September 4, 2013

The Worst Movies I've Ever Seen: Cyborg

Ah, early 1989. You almost killed my love of movies those first four months. First my experience with Leviathan and that complete bullshit ending. Then you had to throw Cyborg at me. You were one heartless bastard, early 1989. Luckily, the other eight months more than made up for your callous behavior. Why did you hate me so?

You can't talk about Cyborg without discussing its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. In 1988 he made his mark in the American action movie genre with Bloodsport, which is a story unto itself (Look up Frank Dux in Wikipedia to see what I mean). Suffice it to say, Van Damme plays Frank Dux, the first American to even win the Kumite, a supposed underground martial-arts tournament in Thailand. The action scenes were great and it even had Bolo Yeung. Bolo, man! How can you not like this film? Plus, Jean-Claude didn't really have to act, which was a plus.

Anyway, Bloodsport does killer business. It cost $1.5 million to make and earned nearly $12 million, which in 1988 was a lot of money. So Van Damme is now the newest and hottest name in the action film industry. He chooses Cyborg to be his next film, a post-apocalyptic tale where the Plague has decimated humanity and evil gangs infest the ruins. Van Damme is Gibson Rickenbacker, a "Gunslinger" hired by a cyborg carrying a potential cure for the Plague to escort her from New York to scientists in Atlanta. The leader of the strongest gang on the coast doesn't want this to happen, so he attacks Van Damme and takes the cyborg to go to Atlanta on his own. Van Damme eventually awakes and pursues the gang to save the cyborg. Lots of fighting ensues.

Now, this sounds like it should be in Van Damme's wheelhouse. There's lots of fighting, he doesn't have to act much...solid gold, right?

Wrong. Oh, you couldn't be more wrong.

First off is this basic disconnect; in a post-apocalyptic society that is advanced enough to build a cyborg, they can't build a freaking helicopter?? They still have boats in this world, so why does Van Damme have to walk through a thousand miles of swamp? Advanced, self-aware cybernetic beings are within their capability, but land and air-based combustion engines..that's a real bitch. And how does he get from New York to Atlanta in a couple of days? Did the Plague shrink the size of the United States as well?

Then there is the fighting. Talk about disjointed and's like the Charlotte Bobcats on film. Van Damme looks uninterested while pulling off his admittedly jaw-dropping moves. And his opponents, these filthy gang members/pirates/wackos, fight about as well as these two guys. The gang leader, the fearsome-looking Fender Tremolo, fights like Tank Abbott. Which, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the one-time MMA fighter, means a lot of big punches and little movement. Which is fine in a MMA match, but not on a cinema screen. And once you've lost the fighting as a draw, what does this film have left to offer?

There's also this weak subplot where Van Damme remembers a young woman and her two children who he escorted from a city to an isolated farmhouse in the worst days of the Plague. They fell in love, and then a young Fender and his gang appear. In the one emotionally effective scene in the film, Fender binds Van Damme, the woman and her son together in barbed wire and hangs them over an open well. He then gives the end of it to the woman's young daughter and tells her they'll live if she can hang on. Of course, she doesn't. Ironies of ironies, she joins the gang and Van Damme meets her again. The subplot adds nothing to the film. Plus, Van Damme looks ridiculous through the whole thing.

The second biggest problem with this film is the title character. The Cyborg is nothing more than a plot device; the story is really about Gibson and Fender. But with the movie focusing on the cyborg here and there, the flow of the movie gets all chopped up. It's never a good thing when the character who ostensibly is the main character, who gives you the title of the film, is reduced to a MacGuffin. Hell, at one point she refuses to leave with Gibson, saying Fender is a better bet to get her to Atlanta. Hey, thanks for invalidating the entire beginning of the film! And when they get to Atlanta, she barely thanks him. Talk about someone who deserved to get left in New York.

But the biggest problem with the film is the director, Albert Pyun. Before Uwe Boll took the throne as the King of Crap, Albert Pyun's head wore the crown. His litany as a director is immense, with over 40 director credits to his name. The problem is that those movies are pretty much steaming turds one and all. His idea of an "edgy" idea for this movie was to name all the main characters after guitars and other musical instruments. Gibson, Fender, get the point. Like a stick in the eye you get the point. He framed the lame fight scenes. He accepted the idea that the film could legitimately cover a trip from NYC to Atlanta in a wasteland in just 88 minutes. And he created a world where cyborgs are buildable but a car or light plane is outside the scope of realism. AARRGGHH!!

To sum up, this film sucked in a BIG way. So when my friends and I saw this (on the heels of Leviathan mind you) we were ready to write off the movies altogether. As we left the theater, my friend Tom turned to me and said "Your movie-picking privileges are revoked."

Oh, did I forget to mention that? I was the dumbass that picked the film for us all to watch. Not exactly a proud moment in my life, I can safely say.

The irony was that Van Damme gets slagged for this film when it wasn't his fault. Pyun really didn't play to his strengths. Plus, he sucks as a director. Look at Bloodsport. That was directed by Newt Arnold, one of three films he directed. But Newt was probably one of the best assistant directors in the business. He worked on The Devils Brigade, The Godfather, Part II, The Jerk, Blade Runner, WarGames, The Goonies, Alien Nation and about 45 other movies. Newt knew his stuff and brought that as a director. The result was a good performance by Van Damme.

Or look at Van Damme's other films that rank as his best: Timecop, Hard Target and Universal Soldier. The directors were Peter Hyams, John Woo and Roland Emmerich respectively. And granted, all these guys have bad films to their names (Hyams especially; he's really fallen off), but they all also have some great films behind them. And in the hands of a director that knows what the Hell he is doing, Van Damme can perform.

So yes, Cyborg sucked a pair of metallic ones. But that's the fault of Pyun.


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