“Remember that the difference between champ and chump is U.”
Justin’s rating: Time to Ctrl+Alt+Del this film
Justin’s review: Following the insane success of The Terminator, there was a spate of cheaply made cyborg movies over the next decade or so. One of these was 1989’s Cyborg, a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle that was, believe it or not, originally written to be a He-Man movie sequel. Anyway, a few years later a follow-up was made, but this time with Jack Palance and a 17-year-old Angelina Jolie.
Cyborg 2 begins with the hallmark of every amazing movie, which is a whole bunch of scrolling expository text. Honestly, if you need to have a six-paragraph preface to your movie, perhaps you’re not doing a good enough job explaining it within the context of the actual story. And really, the story here isn’t that complicated. One futuristic corporation, Pinwheel, is trying to take over another one using an assassin cyborg who is injected with a liquid bomb known as “Glass Shadow.” The idea is to send her in to wipe out the entire board of directors and then, as law dictates, anyone can come in and claim squatters’ rights? Kind of feel like RoboCop needs to get involved in this situation. Maybe consult with OCP.
The assassin cyborg in question, Cash (Jolie), isn’t too crazy about being used as an expensive suicide bomber, especially after seeing what happened to her best friend/test subject. So Cash attempts to flee her corporation with the help of Colt (Elias Koteas), her combat trainer/token human, and Mercy (Jack Palance), a renegade cyborg who aids the two remotely via CRT monitors. Their goal? To get to the last cyborg-friendly zone on earth.
Of course, the company isn’t exactly going to let such a prized asset go, and so an hour-plus chase scene ensues. The two are primarily pursued by Danny Bench (the ever-creepy Billy Drago), a wiretapper who specializes in killing replicants.
Now you would have every right to fully expect Cyborg 2 to be a sloppy disaster. Its direct-to-video budget and first time outing for Jolie aren’t great cards to have in your deck, but surprisingly, the filmmakers make the best of their hand. It’s a taut, fast-paced tour through a gritty futuristic world that throws hints of not-so-fantastic technology when it can afford to do so. It’s always amazing what a good editor can do, and I was impressed at how good some of the camera shots and set dressings looked.
And while Jolie was reportedly embarrassed at her first major role, she’s not too bad as a Terminator stand-in. She actually made me think of Cameron from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, that blend of soft girly-girl and hard killer. Of course, having veterans Koteas and Palance bolstering her certainly helped.
I’m not going to oversell this. Cyborg 2 isn’t anything better than Syfy knocks out on the cheap these days, although this was done with zero CGI and some actual heart. It can be pretty dark and exploitive at times, the soundtrack is abysmal, and none of our characters really have it going on in the personality department. There’s also a love scene during which shots of Jack Palance appear in an attempt to… what? Scar us for life? There’s also a really weird street fight scene that takes place underneath spinning submarine propellers because that’s how they do it in the future, yo!
And while I acknowledge that a lot of us had (have?) a thing for Angelina Jolie, there’s a bit of an ick factor here when you consider that she’s underage and portrayed as a sexy love interest. Colt and Cash are supposed to be in love, although they don’t show much chemistry together. In any case, Jolie was still in high school when she was filming this, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ then-32-year-old Casey Jones was macking on her face. I guess futuristic statutory laws aren’t as strict?
I do wish that these competent filmmakers would’ve been granted a few million more to really flesh out this cyberpunk/post-apocalyptic world, because it would have been very interesting to see what they could have done with it. Instead, we get a lot of on-location shots of whatever grungy parts of L.A. (most of it?) that could substitute for the “future” and cyborgs that almost never show any non-human parts.
There’s a really interesting interview out there with Director Michael Schroeder who talked about making this movie. When he first got the script, he said, “It read like a $40-million film. We knew we didn’t have that kind of budget. The one thing I knew we did have was a good story, and I thought that, if we enhanced the relationship between Colt and Cash and told that story instead of trying to do an effects film, we’d come out with a pretty nice picture.”
You know what? I think he accomplished just that.