“I wanted to tell this terrorist that I had given a lot of thought to what she said back in LA. About whether I was more machine than human. I wanted to tell her she started me thinking. I really wanted to tell her all this – but she was dead.”
Everything you need to know about Nemesis (not to mention Albert Pyun’s 90’s career) is almost perfectly encapsulated in this mournful – yet awkwardly amusing – voice over. Pyun, for those who don’t know, was a spirited filmmaker whose ambition often far outstripped his his talent or his budget who specialised in bringing low-tech cyberpunk to the video rental stores after getting a taste for it after making the Jean Claude Van Damme grunge-fest, Cyborg.
Be he a thrift shop James Cameron, a bargin basement Ridley Scott or a shameless thief of John Woo flavoured gunplay, you can’t say that the late, great(ish) Pyun didn’t earn his keep and with Nemesis, he provided the world with his what could be charitably called his masterpiece.
In the year 2027, the world is having something of a problem with illegal androids and many criminals have been playing Pimp My Ride with their bodies by stocking up on bio-enhancements. Working as a sort of assassin, sort of bounty hunter, for the LAPD that is in no way like a Blade Runner (wink, wink), part-cyborg Alex Rain is on a mission when he’s ambushed and badly injured by the terrorist faction The Red Army Hammerheads.
Rebuilt and internally agonizing about how his human to robot ratio will eventually effect his humanity, Rain eventually hunts down and kills those responsible and then subsequently retires to grow a noticably unsightly mullet and become a hustler (it’s nice to have goals, right?), but he’s eventually kidnapped and brought back to the LAPD under the orders of his old boss Commissioner Farnsworth.
It seems that Rain is needed for a special mission in order to bring down his former android lover, Jared who is planning to leak plans of the upcoming summit between America and Japan to the Hammerheads and he’s given further incentive by the bomb that’s been implanted in his heart.
However, after being set loose in Java, Alex soon discovers he’s actually on the wrong side of a bizarre conspiracy as it turns out that the Hammerheads are actually the good guys and that newly-created androids have been taking the place of important humans in higher branches of society with Farnsworth being one of them.
Suddenly going from a burnt out android hunter to becoming the unwilling saviour of humanity, Alex has to fulfill Jared’s mission and try and guarantee mankind’s continued freedom by engaging villains in ferocious gun battles in isolated, cheap-to-film locations. Can Alex make peace with his android nature and “Rain” on the android’s parade?
After reading my intro, you might be under the misapprehension that Albert Pyun was some sort of unheralded genius that plied his trade in the badlands of underfunded, indie action cinema – but despite the oodles of unfocused energy the director hurled at such ramshackle epics such as The Sword And The Sorcerer, Cyborg, Dollmsn and the infamous 1990’s Captain America, the guy simply couldn’t string a coherent plot together to save his life. His films were the very personification of 90’s, direct to video trash that unabashedly rode the coattails of other, better movies and yet, due to his prolific nature, his movies were frickin’ everywhere when you scanned the shelves of your local Blockbuster.
Nemesis – a bastard love child of Terminator, Blade Runner and every bit of cyberpunk fan fiction ever written by an overexcited twelve year old – could be described as the quintessential Albert Pyun flick as an almost impenetrable plot collides with a bunch of martial artists desperately trying to keep up with a couple of seasoned character actors as everything explodes around them. French kickboxer Olivier Gruner may have a gravy-thick accent makes Jean Claude Van Damme seem like he enunciates like Brian Blessed, but he certainly looks the part despite kicking off the film wearing an overcoat that blatantly looks two sizes too big for him. However, giving him a Deckard-style, world weary voice over doesn’t really help the plot much when you can only understand roughly 70% of what he says and despite the appearance of Tim Thomerson (Trancers), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat) and a bewilderingly awful German accent from Brion James, the story is stubbonly hard to follow. There’s enough content here to fill three movies and virtually none of it makes a blind bit of sense – in fact I didn’t even realise cyborgs where replacing people until the last 20 minutes of the movie and the hyperactive, anything-goes nature of Pyun’s style flips the script quicker than you can follow, suddenly shifting location from a filter-drenched LA to having our heroes leap off waterfalls in the middle of the jungle like it’s suddenly a Predator movie.
However, Pyun may have terminal problems with characterization, tone, plot coherence and virtually every other aspect of the filmmaking experience, but by fuck could the man shoot the crap out of disused concrete factories. Almost making up for the tangled plot, bad acting, terrible dialogue (“Remember the bomb in your heart!”) and some impressively awful character names (Max Impact, anyone?) is a bunch of action sequences that go suprisingly hard on spraying the surrounding area with frenzied gunfire. I don’t know if someone got a bulk deal on bullet squibs, but when it comes to collateral damage, Nemesis punches way above its weight, endlessly having stunt doubles hurl themselves out of exploding windows and including shotguns that fire rounds that inexplicably explode like mortar shells.
Alongside some rubbery android battle damage effects and a primitive stop motion robot who engages Gruner some final act fisticuffs, Nemesis manages to almost balance its crappy nature with some strong, so bad it’s good vibes, but arguably the best thing about the film is that there’s a very good chance that Pyun actually managed to influence some major players with his minor league extravaganza. Tim Thomerson’s villainous Farnsworth, with his slicked back hair, tailored suit and shades could very well be an ancestor of The Matrix’s Agent Smith (there’s no way the Cyberpunk mad Wachowski’s haven’t seen it) and some of the weird droid tricks (one has a face that splits open to reveal a gun barrel) have subsequently popped up in an anime or two.
So is Nemesis good? Not in a conventional sense, no – but it’s the perfect movie to invoke the kind of excitable, cordite singed drivel that used to lurk in a video rental store on a Saturday night.