I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
This 1989 cyberpunk action movie is actually passable if you enter in the right frame of mind. It’s an absolute mess, don’t get me wrong. The acting is stiff, the direction is shoddy and it feels like an assemblage from the spare parts from other genre movies (most notably MAD MAX and TERMINATOR). Yet CYBORG manages to pull you into its chaos through its unique style, wild film editing and complexity.
In the film, a plague has crippled humanity. Fortunately, a group of lab coats from Atlanta may have the answer to a cure. Unfortunately, it requires some computer data from New York City, information that is stored inside a female cyborg named Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon). Pearl needs safe passage to these Atlanta scientists, and this is where Jean-Claude Van Damme’s little-less-talk-and-a-lot-more-action expertise comes in.
Van Damme plays a butt-kicking mercenary whose character name comes straight from Michael Bay’s hero cookbook — Gibson Rickenbacker (TRANSFORMERS’ Cade Yeager and THE ROCK’s Stanley Goodspeed are solid runner-ups). Rickenbacker crosses paths with Pearl and learns about her hopeful mission, but then the movie’s mustache-twirling villain steps in to stomp on all these plans. This baddie’s name is Fender Tremolo (Vincent Klyn, who oddly kind of looks like Van Damme, but with colored contacts and an sinister voice straight out of a MORTAL KOMBAT video game). His goal is to take the cure for himself and be considered a god amongst what’s left of humanity. He has no intention of changing how terrible things are. He just wants to soak in the bloodshed.
Coincidentally, Rickenbacker wants Tremolo dead (go figure). Not because he took Pearl and is on his way to Atlanta, but principally because Tremolo is responsible for the death of his family. It involves barbed wire and a water well. It’s not a pretty sight. Like Kylo Ren from STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, Rickenbacker wants the past to die, but a random young woman, Nady Simmons (Deborah Richter), perches herself on Rickebacker’s shoulder like his guardian angel and persuades him to get his revenge and save humanity in the process.
I wasn’t kidding when I said the plot was complex. It’s a lot to thumb through and try to make sense of as the story goes along. Filmmaker Albert Pyun (1990’s CAPTAIN AMERICA) doesn’t have the best handle on his story. There are quite a few moments that barely register, until one runs to Wikipedia to read up on the story and connect all the dots. It’s apparent Pyun is attempting to make a gritty movie like Paul Verhoeven (TOTAL RECALL, ROBOCOP). However, his idea of subtlety is too ambiguous. You can almost feel the tug and pull amongst the studio, actors and Pyun.
As Pyun states in the very good making-of featurette (available on the collector’s edition), there are almost 17 different cuts to this film. Some are more violent, some have more dialogue and one is completely Van Damme’s own. (Van Damme got wind that the film didn’t test well, so he wanted his own cut of the film.)
What makes the making-of even more fascinating, and the movie for that matter, is how brutally honest everyone is. They completely know how jumbled the film is, yet they know what works, like the visual style. Pyun even points a few of his own shots in the featurette. One shot of Van Damme doing his signature splits between two walls while above a soon-to-be dead bad guy is lit and framed in such a way that deserves applause. The final showdown between Rickenbacker and Tremolo also has some visual flare.
Whether the project was too ambitious or Pyun had the wrong idea of what it takes to craft a Hollywood movie at the time, CYBORG is not a great movie. It’s a fun film to dissect, analyze and laugh at. I found enjoyment in it for all the wrong reasons. All the special features only make it better.
So if you’re a Van Damme fan or a Scream Factory collector, go ahead and add this to your cart. It comes with a nice slipcover and reversible cover art. You know, the good stuff.
Extras: A new audio commentary with Pyun, the great making-of featurette that I already hinted at, a new featurette on the effects of the film, extended interviews with Pyun and frequent Van Damme collaborator Sheldon Lettich, and the theatrical trailer and still gallery.