Cyborg Cop

Unexpectedly reasonable self-parodying sci-fi actioner on an itty-bitty budget.

Released in 1993, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 17 Mar 2003 by Scott Morris
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Given the time, trouble and effort required to make science fiction believable, it is a continual source of puzzlement to me that so many films attempt it on a budget so limited that they can scarce afford the film to shoot it. Surprisingly, Cyborg Cop manages to overcome this handicap, to a degree, providing some little enjoyment over it's course.

What with the nature of this beast, it's a touch odd that we're treated to a prologue to explain our hero's current situation. Opening some time in the not too distant past, D.E.A. officers and brothers, Jack and Phillip face a hostage situation in a dilapidated warehouse. Sacrifices are made to the budget early, as we are never furnished with a surname for our brave officers. Eventually, Jack has a clear shot at the ranting and raving hostage taker but Phillip desperately entreats him not to shoot, due to the threat of the usual cliches of their Captain already warning him about blahblahblah, you know the script. This is one problem that pervades the whole film, you generally know what's happening quite some time before the on-screen characters do. Anyhow, Jack establishes his bad-boy risk-taking character early by capping the evildoer. This fellow turns out to be the son of a powerful publishing factory, bad news for Jack as the resultant trial-by-media forces Jack to resign even after the trial-by-court clears him of any wrongdoing.

Back in the now, Phillip is still working for the D.E.A. and is about to go off on another covert mission to the island of St. Lucia, asking Jack to keep an eye out for the kid Phillip is going to adopt just after the completion of this mission. Of course, this telegraphs the fact that this boy ain't comin' back, y'hear? While the outcome of the D.E.A. assault team's mission is now predictable the execution is, well, I hesitate to say impressive but nothing like as bad as is common in these flicks. The bulk of the team are dropped off from two black ops helicopters into a river to be picked up by Phillip's launch, disembarking upstream and inserting into the drug barons compound through a field. They pay little heed to a remote controlled toy plane flying overhead as they proceed to the processing factories, a critical error as the controller of this aeronautic menace and spy camera is none other than the target of the operation, evil overlord Kessel (John Rhys-Davies). He orders his troops to set a trap, which the cops duly walk into, albeit in a standard cover formation. By this point you may be feeling slightly uneasy watching it because the production values are greater than you might expect, i.e. there are some. As the local goon force and the cops start their battle, it's almost like Commando on a smaller scale, but not quite as convincing. The cops behave as you may expect highly trained law enforcer to act rather than the usual headless chicken act lesser Z-movies would have them, and it does actually feel as though they're making an effort here in the initial reel. We need not worry, as the silliness is about to kick off in earnest.

Force of number turns the tide against the D.E.A. and soon all but Phillip remains. Trying to retreat proves futile against Kessel's secret weapon - the cyborg Quincy. Yes, that's right, Quincy, although not the meddling pathologist of the TV series. It is quickly established that the cyborgs aren't too phased by automatic gunfire, and in addition to their standard firearm are equipped with the most horrific weapon of mass destruction - The Glove Of Edward Scissorhands. Using this mighty appendage, replete with horrendously cheesyrific swooshy sound effects Quincy unconvincingly lops off Phillips hand, before capturing him.

I'd hazard the guess that director Sam Firstenberg knows the money available to him won't cut the believability mustard and decides from hereon in to play up the ironic cheese factor, allowing us to laugh along with rather than at the on-screen antics. Given that Firstenberg was previously responsible for such atrocities as American Ninja and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo I might be giving him more credit than is deserved, but it doesn't seem like anyone involved from hereon in is taking this too seriously.

None more so then Rhys-Davies. It's not terrifically apparent until Kessel starts expounding on his plans to cyborg-ify Phillip to his assembled team in his unbelievably unbelievable laboratory (which incidentally is the worst point about the film, it's the only location which really looks awful and seems incongruously bad) that there's something unusual about Rhys-Davies take on the villainous Kessel. He (presumably this wasn't scripted) has given him a Lancashire accent. Yup, the main villain sounds like he's just wandered in from Coronation Street. It's difficult to take him seriously with this handicap, but that works out fine as there's no reason to take him seriously. Rhys-Davies has a whale of a time hamming up the role for all it's worth, with some nice asides along with the standard bad guy ranting. One scene in particular is worthy of note, as he asks his lieutenant to 'fire' one of the lesser goons, then walks off down the corridor of his villa. The lieutenant proceeds to shoot the hapless fellow, with the predictable pay off line of "You're fired". On hearing the gunshot, Kessel spins round and walks back. Pointing at the bloodstained wall, he loudly complains "I just had that painted! Oooh, sometimes I could slap you!" before playfully tapping the lieutenant on the cheek.

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Back at the ranch, Jack receives a parcel in the post from his brother, one of those 'If you get this something's gone terribly wrong and I need your help because I'm probably being turned into a cyborg or something' messages. He heads off to St. Lucia to try to find out what's happened to his brother, despite grave warnings to leave it well alone from his old boss, Callan. On his arrival he has a run-in with a feisty female reporter, Cathy. Jack isn't too enamoured with journalists in general, and tells her where she can stick her press pass. Cathy is equally antagonistic, but thanks to a series of Whacky Coincidences (TM every rom-com ever), they end up spending time together, learning to respect, then love each other, providing us with our obligatory gratuitous sex scene.

The driving force that sets these two on their path of lurve is the local police force, out to arrest Jack for a crime he did not commit at the behest of Kessel. Maybe he should call the A-Team. As they follow the trail of Phillip they fairly easily evade the local relaxed cops, who all obey action movie law #2, all police are inept, especially at driving. Their driving anti-credentials are established by a car chase bizarrely set to music that wouldn't sound out of place on The Dukes Of Hazard. They also have the same Ford C4 Explodalot cars seen in Cybertracker. Crisis point arrives at the morgue, when our intrepid duo track down the bodies of the D.E.A. assault team, aided by the steel-drum playing, spliff-smoking lab assistant (I think. His job is never made clear, but I hope to god that this isn't the standard of morticians in the Caribbean. They perhaps should have got the TV version of Quincy in as well). By this point Kessel has tired of the police's amateurish attempts at capturing Jack and sends Cyber-Quincy after him. The ensuing fight goes poorly for Jack, but he manages to electrocute Quincy with a handy bare wire, leading to Quincy malfunctioning in a comedy fashion, running into walls and suchlike before falling over. The distractions of this prove enough for the cops to finally nab Jack, and a henchman takes Cathy to Kessel's compound.

The damage to Quincy is fairly severe, as Kessel's crack science team informs him. This is a real spanner in the works for Kessel, who was to sell him to an interested party the next day. The only solution he sees is to advance the development program of Cyber-Phillip, who now looks like the lost member of Kraftwerk. The scientists warn him they haven't fully erased his memories and emotions, and it would be dangerous to sell him in this state. Kessel is willing to take the risk. Meanwhile, the cops prove their ineptness beyond any doubt by letting Jack escape. Jack's course is clear - he must reclaim his girl and brother by launching a one-man assault on Kessel's compound. Can he succeed where a squad of D.E.A. troops couldn't? Of course, it's a film.

Jack's already proven that standard goons won't stop him, and this is no exception with bodies dropping at an alarming rate as he makes his way to the lab for the climactic showdown. Kessel doesn't seem to phased by this, ordering Philip to kill his brother. What we'll assume was at least written as impassioned pleading leads to Phillip remembering his brother, rebelling and attacking Kessel and his remaining goons. Kessel's last line of defence is the hastily patched together Quincy, leading to an astonishingly silly cyborg fight, with them suplexing each other through staircases in ways that would put Stone Cold Steve Austin to shame. The two fight to a standstill then somehow contrive to electrocute each other, proving that you can't teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

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The final showdown sees Kessel take Cathy hostage, echoing back to the opening of the film. This kind of device would generally be used if, say, Jack had accidentally killed the hostage at the start or something similar, so it's strange that this situation ends in exactly the same way as the opening one, with Jack shooting and killing the evildoer, proving that what's for ye won't go by ye.

Firstenberg must have realised he had an extra roll of film left or something, because as everyone decamps outside and go through the usual 'Yay, we won' speeches, Quincy makes a reappearance for another climactic showdown. Conventional weapons don't bother Quincy, so Jack resorts to an unconventional one. Jumping on a motorbike, he toys with his food for a while before managing the unlikely jump required to have his bike leap in the air and run over Quincy's head, decapitating the hapless cyborg, proving that there's many fish in the ocean.

All this sounds silly, and indeed it is, although if you think about the vast number of mainstream sci-fi the only difference is the lack of a few zeros off the budget. Nonetheless, it provides more memorable little moments than many big budget action flicks, although they're mainly memorable for their oddness. Examples - Kessel flying a remote controlled, explosive packed model plane into a D.E.A officer, blowing him up totally. Quincy being ordered to kill a random goon, an obliging by punching through his face and out the back of his head. The ridiculously overdramatic introduction of Quincy's fist o' blades. Kessel's accent throughout, particularly when offering visiting VIP's 'a nice cup of tea'. Jack's sustained James Dean / Arnie hybrid attitude throughout.

Not to say that it doesn't have many flaws, the most glaring being the underdressed set of the lab and the sheer unbelievable 'hi-tec' arms and legs grafted on to the cyborgs, looking less like metal than a two pound kids costume from Poundstretchers. Cathy is annoying, and Todd Jensen was born to play a robot, being largely emotionless.

But it's just too hard to hate it. It refuses too take itself seriously once the initial D.E.A attack is thwarted, and the non-robot based action is at least as good as Commando. Rhys-Davies steals the show as the incongruously accented evil one, and there's a pretty reasonable performance from David Bradley as our hero, displaying more charisma than actors in the low rent sector usually have. The outdoor scenes are quite lovely as well, compared to the usual bleakness bestowed by necessity on low budget films. It's worth a look if you fancy slumming it when in Blockbuster, or make a point to tape it when it inevitably appears on late-night Channel Five.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Sam Firstenberg
Cast list:
David Bradley (Jack)
John Rhys-Davies (Kessel)
Todd Jensen (Phillip)
Alonna Shaw (Cathy)
Ron Smerczak (Callan)
Rufus Swart (Quincy)