Friday, 29 August 2014

Cyborg Cop (Sam Firstenberg, 1993)

My expectations of a movie called Cyborg Cop were not high. I was expecting a fairly vanilla and extremely derivative straight to video Robocop knock-off yet to my mild delight the movie exceeded my expectations. It’s derivative, yes, but not in the way I was expecting and there was enough absurdity to make the movie a little more memorable than most. So it exceeded expectations but only by a small amount. Not strictly Vanilla, not quite chocolate. Vanilla with sprinkles.

The main reason the film is not particularly derivative of Robocop is that the titular character is not a cop, nor is he the main character, nor is in he in the film much. It is most similar to Verhoven’s masterpiece in the opening scene, where two cops in blue Metro Police-esque blue combat gear (here just overalls and a cap with D.E.A. stencilled on it) enter a run-down, sand-coloured industrial complex to shoot up a bad guy. It becomes apparent that the two cops in question are Brothers, Phillip and Jack Ryan*, and this has been the final bust in a long line of brutal takedowns they have been involved in. A montage of newspaper articles shows us that they have been disgraced and hounded into a self-imposed exile and signals the end of any Robocop comparisons the movie has to offer.

We rejoin the Brothers as Philip is deciding to take on a little private work. He assembles a squad of mercenaries and attacks the drug compound in a scene that is a little reminiscent of the opening assault in Predator.

After the requisite number of stuntmen fall off of shacks and wooden huts explode it is revealed the compound is actually a secret lab where mad scientist John Rhys-Davies is making cyborgs. When the mercenaries realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew they try and retreat but are slaughtered by his cyborg warrior. Philip is kidnapped and then, over the course of the movie, turned into a cyborg killer himself.  Jack then goes on a mission to find out what happened to his sibling, teaming up with a journalist who works for the paper that disgraced him along the way. So it’s not so much Cyborg Cop, more Largely Absent Cyborg Former-Cop Now Assassin. I think that’s snappier as well.

So there is a little Robocop, a pinch of Predator and plenty of Terminator along the way. Mix in some martial arts, mad scientist action and even a Dukes of Hazard style chase (complete with a banjo and harmonica score even though the movie is set in the Caribbean) and you have a film that borrows from a number of movies in tenuous ways only, but frequently enough that the movie never feels fresh.

What makes this movie stand out, however, is some interesting creative choices. The gore content is a little higher than I expected. Aside from nice old fashioned squibs we get a very gushy severed hand and someone getting punched through the head. The action overall is generally satisfying and there is enough of it to keep the film moving at a good pace, but these moments of surprising splatter spice things up even more.

 The cast is quite good as well. John Rhys-Davies, in particular, makes for an unusual villain for no other reason than he has decided to adopt a thick Yorkshire accent. It’s strangely disconcerting seeing a moustache twirling bad guy offering drug dealers a “cuppa tea” and calling his minions “lad”. It’s
like casting Alan Bennett as Blofeld. David Bradley thankfully isn’t the usual wooden action lead. If anything he sometimes over-eggs his performance. He always seems intense, angry and sweaty as if he’s just finished a marathon only to be told he was disqualified at the start line. Alona Shaw displays charisma as the journalist and despite the two of them engaging in the usual action movie courtship (they hate each other but someone shoots at them so they decide to have sex) they manage to generate some genuine chemistry.

Costuming isn’t quite as successful. The main cyborg is pretty dreadful and looks like someone has shoved polystyrene down his boiler suit. The plastic gun he has stapled to his chest is pretty shoddy looking and the whole ensemble, when added to his zombie-like waddling (imagine Glenn Strange having shat his pants) makes for a less than threating antagonist. He’s also named Quincy.

Bradley suffers just as much having been given sleeveless double-denim in an early scene and a Henry Winkler-ish leather jacket and jeans combo for a bar fight. More alarming is that he wears a bum-bag for the entire movie.

Cyborg Cop has fighting, shootouts, explosions, car chases, gore, nudity, a cyborg called Quincy and a sweaty Fonz wearing a bum-bag. That, dear reader, should be enough information for you to decided whether to give this movie a day in court. I did and found it guilty of being a fun hour thirty.

*I'm not sure whereabouts this movie, or its sequel, fits into the official Jack Ryan canon. I'm guessing either side of The Hunt for Red October.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Drive (Steve Wang, 1997)

If the recent success of the Raid movies has you scurrying into the past looking for awesome martial arts movies then I’d like to nudge you gently towards Steve Wang’s Drive. That’s not to say it shares any common traits with the Raid movies for while they go for sombre brutality Drive feels more like a Jackie Chan flick, in tone at least.

Toby Wong has been implanted with a device that gives him superhuman reflexes but has decided to flee his employers in an attempt to sell the device to a rival company. He convinces bystander Malik to help him for a share of the fortune and the two set off pursued by ruthless killers. The movie mixes action, buddy-movie rapport and the occasional silliness with varying degrees of success but what it does do well is present some quite spectacular martial arts thanks to the considerable abilities of lead Mark Dacascos.

Dacascos has long been on my list of people awaiting the Icons of The Overlooked treatment. He has appeared in a number of movies but to date Drive shows of his talents the best. Displaying both martial arts and acrobatic skill Dacascos ably proves he could make movies in the same ballpark as Chan’s (albeit without the near-death stunt work). Drive sees Dacascos handle a series of extended and complex fight sequences, mixing violence and comedy with grace. The lengthy motel sequence, which includes a close-quarters battle against taser-wielding baddies and a fight using every conceivable object in a garage as a weapon, is as good a showcase as any screen marital artist could ask for. If for nothing else the movie is worth seeing for these action scenes.

Dacascos also fairs relatively well with the bits between punching. As excepted he can do the frowny cross-face required of any cinematic hard-man of presence but he also handles the comedy showing a gift for timing and goofy face pulling. Unfortunately these are modes he slips into and he isn’t able to merge the two of them into a single persona convincingly (that, however, could also be said of the movie as a whole). Regardless Dacascos is an engaging personality as well as an exceptional pugilist. It’s baffling he’s rarely put front and centre in other movies, though his turn as Mani in the brilliant Brotherhood of the Wolf (Gans, 2001) is well worth a look.

The supporting cast are all good value for money as well. Kadeem Hardison makes a meal of the comedy scraps thrown his way while Brittany Murphy plays it broad, threatening to annoy with every line before rescuing it with a moment of sweetness. It’s John Pyper-Fergusaon that really stands out though. Saddled with an awful cowboy persona he never the less plays the villain as a credible threat while simultaneously managing to be the funniest thing in the film, largely thanks to some wonderful line delivery.

In the final action scene Toby faces off against another super-powered martial artist in a fantastically choreographed fight that makes for a more than satisfying conclusion. The cynical may be tempted to roll their eyes at the constant goofiness on display, but it is difficult not to find it endearing. As a result Drive is consistently entertaining, more so than most straight to video action movies of the time. It is surprising, then, that Director Wang made no more features instead going on to work on shows like Power Rangers and Kamen Rider. It’s a shame as both director and star could have gone on to make some truly memorable action movies. At least we have Drive though; a daft chase movie peppered with fun performances and brilliant fights. So nothing like the Raid then.