Tagline: Their battle will decide the fate of the human race . . . forever.
Director: Boaz Davidson
Writers: Bill Crounse, Boaz Davidson, Brent V. Friedman, Christopher Pearce, Don Pequignot
Starring: Joe Lara, Nicole Hansen, John Saint Ryan, Joseph Shiloach, Uri Gavriel, Helen Lesnick, Andrea Litt, Jack Widerker, Kevin Patterson
18 | 1hr 34min | Action/Sci-Fi
Not only was it the most expensive and impressive looking film in history, it was a breathtaking exercise in action that was as terrifying as it was ironic, taking an already winning formula and flipping it on its head. As well as wowing audiences the world over, this ingenious turn would inspire a multitude of low-budget production companies looking to cash in on its popularity.
One of those companies was B-movie hit factory the Cannon Group. Back in the 1980s, Cannon enjoyed considerable financial success producing patriotic actioners as Cold War America beamed with nationalistic pride. With hits such as American Ninja and genre-defying oddity Ninja III: The Domination, the group were able to carve out quite a niche for themselves, attaining cult status in the minds of action fans across the globe. By 1986, when gross earnings had reached their peak with more than 40 films in a year, shares had soared by an incredible 100 percent. Cannon, it seemed, could do no wrong.
By the time American Cyborg: Steel Warrior was released in 1993, Cannon were facing a very different financial landscape. Thanks to a series of big budget, high-profile flops including Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Masters of the Universe the company was facing bankruptcy, and after a series of legal wrangles and mergers finally closed their doors in 1994.
The movie, while being indicative of the company’s financial constraints, is actually a lot of fun. The concept — presumably a last-ditch attempt to turn around their misfortunes — is a bald-faced derivative of T2 as a murderous cyborg attempts to assassinate the one human being who can save their race from annihilation. Mary (Hansen) is the last fertile woman on Earth, and her objective is to get a jar-bound fetus to some men on a ship before her digital timer runs out. Why the fetus is in the tube and not in her uterus remains a mystery, but this isn’t a movie that has any interest in explaining the finer details. Except of course, for those obligatory moments of mind-bending exposition when you are made to feel like an infant being spoon-fed a bedtime story.
In spite of its crappy special effects and the kind of paper-thin sets that have to be filmed close up to avoid exposing passers by, the post-apocalyptic world the movie serves up is actually pretty charming. Okay, so they stuff the screenplay with just about every sci-fi cliché in the book, but the shantytowns have an almost jumble sale Blade Runner aura to them, while hackneyed threats such as sewer-dwelling mutants will have you chuckling with cheapo incredulity.
The hero of the movie is named Austin (Joe Lara), an unwilling Lothario with an eventual heart of gold. Lara is an actor of quite astonishing ineptitude, and his range, be his character sad or angry or overwhelmed with joy, never rises a quaver above dull monotone, his heroic army rolls and potshots at wisdom falling just as flat. In spite of his inability to leave first gear, or perhaps because of it, your enjoyment is guaranteed to rise as the pursuing cyborg continues to appear from the most unlikely places and the smoking hot Mary (as in Magdelene) pouts and stumbles and attempts to remember her lines.
As for the movie’s Cyborg (John Saint Ryan), well, he’s certainly no mimetic polyalloy T-1000. In fact, he’s little more than a gangling oaf who never once looks cold or robotic, a fact not helped by the kind of budget which reduces his technological prowess to a multipurpose blade which is supposed to grow out from his finger, but which is clearly taped to the back of it.
There is also a twist reminiscent of Phillip K. Dick’s The Electric Ant that you probably won’t see coming. I would like to tell you that this is a result of a carefully controlled screenplay, but it isn’t. The truth is, you have Lara’s woeful acting to thank for this accidental stroke of plot prowess, but what you’ll end up thanking him for most is the laughter.
After ripping out the relentless Cyborg’s eyes and guts with a high-tech finger blade, Austin flees the deluge of lifeblood just in time to avoid the resulting explosion, one which pops with the ferocity of a dozen farting balloons.
Most Absurd Moment
A fetus in a jar. A FETUS IN A JAR! Is the said fetus, fettered and fragile, affected by all the stunts and explosions and ass-kicking? Of course not. It simply floats around with a cute little smile on its face. Even as Austin football tackles it into the stretch of polluted water where the men on the boat arrive with only seconds to spare, it is never less than cosy and tranquil. With the entire human species at stake, you would think the boat would have been waiting when Austin and Mary arrived, particularly since the stretch of water in question is no bigger than a reservoir. Perhaps they were simply parked around the corner.
Most Absurd Dialogue
During his faux-biblical quest, the heroic Austin uses some very questionable tactics in order to acquire information.
Austin: Alright, you’ve got two choices, do you wanna talk?
Thug: What’s my other choice, asshole?
Austin: To shut up.
Austin, are you absolutely sure that’s what you want?
A shameless rip-off of Terminator 2 it may be, but American Cyborg: Steel Warrior is relentlessly entertaining, with cheap thrills and belly laughs aplenty. The Cannon Group may have been well and truly on the wane at the time of its release, but the immortal B-movie legends manage to pull out all the stops to produce yet another cult classic in the annals of bad movie legend.