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.


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