Thursday, May 18, 2017

Nemesis (USA, 1992)

OK, we admit it: we have a weak spot for Albert Pyun movies ever since we caught his directorial debut, The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982 / trailer), in a double feature with Beim Jodeln juckt die Lederhose (1974 / full movie), complete with Spanish subtitles, at some long-gone grindhouse down the street from Langer's Deli on Alvarado. Then and there we knew that we had found a contemporary B-movie master, a director with enough talent to both write an entertainingly trashy script and direct with enough visual flair that the obvious low budget becomes only an added cheesy seasoning. (It also didn't hurt that the move featured both Richard Lynch [12 Feb 1940 – 19 June 2012] and the once-hunkadelic George Maharis, seen below not from the movie, two of our favorite "unknown" actors.)
Since then, we've seen a number of Pyun's movies, and while they might feature less breast and fewer cult names and has-beens than, say, Fred Olen Ray, they are indubitably far better directed and way more entertaining, even when the script is as equally lax, acting just as shoddy, and the budget almost as low. (Dollman [1991 / trailer], anyone?)

For a while, Pyun was an extremely active man, churning out as many as five films in one year — in 1992, however, he only released two features: the less-than-commendable experiment, Deceit (final scene), and Nemesis, which has proven to be one of his most enduringly popular and well-received films. Easy to see why, for this flick is definitely one craptastically entertaining cyberpunk flick, even if it does lose its theme somewhere amidst all the action.

Taking a sizable amount of Blade Runner (1982 / trailer) and a liberal dose of Terminator (1984 / trailer), Nemesis is a good ol' fashioned man versus machine action flick set in a dystopian future, one where most of the landscape is either lush or burnt and everyone — including little old grannies — has a gun. Now and then Nemesis poses existential questions about what makes a human "human" and when is one just a machine, but while this theme does raise its hand every so often to let the viewer know it's still there, for the most part this and other themes generally get lost in what is probably some of the most non-stop action ever found in a movie not made in Hong Kong.

OK, we'll admit that our DVD was pretty fucked: hazy and boxed, it looked as if it were copied from some ten-year-old VHS, but even the low-grade quality couldn't take the edge off of some truly great action sequences, explosions, and shootouts — the last all the more ballistic since, in the future that is that of Nemesis, weapons never have to be reloaded and one has to shoot a hundred rounds to hit anything further away than two yards.

Though set somewhere in 2027 — ten years hence, by now — everyone wears 1990s high style. And you know what? It doesn't really look all that bad anymore, especially on the babes: no way would we tell Rosaria (Jennifer Gatti) not to sit at our table, much less would we shoot her dead, even if she did insist that we were nothing but an android. (Women have said worse to us.)

True, she did try to kill our intrepid hero earlier in the movie, but hell: he'd just wiped out her entire team. But at that point in the tale, Alex (the beefcakey Olivier Gruner, of Soft Target aka Crooked [2006]) was a cop on the job and 86.5% human, fully convinced he was doing good for mankind. Only later, after he becomes even less human and suffers an intense case of burnout, does he begin to question his life and work — at which point his old boss Commissioner Farnsworth (the eternally underrated character actor Tim Thomerson, of Fade to Black [1980 / trailer], Cherry 2000 [1987 / trailer], and way, way more) — implants a bomb on his heart and forces him to find his former android handler and lover, Jared (Marjorie Monaghan), who seems to have joined the underground.

In all truth, for all the talk about how "Alex is the best", he sure seems to get shot a lot, and with so many bad guys always so close on his tail and hidden around every corner, it seems odd that anyone would need him to find anyone. But the plethora of non-characters — familiar faces that come and go in the movie include genre faves Brion James and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa — does allow for a lot of chase scenes, shootouts, stunts, and deaths.

One dispensable non-character who shows up for all of five minutes is Billy, played by a young "Tom Janes" (aka Thomas "Hung" Jane), whom we never see dressed and who spends most of the time displaying his pre-Nautilus butt to the viewer. He disappointed us greatly by not asking, unlike Dolly Sharp aka Helen Wood in a somewhat similar situation in an earlier, more-famous movie, "Do you mind if I smoke while you're eating?"

Needless to say, Jared went rouge because though an android, she found something human within herself. But even as she found her humanity, she lost her form — it is more her "presence", her "soul" you might say, that ends up helping Alex rediscover his humanity, even as her presence raises yet another existential question: to what extent are we ourselves simply due to our memories, and if they are copied, is that copy us? (A question handled with far greater intelligence and restraint in the excellent German sci-fi flick Transfer [2010 / German trailer].)

Nemesis suffers somewhat from its elliptical plot development, which tends to jump about like a frog on a hotplate, and the plethoria characters that come and go. For that, it has hot babes, great locations, and yitloads of well-staged, over-the-top action and explosions, if perhaps one too many chase scenes and shootouts that last too long. Gruner only kicks butt about once or twice — not much for a guy known for kickboxing — but for that he shoots up half the world, which also shoots back. How he ever manages to keep his face and chest as cleanly shaven as he does is beyond us, for he never seems to have a moment's peace anywhere in the movie. Former TV sex symbol Deborah Shelton (of Blood Tide [1982 / trailer]) shows up for a short time as the android Julian to drive the plot forward before going down in a hail of bullets; she has a nude scene and, interestingly enough, her obvious breast implants even serve to emphasize her character, as she plays an artificial human, if one that (like Jared) has discovered her humanity.
Towards the end of Nemesis, director/scriptwriter Pyun* seems to become indecisive about resolution of the flick, for he sticks in a few too many false ones. Nevertheless, Nemesis is great B-movie fodder which, as good B-movie fodder should, goes well with a six pack and chips.
Filmed with alternative endings, the Nemesis we saw infers that the battle against the cybernetic world Alex is now undertaking is still open; another ending, which is tacked on the versions lacking the final Terminator-inspired fight in an airplane cargo hold, infers that Alex won't live long after the final credits. Regardless of the ending seen, the "official" sequels that followed — Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995 / trailer), Nemesis III: Prey Harder (1996 / trailer) and Nemesis 4: Death Angel (1997 / trailer) — occur in a timeline in which Alex (and humans) loses the battle.
Pyun (and another director, Michael Schroeder) also explored the world of Nemisis in other "semi"-sequels, namely: Knights aka Cyborg Warriors (1993 / trailer) and Omega Doom (1996 / trailer), not to mention in the alternative cyborg world of Cyborg (1989 / trailer), Cyborg 2 (1993 / trailer), Cyborg 3 (1994 / trailer) and the yet-to-be-released Cyborg Nemesis: The Dark Rift (20?? / trailer).
* "Rebecca Charles", the credited screenwriter, is merely a pseudonym.

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