July 28, 2011

JCVD, crossed up

The only interesting thing about Cyborg is that it represents another step in the career of one Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Van Damme is trying to make the leap from European body building champion to American movie star. It has been done before, and Arnold Schwarzengger’s lessons are there for all to study.

Van Damme has learned well. Like Schwarzenegger, he knows not to talk much (Belgian-born, his accent is about as thick as his biceps) and to do a lot of scenes with his shirt off. He has the body and he has the looks, although he doesn’t seem blessed with Schwarzenegger’s droll sense of humor. In fact, he doesn’t display much sense of anything, except how to move.

His martial-arts skills came in handy in his first starring vehicle, Bloodsport, a karate-chopping extravaganza that did strong business internationally. Now comes Cyborg, a trip into the science-fiction landscape of The Terminator and The Road Warrior.

The script (by Kitty Chalmers) is pretty much incoherent. The earth, some years in the future, has been devastated by a plague, but a cure is held in the brain circuits of a cyborg, a robot. This cyborg must reach, of all places, Atlanta, where a small group of scientists is waiting to secure the data. Times are tough for a traveling cyborg, because a group of marauders called the Flesh Pirates are roaming around asserting their nasty will.

So Van Damme, a sort of roving samurai, makes sure the cyborg reaches Atlanta. Director Albert Pyun obviously has been inspired by Kurosawa’s action movies, and there’s some decently mounted hand-to-hand fighting and a violent climactic battle in the rain. There’s also a wild and weird crucifixion scene in which Van Damme painfully knocks himself off the cross when the bad guys aren’t looking. Ouch.

Otherwise, Van Damme glowers, and manages lines like, “I deedn’t make thees world.” I have to admit that when he and the main villain (Vincent Klyn, a champion surfer) faced off, they reminded me of Hans and Franz, the Germanic body building brothers on “Saturday Night Live,” flexing and bellowing. But don’t tell Van Damme I said that; his muscles aren’t cotton stuffed in a sweat shirt, they’re real.

First published in the Herald, April 14, 1989

To be fair, maybe the cyborg is going to Atlanta because the Center for Disease Control is there. And they’d be smart enough to have built a secure plague-resistant HQ, for sure. So I take that comment back, and regret the umpteenth iteration of the “accent thick as muscles” line, too. Frankly this movie sounds like fun, especially the part about JCVD knocking himself off the cross in mid-crucifixion. For more on the cinema of Albert Pyun, check the review of Dangerously Close and the comments section.