If Bloodsport is the kind of movie that can make a career, Cyborg is the kind of movie that can break one.
It was always going to be tough to follow up Bloodsport, and credit where it’s due, Van Damme didn’t immediately look to star in a repeat of what worked previously. And, on paper at least, Cyborg sounds like it should have been a fun genre action flick in the vein of The Road Warrior. There’s potential here.
Set in the aftermath of a vaguely explained apocalypse, in which the planet’s populace seems to have been largely wiped out by a plague, leaving the survivors to wander the wastelands (a sign along the road quite literally points travelers in the direction of THE WASTELAND) and generally trying to avoid being rape-murdered by roving bands of pirates and marauders. There supposedly exists a cure for the plague and it’s up to Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon) and her bodyguard, Marshall Strat, to escort her from Atlanta to New York City and back, so that sensitive data can be retrieved. For reasons never explained, this requires Pearl to be turned into a cyborg.
However, on their return trip, Marshall is beheaded and Pearl is captured by Fender (Vincent Klyn), but not before encountering Gibson Rickenbacker (Van Damme), a “slicer,” this film’s name for wandering mercenary bodyguards. (And yes, more than half the characters are named after musical instrument brands.) Gibson is now determined to rescue Pearl, but mostly because he wants some good, old-fashioned revenge on the man who killed his family.
It’s almost unfathomable how little money and effort went into this movie, and, boy, does it show. The shooting locations include a sewer, a marsh, an abandoned construction site (that was likely filmed from multiple angles so they could reuse it as the characters end up at abandoned construction sites with stunning regularity) and bombed out cityscapes (again, likely the same one just filmed from different angles). The film is plenty violent, and yet I can’t remember the last low-budget, R-rated action flick that didn’t at least have tens of dollars to spend on Karo syrup and red dye.
Turns out I was right when I mused that more money went into the chain-mail budget for Fender’s wardrobe than the squib department, as the budget for the entire film didn’t even come close to breaking six figures.
According to the five minutes spent exhaustively researching this movie on Wikipedia, Cyborg got the greenlight because the studio’s deal to make a Masters of the Universe sequel and a Spider-Man film fell through. They decided to make Cyborg on the cheap to try and recoup some of the $2 million already spent on sets and costumes on the other films, reportedly spending only $500,000 on Cyborg after writer/director Albert Pyun (yes, the same who eventually made that deliciously horrible Captain America movie in the ’90s) wrote the script in a single weekend.
I suppose this (lack of a) budget also explains in a roundabout why every marauder henchman looks like they ended up raiding the same dumpster behind a Dokken concert.
Point being, this is a terrible movie and Van Damme is pretty terrible in it. There’s no real story to speak of. Characters who you expect will be pivotal disappear for massive stretches of the runtime (for a film named Cyborg, the titular character has surprisingly little to do with what actually happens) and what action exists is almost shockingly basic. Oh, and the editing is among the worst I’ve ever seen in any movie ever. Ever. (Seriously, I’ve never edited a film in my life, and I could probably establish a more consistent sense of geography and flow than what’s done here.)
It’s a shame, too, because as I said earlier, there’s a lot of fun to be mined from a setting and concept like this. It’s obvious Pyun is riffing (er, ripping off) heavily from the Road Warrior formula and aesthetic, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been some good stuff created along the way.
Alas, this was perhaps the earliest sign that Van Damme was (and would continue to be) only as good as the material he works with. The script gives him little, if anything, play around with in terms of character, no real moments to dig into. He’s always shown a proclivity to at least try and find an emotional center for his characters, that much is obvious here given his character’s past, but it’s clear Pyun doesn’t care nearly enough to try and help pull that aspect together.
The biggest disappointment though is the lack of action. All of the fights are fairly basic affairs with equally bland choreography. There are no split kicks to be found and only one instance of Van Damme performing his trademark splits, though at least that leads to the best kill in the film. Gibson and Nady (a girl who, for no apparent reason, insists on joining Gibson on his quest despite being woefully ill-equipped to do so) are escaping from Fender’s goons and jump into a sewer. In order to (literally) get the drop on one of the Dokkengoons, Gibson does a split in between two pylons at the entrance of a waterway, dropping down and plunging a knife into the cranium of said goon upon approach.
Sadly, that’s about as creative as things get in Cyborg.
Oh wait, except for the part where Gibson is crucified. No that’s not a typo. Crucified. Fender manages to capture Gibson, but instead of doing the smart thing and just killing him like he should, he has his goons spend time rigging up a cross to crucify him and then leave without watching him actually die. Which is good, though, because it means we get to watch Van Damme literally kick himself off the cross.
That said, it ends on a surprisingly ambiguous note for a Van Damme movie, leaving Gibson to once again wander the wastelands after successfully returning Pearl to Atlanta. Maybe Cannon films was anticipating a sequel. Two of them did end up being made — one of which starred Angelina Jolie! — though each had increasingly less to do with its progenitor.
Dammage Report statistics for Cyborg:
Number of splits: 1
Number of split kicks: 0
Reason for being European: None given, although “Rickenbacker” sounds at least vaguely European despite being an American company.
Best line: None by Van Damme, but Klyn takes special delight in his opening narration which ends with “I like the death! I like the misery! I like this world!”