Sunday, February 3, 2013

Universal Van Damme: Cyborg (1989)

For some reason I decided not to make my irregular series of posts about the body of work of Jean-Claude Van Damme too easy on myself, and start with the really painful films early enough. Please keep in mind I enjoyed a movie like Universal Soldier: The Return well enough, so my definition of "painful" might just be a bit skewed. Be that as it may, I give you a film directed by the god king of boredom himself, Mr Albert Pyun. And nope, this write-up isn't based on the "director's cut", for as far as my sources tell me, Pyun made an even more half-assed job out of that one.

Anyway, Cyborg. It's the end of the world again, this time via all-purpose "chaos" followed by a horrible, incurable plague that has left the remnants of humanity throwing all of their crap out on the streets and donning combinations of leather vests, fur vests, swimming goggles, chainmail shirts (hullo RenFair!), and so on; I bet they'd drive dune buggies too if only the budget allowed them to. Warning: I'm now going to turn a backstory told in various ill-placed flashbacks into something linear that might be construed as spoilers if you're an idiot. Decades after the collapse, some scientists in Atlanta are on the way of developing some sort of cure (???) for the plague but they need some sort of data hidden in the computer system of New York (????) to make it work, so they turn the scientist (?????) Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon) into a cyborg to go and retrieve the data from the city. They kinda forget to improve her defence capabilities in any way, shape or form, of course, or else we wouldn't have a movie. New York, alas, is ruled by the iron fist (okay, chainmail vest) of one Fender Tremolo (oh gawd, it's like JoJo's Bizarre adventures, only lame and boring; right, he's played by a Vincent Klyn), leader of a band of what the film for some reason calls "pirates" (though I bet the script spells it "pyrates").

Fender rather likes the state of the world as it is, so when he inevitably catches Pearl, he decides to kill her at oncebring her to Atlanta herself so he can, umm, ah, you got me there. Before Fender could kidnap Pearl, she met the "slinger" (like a D&D ranger, but crap) Gibson "Gibs" Rickenbacker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who may not have been able to save her, but now slowly, very very slowly makes his way through post-apocalyptica to rescue her, or rather, to kill Fender, because of course Gibs is one of those action heroes with a brooding-inducing past that causes them to pretend to not care about anyone. Plus, Fender and Gibs have backstory the film will slowly, very slowly dole out over the rest of the running time in numerous flashbacks, even though even the dumbest of viewers will have gotten it in the first one. On his slow, slow way through perfectly fine woods the film still calls "The Wasteland", industrial buildings and more industrial buildings, Gibs picks up drifter Nady Simmons (Deborah Richter) so that Van Damme isn't the only one to shove his nude ass into the camera. Will everything culminate in the shoutiest action sequence in the rain ever shot in the most boring way possible, shortly after a crucifixion scene? You bet!

Did I ever mention how much I hate the movies - okay "movies" - of Albert Pyun? It's a bit sad, really, for Pyun has all the misguided enthusiasm, drive and frightfully bizarre vision of an Ed Wood, and while that's not the sort of thing that usually leads to "good" movies, it is generally the sort of thing that leads to beautiful, confusing and deeply human movies. Unfortunately, Pyun has one singular talent as a director, and that is to turn even the most awesome, ridiculous or entertaining sounding thing into pure boredom. It's perfectly alright with me when a film is dumb, its plot makes not much sense, and Ralf Moeller is wearing a glam rock wig in it, but I can't abide when a film is this boring.

Particularly poisonous - please keep in mind this is supposedly an action movie, a genre that thrives on pacing - for the film are the numerous, deeply redundant and boring flashbacks that usually - boringly - hammer home points the audience has gotten felt hours ago (leave it to Pyun to make an 80 minute movie that feels longer than the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy in the extended versions). I assume Pyun's ideal audience consists of people even dumber than himself. Yet even when the film isn't flashing back this way or that way, Pyun's singular un-talent turns everything it touches more boring than one could have imagined, magically transforming what probably was supposed to be an exciting chase plot with a bit of emotional impact into a long, tiring dreg of a film. It doesn't help (action movie, remember) that Pyun clearly doesn't have a clue how to stage or film action scenes, so that the best we can hope for is Van Damme doing That Kick repeatedly, and dropping onto Ralf Moeller's head from doing a particularly awkward wall-version of the splits. I'd be excited if I - like Pyun, one supposes - had never seen an even mildly successful action movie before.

In better hands, some of the script's ideas (the comparative vulnerability of Van Damme's character, the curiously off-beat post-apocalyptic world) could probably have gone somewhere, but Pyun drowns every good idea in hours of nothing of interest happening.

Here I'm nearly finished with the movie (thank Cthulhu, who probably produced), and I still haven't even mentioned the purported hero of this series and the movie, JCVD. That's because at this early point of his movie career (it's his second leading role as a good guy if I count correctly), before his short stint as a movie star and the subsequent awesome afterlife as direct-to-video hero, there really isn't much to say about him. As an actor, Van Damme is still rather overwhelmed with simply emoting in front of a camera. Paired with a director who doesn't know what he's doing and certainly won't provide any guidance, this leads to a performance of half-assed, constipated glowering that is supposed to be tragic brooding, mumbled dialogue, and That Kick. I've seen worse in even more low-rent action films, but that doesn't make Van Damme's performance here any more entertaining to watch.

The rest of the cast shouts and growls a lot, which seems like the only reasonable reaction to Cyborg, really.

No comments: