”, and a storyline which has occurred in pretty much every sci-fi TV series ever, and you’ve got this. An alien is on earth, hunting and skinning us; because we’re a protected nature reserve, in intergalactic terms, a “park ranger” is sent down to stop the poaching. The “ranger” is Arnold Vosloo, star of almost as many genre things as Rhys-Davies, and of course the cops think he’s the bad guy at first, but eventually it all gets sorted and they help each other track down the effectively indestructible alien hunter. That cop? Eric Roberts, who perhaps lost the same bet the rest of the cast of this did, which led to him agreeing to be in it. Still, he gets a nice sex scene or two, and his wife is very attractive, so perhaps that was it. Do actors even think that way? “Well, I’m not getting paid very much, but I do get to see that person naked”.

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A lot of this film’s really odd feel comes from its location. It was filmed in Lithuania and zero attempt is made to make it look anything like the USA. The lack of road signs, actual signs, advertising billboards or anything like that makes it feel like a really old computer game, where all they could manage was vague shapes of buildings and roads. Most of the murders take place in health spas and gyms, and they’re always on ugly streets with bad lighting – unlike just about every gym ever, but never mind.

John Rhys-Davies is the comic relief in this, which is a weird bit of casting. He runs after bad guys, swearing the entire time, and partakes in banter with his fellow cops, perhaps the worst most stilted banter in movie history. He does get a great line in, though, while toying with an alien gun – “I may not be from the University of scientific smartarses”, delivered with way more gravitas than it deserves. He’s great, as always, but it’s properly bizarre casting.

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Everything feels off. Not just the casting (for example, the cop’s tech guy is Al Sapienza, who only really plays villains), not just the locations, not just the banter, but everything. Too many boobs on display, cop cars made of petrol and dynamite, that incredibly annoying siren in the seemingly never-ending car chase in the last two-thirds of the movie, the family subplot which might as well just be a black screen with the word “FILLER” on it, and the boring inevitability of it all.

One last thing – the invincible alien trope. Both Vosloo and the hunter are completely indestructible, and not just because of the leather jackets they both wear. The hunter takes a couple of shots to the skull and laughs it off. Now, the comparison is made that they are to us, as we are to apes. If an ape threw a rock at my head, it would hurt like hell, but they can take an automatic rifle to the dome and not lose a step? Boo, I say to you. I hate the invincible alien trope.

Anyway, if you’re a mad Eric Roberts or JRD completist, pop this on, by all means. But otherwise just watch “The Hidden”, as it’s much better.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Bloodsport 3 (1996)

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“Bloodsport 2” was one of the most ludicrously entertaining films I’d seen in ages – almost pure fights with only enough plot to give those fights a bit of spice. It seems all the plot they cut out of that one found its way into “Bloodsport 3”, which is a much more traditional and much slower “man needs help – goes to mystical guru – defeats enemy” movie.

Perhaps to excuse the plot’s oddities, both this and part 2 are framed as stories being told to children after the fact, although this one is being told by Alex (Daniel Bernhardt) himself. Okay, it’s not like we were relying on a lot of “will Alex win or won’t he?” tension to drive the movie along, but still. Alex’s 12-ish-year-old son is getting into trouble at school, so he tells him about that time, years after he was Kumite champion, when he became an art dealer / gambler and got involved with Jacques Duvalier and his beautiful daughter Crystal.

John Rhys Davies! We’re long time fans of his here at ISCFC, my personal favourite of course being “Sliders” – this would have been filmed right at the same time. He’s great, of course, and plays a fine villain – he’s imported a Kazakh war criminal called The Beast and is arranging a new Kumite, which unlike the last two, which were all about honour (no prizes other than an old sword), is all about cash. He wants Alex to compete, then take a dive after everyone’s bet on him, and to show just how serious he is he kills Master Sun (James Hong), his old teacher from part 2. Alex still says no so Jacques decides to run it normally, but tries to stop Alex from getting in. Want to guess if he’s successful?

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After a quick visit to Pat Morita, the other old friendly Asian guy from part 2, he’s off into the wilderness of (UNNAMED FAR EASTERN COUNTRY) to get help from Sun’s brother, who’s also a martial arts guru. One might ask why he needs further training, what with being the utterly dominant current Kumite champion, but one would not be answered by this movie. He learns to catch an arrow, I suppose, although it’s a skill which he never needs again.

Anyway, you know the drill. Morita and Hong were clearly not interested in returning for part 3 but were persuaded to do a few hours of shooting each – they use a bunch of clever angles to disguise that Alex is never in the same shot as either of them (Hong also looks about 20 years younger in his death scene than he does in the flash-forwards in part 2, which indicates some hurried filming or editing).

Bad guy’s daughter Crystal, a stunningly beautiful but terribly underdeveloped character, sings at one point and…well, I presume she was related to one of the producers, because there is no way on Earth she got to sing based on merit. Ye gods! Part 2, for all its fighting, managed to give the other fighters a bit of personality – this just doesn’t bother – although one of the fighters brings a whip to a fight, so if weapons are apparently fine, why not just bring a gun or a chainsaw or something? The fight choreographer was a fan of pro wrestling, I guess, because The Beast (who’s made to look a lot bigger than he actually is by only being seen in shot with tiny guys) does a suplex and an elbow drop in the final fight, and one of the other competitors is using pro wrestling as his main fighting style. It’s a rare moment of fun in what is a pretty joyless film.

Okay, he's maybe got a few inches on them

Okay, he’s maybe got a few inches on them

What’s curious is this is from the same director as part 2. The budget must have been substantially smaller (part 2 was a cinema movie, this was straight to video) but it doesn’t explain how the sense of fun and excitement is completely gone. I was sort of expecting a twist at the end, or a final kink on Alex’s way to victory, but it never came. It feels three-quarters finished.

I shall leave you with one final thought. While telling the story to the kid in the “future”, Alex looks exactly the same age as he did in part 3. It was years between parts 2 and 3 as well, so did he have the kid offscreen between the two movies? Did he retire from the Kumite a second time and go and immediately impregnate someone? Does his kid have that sad illness where he ages quickly? Or did he just kidnap a child from somewhere?

Rating: thumbs down

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Chupacabra Terror (2005)

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Ah, SyFy Channel. When I feel ill, your films provide the barest minimum entertainment possible while not being too complicated or difficult for the fevered brow to understand. And when they have two stars from my favourite TV shows of all time, then that’s just the icing on the cake.

You don’t really need to know a lot about this – an evil scientist captures a chupacabra and attempts to transport it back to civilization in the hold of a large cruise ship, by bribing the dock workers to sneak it on. They immediately open the mystery box to see what’s inside, it kills them and then goes on a bit of a rampage.

Nice and simple, eh? Chances are, if you’ve heard of this film at all, it’ll be to do with one of the stars – John Rhys Davies, of “Sliders”, “Lord of the Rings” and every low-budget film of the last 15 years; and Giancarlo Esposito, who went from roles like this to Gus Fring in “Breaking Bad”. They both have a good time, especially Esposito, who relishes the opportunity to be an unhinged bad guy.

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This was apparently mostly filmed on the islands of Turks & Caicos, and it seems all their actors were on holiday on other caribbean islands, because everyone apart from the three main actors was terrible. You get extras staring at the camera, dubbing everywhere and shockingly wooden line readings, even by SyFy Channel 2005 standards. There are a few scenes where it cuts away from Esposito a little too late, and you can see him start another line that they obviously chose to cut out. It’s just pretty shambolic all round, really. Oh, and they use stock footage of a meerkat – hey dumdums, do you know where meerkats actually live?

Chupa is a guy in a rubber suit, mostly, and can walk on ceilings, that kind of thing. He looks fine, and the special effects, even if it’s a bit too much blood-spatter-on-a-wall style, are okay too. There’s also a decent amount of humour in it – the thief subplot has a couple of genuinely funny moments. Ultimately, it’s just an incredibly formulaic, surprisingly poorly acted SyFy film that just happens to have two of my favourite actors.

Rating: thumbs down

PS. I suppose we ought to do a “is this the SyFy Channel’s best chupacabra movie?”, then discuss with ourselves how sad it is that we’re even having to ask that question. 2013’s “Chupacabra vs. The Alamo” is, I think, even worse than this, having pretty much nothing to recommend it.

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Ferocious Planet (2011)

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A film about inter-dimensional travel with John Rhys-Davies in it? Yes! As a long-term fan of TV show “Sliders”, I always have a little smile when I see one of the cast members in something else, on the off chance they slip a little reference in. Even though I was disappointed in JRD’s fairly speedy demise, we did get a little “this feels like…sliding” mention from one of the other cast members, which is good enough for me.

 

Science, senators and soldiers is the way this film rolls. A couple of scientists have invented two different and amazing things at once – cold fusion, and a viewing screen that can see into other dimensions. Just one would have been enough, surely? The handful of army guys there is commanded by Colonel Sam Synn – Joe Flanigan, formerly of “Stargate Atlantis”. He’s far too good for nonsense like this, he should be the authority figure / love interest in some sci-fi TV show. He’s easily the equal of the guys from “Defiance”, “Eureka” and “Haven”.

 

This film gets going quickly, by beaming the lab and a few bits and pieces from near the lab (a parking meter, for one) to an alternate dimension, where some sort of weird egg-laying gigantic ultraviolent Alien/Predator mix is in charge. Some of them want to go straight back, some of them want to explore, and a few of them (the sort of low-level admin people you rarely see in films) want to snag an alien and use it to get on the Fox News show “Fox and Friends”.

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That last bit is an indicator of a fairly healthy sense of humour running through this film. It’s not perfect – one grunt goes “for those of us without PhDs?” to a bit of science, when it was really bloody simple in the first place – but you may find yourself laughing with the film, rather than at it. I hope John Rhys Davies’ bizarre, intermittent, Deep South accent was a joke, too, because otherwise it was just rubbish.

 

The inevitable disasters that befall our crew are thoroughly signposted, which gave me the idea to write a sitcom, where there are insanely high stakes every episode, but everything always goes fine. Like, someone will say “doctor, don’t overload the Flux Nega-Ion Regenerator!! We could all die!”  and the doctor will do it with one hand behind his back, or something. Then some unhappy wife will storm into a room expecting to see her husband cheating, but he’s always doing something really nice for her, like knitting or washing the pots. Anyway, back to the film!

 

Most of the film is a forest-based chase film, known and loved by all us people who realise SyFy Channel movies can’t afford to film indoors. The small groups go off on their own missions,  and we wait and see if the machine will be fixed and everyone will be able to get home.

 

The weird thing is, this film is pretty good. Flanigan is a well above average leading man, there are good strong female characters, the special effects aren’t terrible, the sense of humour is decent and it doesn’t waste its time. For a SyFy movie, this is about as strong praise as you can manage! There’s the odd weird moment – the President’s science adviser pulls two of the soldiers out of quicksand, while saying “Pilates 6 times a week”. So she’s strong, right? Then, near the end, climbing a hill, her ankle gets trapped under a fairly small rock, and she’s almost completely unable to move it. It seems like they forgot, or filmed the earlier scene afterwards and improv-ed the line about pilates?

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This is perfect Sunday afternoon fare. If it’s too hot or too cold to venture outside, and you’re comfortable on the sofa when this film comes on, you’ll have a good time. I maybe wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to find it, but you could do a heck of a lot worse.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Apocalypse Pompeii (2014)

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I have a lot of time for Adrian Paul and John Rhys Davies, stars of two of my favourite series of the 90s, “Highlander” and “Sliders” (okay, they were both really cheesy, but I loved em). So any film where their names are above the title will have me in attendance.

I probably shouldn’t have bothered, though. I suppose this is a mockbuster for the soon-to-be-released “Pompeii”, but if it’s anything it’s a painfully ordinary recreation of a hundred other Asylum films, with the same beats, the same non-locations, the same wooden supporting people and the same everything else. It’s the morning after I watched it, and the details are already fast slipping from my mind.

Volcanoes be eruptin’. The Galapagos Islands are wiped out, then we see Adrian Paul, his wife and daughter on a trip to Italy. Dad is going to do some business deal in Naples (turns out he’s a former Black Ops Marine, and is now setting up a private security firm) and the ladies are going to see Pompeii. Well, almost as soon as they get there, Vesuvius erupts, and there we have the two sides of the film – mother and daughter trying to survive the eruption, father trying to rescue them.

JRD is a NATO army guy who helps out Dad by hooking him up with members of his old Black Ops unit, all of whom were conveniently located in Naples. I thought “ol John Rhys Davies, he looks like he’s playing the same part he played in “100 Degrees Below Zero”, and an IMDB check reveals that in this, he’s Colonel Carlos Dillard (Carlos is definitely a name I’d associate with an old Welshman) and in “100 Degrees…” he’s Colonel Ralph Dillard. What an odd bit of continuity across their films!

The scriptwriter clearly read the Wikipedia page on volcanoes in preparation for this, and his mouthpiece is the daughter, who knows all the tricks for avoiding the worst of the lava, the dangerous gases, and so on. So, blah blah blah. As a substitute for dramatic tension, the film just kills off cast members fairly regularly, but you know who’s going to survive anyway.

Time for a spoiler, just to indicate how terribly terribly dull this film is and how you definitely shouldn’t watch it. There are news reports of other volcanoes erupting, and with the title, you think there’s going to be an apocalypse, right? But then, right at the end, as our heroes stand and look proudly out over the ash, we get a from-nowhere radio news voice telling us the eruption is all done and everything’s going to be fine. Huh?

It’s all so pointless. The middle of the film is the mum and daughter sat in a room with the other survivors, talking, while Dad and friends are in a helicopter, talking. No drama, no spectacle, no nothing. Adrian Paul was never a great actor and it shows, while John Rhys Davies, who’s a fine actor when he tries, appears to be wearing a brand new set of false teeth which look horrible and affect the way he talks. And obviously isn’t trying either. Sorry John.

It’s not worth watching for a laugh, and it’s not worth watching for any level of excitement or fun either. Boo to this film.

Rating: thumbs down

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100 Degrees Below Zero (2013)

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I couldn’t let the weekend be over without another film from the Asylum. I feel like some sort of addict who has to watch all of these damn films before I can move on with my life, so I come to their attempt at “The Day After Tomorrow”, with a soupcon of the torn-from-the-headlines Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull thrown in for good measure. For those of you keeping score, this is another in our recent tradition of reviewing films where the title is, at best, misleading – it gets cold, for sure, but any film where the lead actress can walk round in a tanktop pretty much all the way through is not 100 degrees below.

 

After a few films which appeared to have stuff like production values and special effects and stuff, we’re back on familiar ground with this one. The military base shown at the beginning of the film is just a fairly big house, and the interior shots of the base are entirely filmed in what looks like the office of a normal house; the scientist who figures out what’s happening appears to be working in an empty office with no equipment other than a laptop; while the film appears to have shot, briefly, in Paris itself, the city only has seven people in it. Then we get this gem, which is the IMDB description of the film:

 

“After freak climate and weather events destroy the world around them, a group of rogue scientists attempt to reverse the deadly new ice age.”

 

Not true, at all. I would have liked to see that film, because it sounds fun, and not even remotely like what we ended up with.

 

What we get is John Rhys Davies, star of more rotten films than you could shake a stick at, as a British Army colonel somewhere in Germany. He’s informed by a scientist that Europe is pretty much doomed, thanks to a volcanic eruption in Iceland, which in turn messed up a lot of fault lines leading to pretty much every volcano in Europe erupting, which in turn would cause a dust cloud which would drop the temperature, ruin agriculture, kill millions of people, and so on. The scientist guy also tells a group of what I think are supposed to be world leaders that Europe is doomed via a multi-person Skype chat, but all these people are just dressed in normal clothes and are filmed in their bedrooms or against blank walls.

 

We then get the second strand of the story. Jeff Fahey is a pilot (using some of that pilot-acting experience he got from “Lost”) taking his new wife to London on a small plane. Where the plane set off from is never mentioned, I just think it seemed like a good idea to establish he was a pilot. His two children are together in Paris, and they’re all planning to meet up. The son is a bit nondescript, it must be said, but the daughter is the lovely Sara Malakul Lane. She can’t act worth a damn, but she’s almost too beautiful – and she’s also been in “Sharktopus”, which sadly for you I watched before I started working for the ISCFC.

 

The weather changes sharpish, and Fahey is forced to land somewhere near London. Luckily, he used to fight alongside John Rhys Davies in NATO, so Fahey and family are offered slots on a plane leaving for Australia (weird choice of location, but maybe they’ve been offered money to film a sequel over there). From then on, a really unacceptably long portion of the film is devoted to the family trying to find each other, in true “Day After Tomorrow” fashion. Fahey and wife drive to the Euro-Tunnel, then towards Paris, while the brother and sister try and make it to the Eiffel Tower. This would be fine for maybe 20 minutes, but it’s almost an hour out of a 90 minute film, and as much fun as watching Fahey and looking at Lane is, it’s still d-u-l-l. Fahey crashes his car (while driving across a field, for some reason)! Lane has a set of incredibly cheap shelves fall on her while trying to loot a coat, and her brother can’t lift them for some reason! Fahey gets on a helicopter, but the ash cloud makes it difficult to fly! The brother and sister are trapped inside the US Embassy! And so on. In place of drama or character deepening, we get roadblocks which achieve nothing.

 

That’s not to say the film is completely worthless. We get some fun death scenes and the bit where Lane manages to kick away a falling lump of ice (falling from the sky, I hasten to add) before it lands on her brother is hilarious. We also get to ponder in what universe the half-Thai Lane and the entirely Caucasian Marc McKevitt Ewins as her brother could be born from the same two parents. There’s also the classic low-budget disaster movie problem of not being able to afford closed sets, so we get scenes of absolute disaster where people are just going about their day peacefully in the background.

 

The ending will surprise no-one, if you’re still able to give a damn by that point. Tying a “Day After Tomorrow” plot into real world events is a fun idea, but they really weren’t prepared to spend any money on it at all. The scenes that appear to have been shot in the real Paris must have been a result of one of the cast members being on holiday there, or something. For all its sins, being ponderously slow is its worst.

"We should have a hotel here, right? Why don't we pop back there and put the kettle on?"

“We should have a hotel here, right? Why don’t we pop back there and put the kettle on?”