Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Cybertracker (1994)

Cybertracker is a film that dares to ask the question:
What if the Terminator was Robocop?

In Cybertracker, Don "The Dragon" Wilson takes a break from pumping out Bloodfist films and teams up with Ring of Fire cinematographer Richard Pepin to dabble in a slightly different genre; one with lots of towering glass skyscrapers, hugely powerful corporations with generic names like Cybercore and lots of green computery fonts that roll out onto the screen with a series of electronic bleeps and blorps. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Not Too Distant Future. Wilson plays Special Agent Eric Philips, a bodyguard for the US Government, who has been assigned to protect the controversial Senator Dilly.

Dilly is the main proponent of the new Computerised Justice System, where a computer program determines the guilt of defendants and the frequently lethal sentences are carried out by low-budget Terminators called Core Trackers. It doesn't seem to be very popular, because when the first see Dilly at a press conference the attendees are greatly outnumbered by anti-Cybercore protestors. They are waving hilarious signs that say "Computers don't have hearts" and "Computers aren't machines... they're killers". The best part is where a guy angrily shouts "Computers killed my brother!" I want that on a t-shirt.

The speech is interrupted by an attack from an anti-Cybercore terrorist organisation called UHR, or the Union of Human Rights. Wilson foils the attack and saves the senator's life (scored by some ridiculously over-the-top choral music), much to the chagrin of Dilly's personal chief of security Ross, played by Richard Norton. Despite Ross' protests, Dilly decides to test Wilson's loyalty by making him a witness as they brutally execute a Cybercore scientist who they suspect of collaboration with UHR. Wilson balks and is consequently framed with her murder. With a Core Tracker chasing him down, he is kidnapped by UHR and forced to help them infiltrate Cybercore's headquarters and steal evidence of their illegal activities.

Although the Trackers are supposed to be virtually indestructible, Wilson takes out three of them over the course of the film, the first one 25 minutes in. Every time he destroys one the bad guys get another identical Tracker out of cold storage, which really deflates the tension. Taking a cue from Terminator 2, their bodies are made from some sort of rubbery protoplasmic goop, allowing them to store guns in their thighs with tearaway stripper-panels in their pants for easy access. Of course this feature also allows Wilson to shove a live grenade into it's abdominal cavity, so it's a pretty serious design flaw. The Trackers are played by Jim Maniaci, who makes for a pretty imposing/hilarious bad guy as he is fucking enormous. Unfortunately it makes it particularly unconvincing when he has to tuck a tree-trunk sized arm into his leather jacket and pretend like his arm has been blasted off.

Although the film is far too busy ripping off the Terminator to include an actual plot, they do manage to work in a love interest. At first Wilson is too hung up on his ex-wife, sitting in his apartment watching security camera footage of them fighting over his job, which I guess he recorded for some reason. This scene is pretty hilarious as it includes some terrible acting and head-scratching dialog like "I can't live my life waiting for you to walk through that door, dead or alive." Eventually though, Wilson meets Connie, a TV news reporter and the secret leader of UHR. Though for the leader of a terrorist organisation she's not very secretive about her political views, regularly including UHR-sympathetic , anti-Cybercore editorials in her news reports. She and Wilson exchange quips, bodily fluids etc.

It's easy to forget that this film is set in the future since the technology looks particularly dated, even for 1994. One weird touch is that Wilson's apartment is controlled by a voice-activated computer that is basically his robo-wife. It asks him annoying questions about his day and gets huffy when he's curt with it, and he even apologises to it like a chump. For some reason it's programmed it to simulate drunkenness, which sounds like a pretty bad idea. I think we've all drunkenly bought stupid crap off the internet, I wouldn't want my computer doing that shit too. It has all my credit card numbers. His computer also helps him sleep by blasting his head with lasers. Hopefully when he breaks news of his relationship with Connie it doesn't start jealously chasing him around the apartment with kitchen appliances like in Electric Dreams.

Since this is a Merhi/Peppin film it's really about the action, but unfortunately it's mostly rote and uninteresting gunfights. It's established quite early on that the Trackers are virtually immune to gunfire, so I'm not sure what anyone gains from three uninterrupted minutes of UHR freedom fighters cowering behind crates and firing clip after clip into it's torso. There are some decent stunts now again, though. I love seeing people flung across a room by gunfire or explosions, even when the wires are clearly visible as they are here. There's a good bit where the Tracker gets caught in a fiery explosion and stumbles around on fire for a while before getting blasted through a fence with a bazooka.

One thing they do love in this film is having cars ramp into the air, flip over and explode. I believe it happens three times, including once with a fire engine, regardless of whether it makes any sense. In one scene Wilson parks his car across the road to block the path of an incoming van, only to have it ramp up off his car, flip over and explode, leaving his sedan completely unharmed. And that one makes the most sense, other times there's a car just parked in the middle of the road for no reason except to obscure visibility of the stunt ramp, which is clearly visible anyway. I do appreciate their realism-shunning commitment to vehicular mayhem though.

They also work in a few excuses for people to be unarmed, so that Don Wilson can unleash "The Dragon". Consequently he does a lot of kicking of guns out of people's hands, a move I wouldn't think would be very effective in reality but here it's like the evil henchmen's kryponite. There's also a scene at a police station where they have an order to shoot him on sight yet they still attack him with billy clubs. None of it is as well choreographed as I would like. I was looking forward to the big Don "The Dragon" Wilson/Richard Norton fight at the end, but while it's the best fight in the film it still isn't that great. It's one of those fights where the combatants politely take turns wailing on eachother until one of them finally goes down. Wilson gets in a few cool spin kicks at the end, though.

If you showed a robot The Terminator and Robocop and told it to make a movie you'd get something like this, unless the robot refused to participate in the production of anti-robot propaganda on political grounds. It's like Terminator without the thrills and Robocop without the social commentary. As a delivery vehicle for car explosions it's okay, but it doesn't use the sci-fi setting to say much of anything, except that a judicial system controlled and operated by computers would be a bad thing, which isn't really blowing anyone's minds. Surprisingly the film ends with a quote from Ayn Rand, who I'm sure would have appreciated the film's anti-corporate message and the notion that emotion and compassion are vital components of the judicial system.

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