Junkfood Cinema: Cyborg

By  · Published on September 17th, 2010

A hearty, heart attack welcome back to Junkfood Cinema, where all manner of Ho Hos, Twinkies, and Ding Dongs are more than welcome. And, after that salutation, I’m a little more intrigued by the nature of how Hostess runs their business. Once again, your normal cruise director, Brian, has side-stepped his junkfood duties. Something about a triple bypass, but I only skim through those company-wide emails I receive. Nonetheless, the general idea came across loud and clear. We need a junkie movie. We need a junkfood tie-in. We need defibrillator pads, S-T-A-T.

When the opportunity came up to take on one of these columns, I was more than pleased to trek back through the annals of the Junkfood Cinema articles, scour through the backlogs with one hand with another feeds a slice of Papa John’s pizza into my mouth. What did I find? Nothing less than a little film called Masters of the Universe, which Brian was kind enough to analyze back in June. And that got my wheels going. Coated by all the McDonald’s grease, those wheels moved pretty fast, and I remembered hearing about a movie that came out of Masters of the Universe.

Not that Dolph literally birthed it, but that the studio behind Masters of the Universe, Cannon, that glowing bastion of everything junkfood in the ’80s, had cannibalized the screenplay for that sequel to make this movie. Take that, the $2 million that had already been spent on costumes and sets, and throw Jean-Claude Van Damme in there, and you’ve got Cyborg.

What Makes It Bad?

Van Damme plays Gibson Rickenbacker, and we’ve already got our first problem right here. Rickenbacker? Really? They couldn’t come up with a smoother name than Rickenbacker. How about Gibson Rick? How about Rick Gibson? How about Lee Van Cleef? Use a name from an historical icon. Anything is better than Rickenbacker. Of course, the film was written by someone named Kitty Chalmers, so we’ll let that slip for now.

Anywho, Rickenbacker (Jesus!) is a slinger, a kind of mercenary, in a post-apocalyptic world that has been ravaged by disease. His latest mission, take a cyborg carrying essential data that could hold the key to the plague and get it from New York City to Atlanta. Dangerous Flesh Pirates are chasing the cyborg and her accompanying Rickenbacker (ugh!), and they’ll stop at nothing to destroy the data.

What ensues is one of the slowest, most awkward, cheapest chase films you’ve ever seen. Just about everything about Cyborg is laughable. It so wants to be one of its bigger brothers, something like Mad Max, but director Albert Pyun (which is oddly the same sound a laser gun makes) has absolutely no skill in hiding the lack of budget he’s working with.

Even Van Damme knows the travesty he’s in here. To be fair, at this time, he’d done Bloodsport and little else for American audiences to take a gander at. His skills of a thespian and nuanced emotions wouldn’t really kick in until two years later with Double Impact. With Cyborg, though, he’s just grunting in pain, letting dialogue spill out of his mouth, and throwing that high kick like it’s signing his paychecks. Emotion is attempted in certain flashbacks to happier times. The Rickenbacker family was in full swing until the damned Flesh Pirates came along. Of course, there’s more emotion in Van Damme’s hair than in his face.

Much of what Cannon Films had to offer, especially in the sci-fi stable, was laughable, but it was also enjoyable on a purely nonsensical level. The same, sadly, can’t be said for Cyborg, post-apocalyptic movie that thinks dressing the bad guys in chains and having the good guy throw in a couple of split-leg drop kicks is satisfactory action. It’s not.

Why I Love It!

Chief amongst the Flesh Pirates is the big baddie, a gutteral, crystal-eyed protagonist known as Fender. Vincent Klyn plays the bad guy with complete fervor, totally unaware that he can’t deliver a line of dialogue if his life depended on it. Regardless, Fender comes off quite menacing, and, being in the movie more than he probably should be, he always serves as a fall-back in any given scene. In a rare moment of innovation, Chalmers and Pyun decide to let Fender narrate the opening VO monologue explaining how the world has changed. What’s more is that it offers right there in the opening 30 seconds of the film the reasoning behind the Flesh Pirates’ attempt to sabotage the cure for the plague. If only more of that innovation could have come out.

If only Fender had appeared in a better film, Vincent Klyn might be more fondly remembered. He would go on to appear in Point Break, but he would get his ass handed to him by not only Patrick Swayze but Keanu Reeves, as well. Also, they both make it more believable than the Van Damage offered in Cyborg.

The crucifixion scene has a slap-yourself-in-the-head-but-it’s-awesome ending to it. It’s best not to analyze it. Let’s just say if Van Damme had been cast in The Passion of the Christ, it would have ended much differently. Pontius Pilate would have had foot prints on his face.

Also, Cyborg would prove popular enough to garner a sequel, one starring Elias Koteas, Angelina Jolie, and Jack Palance, no less. Anything that gives Koteas more work, either directly or indirectly, can’t be all bad.

Junkfood Pairing: Slinger

Take two eggs, throw on some hash browns, some hamburger or your preferred breakfast meat of choice, cover that bad boy with heaping helps of chili and cheese, and you’ve got one of the many reasons why people in the mid-west find it so hard to fit through doors on occasion. I live in St. Louis. It’s okay to rib us, if you can actually find our ribs.

The slinger is not only the career choice Van Damme makes in Cyborg, it’s a St. Louis native, and, much like Cyborg, it goes down quite a lot easier once you’ve got 3 or 26 beers in you. So grab a fork, grab a VHS player, and don’t stray too far from the bathroom, cause one of these things is about to make a trip to it necessary.

Stuff your fat face with more Junkfood Cinema.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.