2.18.2011

Cyborg Cop (1993)


PLOT: A former DEA agent receives an urgent message from his former DEA agent brother and travels to an island in the Caribbean to find him. Once there, he must battle Gimli from Lord of the Rings and his army of cyborgs, doodads, zoozanks, and thingamajigs.

Director: Sam Firstenberg
Writer: Greg Latter
Cast: David Bradley, John Rhys-Davies, Alonna Shaw, Todd Jensen, Ron Smerczak, Rufus Swart


PLOT THICKENER:
Genre hybrids in cinema are as old as the medium itself, but one in particular gained traction during the 1990s despite no real box-office success to justify it: the sci-fi-martial-arts movie. Following the smash success of Robocop and Terminator 2 and the mild profitability of Universal Soldier, filmmakers were falling over themselves to figure out ways to integrate cyborgs and lasers with their tired martial-arts cops-and-robbers plots. The trend was so pervasive that few if any prominent martial arts actors working in the 1990s went without a science-fiction chopsocky film on their resume. Today we take a look at Sam Firstenberg’s 1993 film, Cyborg Cop, or its working title: I’m a Cyborg in a Direct to Video David Bradley Movie, But That’s OK.

Jack and Phillip Ryan, played by David Bradley and Todd Jensen, respectively, are hotshot DEA agents. They also happen to be brothers, and not the cold, distant, borrowing-money-but-never-paying-it-back type of brothers, but the warm and friendly type with a sweet nickname: the “Double Trouble Psycho Cops.” Yeah...really creative, guys. During a hostage negotiation, Jack takes out the captor -- the son of a newspaper publisher -- with lethal force. For obvious reasons, the news media has a field day with the botched operation. Following a wrongful death trial, they both resign.


Unemployment often leads to odd career choices, and the universe of Cyborg Cop is no different. Phillip tells his brother that he’s going to the third-world island of St. Keith to bust up a heroin distribution outfit. (An especially odd choice since St. Keith isn’t a real place.) The target? A gadget-obsessed British drug kingpin named Kessel, played by John Rhys-Davies in a ridiculously over the top check-cashing performance. He stands around yelling about science, he flies remote-controlled airplanes rigged with explosives into trespassers, and he even has dozens of randomly topless women working in his heroin facility. In a master stroke of entrepreneurship, Kessel is using his dope money to fund a cyborg manufacturing project and has plans to sell the product line as elite assassins. In his infinite shit luck and general clumsiness, Phillip gets captured and transformed into the latest model.


Fortunately, Jack packs his bags and heads to the island to investigate after receiving a mysterious package from his brother containing a toy truck and some heroin. Perhaps appropriate during the holiday season but a bit suspicious for a random Thursday. Since he only has a random vial of air-mailed heroin as evidence but no dealer’s name to stick to it, Jack has to do some sleuthing to determine the drug’s origins.

In order to blend in with the locals and take advantage of the tropical weather, Jack wears jeans and a leather jacket for the majority of his Caribbean getaway. As Matt of Direct to Video Connoisseur dutifully pointed out in his review, Jack also has an unusual dependence on the fannypack. As compared to Zubaz pants or aviator glasses, this is a fashion accessory that doesn’t get nearly enough attention within the 80s and 90s action movie set. The only reason you don’t see them more often is pure quantum physics. If a fannypack, Zubaz pants, a denim jacket, and aviators occupy the same space, the fucking universe explodes.


Early in the trip he also encounters an irritable journalist played by Alonna Shaw, perhaps most famous for playing the meek British girlfriend who gets groped by Cory Everson in the 1991 Jean Claude Van-Damme flick Double Impact. As Kate, she shows some range and plays an openly hostile psycho hose beast with terrible fashion sense. She and Jack almost instantly hate each other and this inevitably leads to romance, partly out of the bubbling sexual tension but mostly out of Jack’s refusal to pay for a hooker. Their love scene is abnormally thrusty for this type of movie and it represents something of a sad fall from grace for Shaw. In about two years’ time, she went from pretending to bang JCVD in a major studio release shown in over 1700 theaters to pretending to bang David Bradley in a straight-to-video action movie. We can safely presume he was wearing a fannypack during the proceedings.


While the film lacks the requisite power ballad, composer Paul Fishman constructs a mix of tunes that are … interesting. The song played during the opening title sequence would have Bruce Dickinson bobbing his head along to the voluminous amounts of cowbell. Virtually any scene that shows Jack driving his rented pick-up truck along the St. Keith roads is accompanied by a bizarre disco beat with electric guitar. That is, unless he’s being pursued during a chase scene, then it’s banjo and fiddle. There’s even a bar scene featuring some genuine island “riddim.” Fishman clearly set the score to “randomize” before hitting the self-destruct button.

This is probably somewhat of a given since this movie was filmed in South Africa and directed by a Polish guy, but authentic representations of islanders are nowhere to be found and the lack of political correctness here is enough to make a grad student’s head spin. Virtually everyone is happy to take bribes and there’s even one guy with dreadlocks working in a morgue who smokes a massive doobie while playing steel drums before he takes a bribe. The only thing they left out was the practice of voodoo. So yeah … if you’re looking for more positive stereotypes of Caribbean people, you should really just watch Cool Runnings. Such a heartwarming movie.


Despite a dearth of actual martial-arts, the film’s action still manages to come out on the plus side. There’s an amusing shoot-out in a morgue and a few scenes with Bradley kicking cyborgs and impoverished drunkards, but Cyborg Cop succeeds here in large part due to Firstenberg’s emphasis on camp. During an early cyborg demonstration, there’s a decent bit of gore as Kessel’s original model punches through the head of a volunteer victim. We also get hot cyborg-on-cyborg action in which one actually suplexes the other through a metal staircase in a smashing set-piece that might elicit chants of “ECW! ECW!” if it took place in a Philadelphia bingo hall, but since it happens in a cyborg laboratory in a drug kingpin’s lair, everyone just sort of stands around watching.

VERDICT:
There’s no such thing as essential viewing when it comes to the science-fiction-martial-arts genre and Cyborg Cop does little to change this. Access to lasers and random bleeps and bloops jacked from the Star Trek Sound Library does not a sci-fi film make. Beyond a couple of short fights between Bradley and various islanders, there’s little here to even qualify this as a martial-arts film. What are we left with? Bradley’s fannypack, some decent shoot-outs, a clunky love scene, cyborg fights, and John Rhys-Davies screaming about science in regular intervals. In a word: uhhhhhhh...

AVAILABILITY:
If you have any intention of watching this, it's currently available on Netflix Instant. If you go the purchase route, cross your fingers for an out-of-region DVD or a cheap used VHS via Amazon or EBay.

4.5 / 7

6 comments:

  1. Excellent review! Saw this on instant watch a long time ago, and it was a tough sit. Also Bradley sporting a fanny pack was hilarious.

    Love that you put "splosions" in your labels.

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  2. Hey Karl, thanks for the mention! For me, it was a combination of three genres: action, sci-fi, and the Romantic Comedy, and all three were felled, in a large part due to the fanny pack. I did a Jeff Wincott film not long after I reviewed this, and in it I wondered aloud how he would've reacted to being told he needed to wear a fanny pack for one of his roles...

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  3. Ty - It definitely felt tedious in spots but there was enough weirdness in it for me to consider it a decent action trash flick. The fannypack is ultimately what puts it over the top.

    DtVC - You're right that there's elements of the rom-com included too; I think I found Shaw's acting to be funnier than what was actually going on story-wise, though. Not many action stars can get away with the fannypack but I guess there is some limited utility to it. A lot like Zubaz pants, fannypacks were one of those oddball fashion accessories really popular with wrestlers and action movie stars and basically no one else. Except maybe soccer moms.

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  4. Here's another one that I caught on HBO (where I'm sure it premiered). All I remember about it is that I saw this after a trip to Magic Mountain. I had a splitting headache (probably from riding one-too-many rollercoasters) and chilled on the couch while watching this. Sure enough, my headache went away about 20 minutes into this movie. I say it was the fannypacks that did it for me. Fuck Excedrin -- fannypacks all the way.

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  5. Ha! I love rip-off films from the post-RoboCop and Terminator era. Have you seen Lady Terminator? It's basically a shot for shot remake of Terminator.

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  6. That looks like it is way better than Universal Soldier!I need to get my hands on a copy asap!

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