Monday, February 16, 2009

Nemesis (1993)

One of the semi-intentional goals of Video Updates is to take a trip down memory lane and finally watch (or rewatch) the films contained within the amazing VHS covers that so fascinated me as a child wandering through the buzzing fluorescent glow of Mr. Movies. It was the early '90s, and video rental chains everywhere were being flooded with quickie action movies, low budget slashers, and a post-T2 wave of what I like to call Cyborgsploitation.

Arguably the greatest of this obscure micro-genre is Albert Pyun's Nemesis, which despite never even coming close to being considered a good movie, is surprisingly entertaining during the shooty bits. Thankfully those bits make up at least 75% of the total footage.

It begins with a lonely wailing saxophone blatantly cribbed from Blade Runner and the obligatory voiceover to assure us that yes, this is indeed the future. Alex the cybernetically enhanced supercop (Olivier Gruner) is in the process of executing (retiring) a blonde "cyborg" (replicant) in a seedy hotel. On his way out, he bumps into a group of fellow sunglasses enthusiasts, who magically transport with him to a crumbling industrial wasteland for a cybernetically enhanced ultra fight.

This fight shows off two of Nemesis' most hilarious tropes: slapping large scopes onto regular guns and calling them "futuristic" and staging all the battles in cool abandoned warehouses that have no apparent spacial relationships with the "dialog" locations. To try and figure out where the hell the film is taking place at any given time and how the characters got there is essentially quixotic, and will only lead to the same sort of confusion cum apathy normally reserved for Halo 3 cutscenes. In fact, I think Nemesis might work much better as a third person shooter than narrative cinema. Also, I hope the red tinted establishing shot of the LA "skyline" was futuristic enough for you, because that's the closest your going to get to a cyberpunk cityscape.

Not nearly as futuristic as shantytowns and jungles.

Cover is taken, pistols are fired cross-arm akimbo (I really don't see how that helps your aim), explosions happen indiscriminately, and the action turns out to be pretty decent. (In a "kids playing guns" sort of way.) I certainly prefer it to the over-edited, handheld camera montages that pass for fight scenes in contemporary films. Alex kicks a little ass, then gets tagged in the back by a combination shotgun and rocket launcher, which is actually a shotgun with a pipe attached. (I'm currently not sure if it is supposed to be a scope or the actual rocket launching apparatus.) He even manages to rescue a puppy before having most of his robo-parts shot off.

Cut to South of the Border "New America" where a fully repaired Alex and his trusty new dog finish hunting down the terrorists. After the mission, a pair of LAPD femmebot-fatales show up to bring him back to the job. He declines, they argue, everybody seems to be really confused about the difference between cyborgs and robots, and then they kill his dog, rendering its introduction one scene ago completely pointless.

Cut to Rio de Janeiro and some more voice over narration, and it seems that Alex has gone rogue. (or something, I don't know) The LAPD wants him back, so genre staple Thom Mathews shows up with a skull that pops open to reveal a gun (!) and re-fucks Alex up.

Cut to.... god damn it, has the movie started yet?

Alex is in what looks like the Alamo's brig, and Jack Deth himself, Tim Thomerson shows up as the head of the LAPD to continue the incredibly massive exposition dump that is Nemesis.

Here is my best attempt at explaining the plot:

The head of LAPD brings in Alex the Rogue agent as an undercover suicide bomber to track down his ex-girlfriend, who he dumped after discovering she was a cyborg (by which the screenwriter means 'robot') because she has stolen some sort of valuable information. This information (Spoilers! Gasp!) turns out to be the fact that the LAPD commissioner has been replaced by the leader of a rogue group of evil cyborg (robot) duplicates. This is the post twist-reveal, because the pre-twist plot is almost completely incomprehensible. (Despite all the characters providing lengthy oral dissertations on whatever the hell is going on.)

Click for High Octane Ultra-Detail

So Alex ends up in some other non-futuristic third-world heck-hole with his ex-girlfriend/macguffin on a computer chip and a bunch of dudes with machine guns bolted to Steadicam harnesses chasing him. *cough*Aliens*cough* Also, he's got six hours before the bad guys unscramble the "bomb signal scrambler" that another cyborg put in his shoulder by squeezing a spark plug at him. After the jammer is decoded (visualized through a convenient bar of LEDs), it is safe to assume that the bomb will, as another character puts it, "get accident."

Nobody fucks with Tommy Jarvis.

The rest of the movie is just a bunch of excuses for dudes in suits to shoot at each other in cool looking abandoned factories. To be perfectly honest, it is damn entertaining to the primordial, 13-year-old boy parts of the brain. People make goofy poses and shoot Plisken-esque doorways through walls, everyone takes 700 billion rounds of ammunition to die (probably has something to do with them being robots), and Alex makes a dramatic escape by shooting himself holes through every floor in the building.

Take that Underworld.

Eventually, Alex finds himself saddled with an annoyingly spunky sidekick and a 15 minute chase sequence as Jack Deth commissioner Farnsworth pursues them through the jungle with a 12-gauge that shoots magic explosions. He's a pretty badass villian, but listen to the hilarious way he pronounces the word 'humans':

If that's not a dead giveaway that you've been replaced by an evil robo-duplicate, I don't know what is.

Put Terminator, Blade Runner, a pint of tequila, and a little Predator into a blender, and you should end up with Nemesis,* which, despite the lack of originality or remotely competent screenwriting, is most definitely worth checking out. (It was on Netflix instant watch for a little while, but is currently MIA.) Come for the goofily over-the-top action sequences, stay for the hilariously inept treatment of the cyberpunk genre. After all, who needs flying cars and futurescapes when you can just slap some extra bits onto guns, pretend that they make things explode, use made up words like 'Retrocloned,' and make some casual references to Japanese currency being more stable than the dollar. (Remember when everyone was afraid of the Japanese buying our entire economy? Those were the days.) Then, confident in your vision of the future, you can go back to filming in the jungle, because it's cheaper than building sets.

...and for the love of crap, someone please explain to these assholes the semantic differences between robots, androids, and cyborgs.

*Do not attempt; you will actually end up with tequila and DVD shards.

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