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Cyborg (1989)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

CYBORG (1989)

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Vincent Klyn, Dayle Haddon, Alex Daniels

Written & Directed By: Albert Pyun

The Short Version

Jean-Claude Van Damme headlines a movie that pretends to be about a cyborg.

Nope; he’s not the cyborg.  But JCVD may be a substitute for a different JC.

The director appears to think he’s making high art; in the process, he forgot to make a fun action flick.

This is one of the most pointless post-apocalypse movies I’ve ever seen.  (Knowing the backstory makes it worse.)

Cyborg is so bad that it’s not even fun to make fun of.  Move along to the next wasteland.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

FAT FREE SWISS SINGLES.

Is there even a point to this?


Pairs Well With...

STEEL RESERVE.

Because even Beast Ice has too much class for this flick.

“First there was the collapse of civilization: anarchy, genocide, starvation.  Then when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, we got the plague.  The Living Death: quickly closing its fist over the entire planet.  Then we heard the rumors that the last scientists were working on a cure that would end the plague and restore the world.  Restore it?  Why?  I like the death!  I like the misery!  I like this world!”


I cherish the tradition that is Bad Movie Night.  I have fond memories of walking into a video store at around nine or ten at night looking for something cheesy to take home and watch while the clock was striking twelve.  With that in mind, seeing pre credit notices of something being a Cannon film and/or a Golan-Globus production usually makes me incredibly happy.

Unfortunately, someone occasionally ruins the moment by tacking on the line “Directed by Albert Pyun,” which is cheesy movie code for “Three Drink Minimum.”

In the case of Cyborg… better make that at least four.

Cyborg is a movie that was cursed from the word “go;” a cinematic bastard child built atop the corpses of two pictures that had been killed before they could even be made.  Cannon had already poured a couple of million dollars into pre-production work for a pair of films that Pyun had been slated to direct either back to back or simultaneously: a Spider-Man movie, and a sequel to Masters of the Universe.  When these projects were cancelled, the financially floundering studio became desperate to recoup the cash it had already spent on them, and so Pyun was tasked with coming up with something that would make use of as many of the already-purchased sets and props and costumes and other production materials as possible, with the understanding that he’d only be allowed to spend maybe a quarter of what had already been paid out for any new material.  The simplest way to put mismatched junk to use, of course, is to toss it into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and so, under his pseudonym of “Kitty Chalmers,” Pyun came up with Cyborg, a movie that is just barely more about an actual cyborg than Diamonds Are Forever is the story of a white Persian cat.

The alleged premise is pretty well spelled out by the ill-delivered quotation above, which opens the film:  something happened, most people died, gangs rule, and life on Earth generally sucks.  The cyborg of the title – who absolutely does not need to be a cyborg (I can only guess that the majority of the ‘borg effects actually belonged to one of the other productions, because they’re not used much here) – has been sent to the rubble of New York from what we assume is the last remnant of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to collect some mysterious data – don’t ask; you’ll never find out anyway – that holds the key to curing the awful plague mentioned in the opening monologue (but which the audience only sees about five seconds’ worth of evidence of on just one victim during the course of the entire film).  If you’re imaging some exciting possibilities there, don’t bother; she already got what she came for before the movie started.  Now all she needs to do is get back to Atlanta so she can cure the world.

If you’ve seen more than two post-apocalypse flicks before this one, you already know that she’s going to have a degenerate gang of thugs to contend with, and that there’s also going to be a brooding, unwashed hero out to stop the gang.

The twist here is that the cyborg lady is perfectly willing to let the degenerate gang of thugs take her (since they want to haul her to Atlanta anyway, and she figures she can just lead them to their deaths at her leisure once she’s there), and the brooding hero doesn’t really care about the cyborg; he just wants to kill the leader of the gang.  Indeed, when the brooding hero offers to rescue the cyborg halfway through the movie because he just happens to be there anyway, she refuses, after which she is perfectly content to leave him hanging on a cross to die.

Yeah; we’ll get back to that part.

For roughly 70 of the film’s 80-odd minutes, Cyborg is utterly pointless.  The title character is led where she wants to go by the goon squad without desire of rescue and offering no resistance, and there’s really no need for the brooding hero to be part of the story at all.    Even when the hero dispatches the goon squad in the final fight – don’t pretend that’s a spoiler – it’s still not clear that she ever really needed or wanted his help.  After all, her ultimate destination is the last bastion of science and technology on Earth; given that they’ve already proven that they can build cyborgs, surely these techies have sufficient weapons at their disposal to take out less than a dozen knife-wielding thugs.

Oh, wait.  This is an Albert Pyun flick.  Asking an Albert Pyun flick to adhere to any kind of sense or normal train of logic is like asking a plastic bottle of Aquafina to suddenly turn into a fifth of 18 year old single malt Scotch.

Speaking of which…

Take a drink first, if you want.  It’s time to apply an Albert Pyun filter to the proceedings.  This means we stop asking questions about things like how two people on foot can outdistance a powered boat with a head start.  Ready?  Okay then…

As suggested above, Cyborg is not really about a cyborg, nor is it even about the character who doesn’t really need to be a cyborg but is for the sake of a few (pretty cheesy) effects shots.  Yeah, the movie’s named after her, and sure, the plot is built around following her journey from New York to Atlanta, but in the Pyuniverse, that’s just what we like to call “contemptible traditionalist thinking.”  Instead, this movie is about the brooding hero inexplicably forced upon the title story and given top billing in the credits.  (Hello, there, Jean-Claude Van Damme.  Didn’t you deserve something better after that star turn in Bloodsport?)  It turns out that, whether he means to be or not, he’s on a messianic journey to become to true anointed savior of the film’s post-apocalyptic world… though it’s never made quite clear how exactly he’ll do that.  Sure, he’s rather obviously and obnoxiously crucified (someone get a bucket for the dripping symbolism), and even the cyborg herself uses her last line of dialogue to suggest that he, not she, was destined to be the world’s salvation all along, but…

No, sorry.  I’m not buying it.  Albert Pyun may want me and any other potential audience to buy it, but I can’t.  Why?  For the simple reason that Cyborg only moves forward because the clock says so.  In practice, Pyun’s script may aspire to character development, but it contains none.  It doesn’t matter how many flashbacks his characters (most of who are named after rock instrument manufacturers, by the way) have, or how many crosses they’re nailed to; if a character is fundamentally the same both before and after, development has not occurred.  Looking at Van Damme as Gibson Rickenbacker, I see no development.  He acts the same way at the film’s beginning as he does at the end.  That’s no newly minted messiah; that’s a worn-down mercenary, same as he ever was.

And what’s even worse, stepping away from the wannabe highfalutin world of Albert Pyun and back to the realm of post-apocalyptic entertainment most people approach Cyborg as being a part of, never at any point from start to finish does Jean-Claude Van Damme look like he’s having even the slightest bit of fun, and if he’s not having any fun, neither is the audience.  How or why Albert Pyun chose to wring all of the joy and charisma out of the actor who can arguably be considered the single most naturally charismatic of the Golden Age of Action movies, I cannot say, but he sure wrecked this movie when he did it.

Not that it wasn’t wrecked enough already, mind.

However unmoving I find Jean-Claude Van Damme’s performance here, I’ll take a dozen of those any day over the obnoxiousness that is the film’s villain, Fender, physically played Vincent Klyn and very annoyingly dubbed by someone whose career is probably better off for not being identified in the credits.  In a genre already filled with thugs, barbarians, and uninspired blunt instruments, Fender somehow falls below the line of the lowest common denominator.  Fender is unbearable to watch in a way that doesn’t allow for transfer of hatred toward him into positive points toward the hero (another sin of Pyun’s bizarre script), and being forced to listen to his combination of stupidly cartoonish and violent clichés and primal scream therapy is enough to make one want to reach for the remote and give up on the aimless world he inhabits as “just not worth it.”  I didn’t, but if you did, I can’t say I’d blame you.

Besides, just how many repetitive flashbacks is a person expected to stand?  By my count, Cyborg could have gotten by well and efficiently with exactly two flashback sequences, each played once.  But no; a quarter or more of the film’s runtime is taken up by flashbacks, several of which are repeated two or three or even four times.  At that point, it’s just lazy filmmaking and clueless storytelling, and even the least demanding audience deserves better.

And for those who wonder about the fighting…  In someone else’s hands, it could have been entertaining, but no.  Despite some promising choreography – including what ought to have been a very cool take on Van Damme’s signature splits – the fights fall flat, just like everything else associated with Cyborg does.

Everything, that is, except for the hair.  I’m happy to report that, as seems to be the case in many a post-apocalyptic motion picture, in the universe of Cyborg, all of the warehouses that stored hair salon products seem to have survived, and the items kept within have been distributed freely amongst the survivors even when things like food and water have gone scarce.  The future may suck, but the teased and gelled and feathered hairstyles are fabulous.

I guess something had to be.

Bottom line, Cyborg is a joyless, absently written, lazily directed mess that’s not even fun enough to be worth making fun of.  Even Bad Movie Night has its limits, and this is one post-apocalyptic disaster that can very easily be passed over in favor of the next wasteland.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2014


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