1989. The Reagan ’80s led into the first Bush era, the Cold War’s over but its damage eternal, the drug war is raging, and Cannon Films, the B-movie grindhouse of “The Delta Force” and “Cobra” fame helmed by Israeli-American workhorses Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, is barely recovering from bankruptcy. With $2 million lost on sets for an ill-fated “Masters of the Universe” sequel, they turned to in-house pulpster Albert Pyun to come up with a plot to salvage those sets in less than a weekend. “Cyborg” was the phoenix born from those ashes, and appropriately plays like an id-fueled fever dream put together in a brainstorm. The result is a post-apocalyptic actioner where a roundhouse-wielding drifter has to rescue a bionic scientist from the chaos-loving pirates wishing to control the cure she’s carrying for a world-ravaging plague. There’s levels to this shit: The film is both set in the ruins of society and in the ruins of another movie.
Jean-Claude Van Damme, fresh off his breakout Cannon roles as huckster champion Frank Dux in “Bloodsport” and Background Dancing Spectator in “Breakin’,” plays the aforementioned drifter, Gibson Rickenbacker. The cyberpunk-looking pirates are led by Vincent Klyn as Fender Tremolo, best known for getting his ass handed to him by Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves in “Point Break,.” Several other characters are named after guitar companies, which may be an extension of the dystopian setting where, say, characters are controlled by brands, but is more likely a reflection on the film’s original, riff-heavy soundtrack suggesting the dope-filled haze of a future-shocked prog album (the studio cut on Netflix features a less immediate, but more cerebral and equally appropriate synth-based score).
Don’t get me wrong, this film is a HOT MESS™, but one whose slapdash construction leads to fairly inspired, left-turn variations on genre tropes that are kind of poetic, even: The opening exposition is laid out by the antagonist, and functions less as the genre’s usual speculative warning than a grievance that anyone would try and fix the chaos it thrives on; two sequences use poster-style art as backdrops; a village massacre pairs melting wedding tchotchkes with the newlyweds’ death; a dangling cross early on foreshadows a later crucifixion; back story is doled out in New Wave-ish (French or Hollywood) flashbacks adorned with technicolor brutality; and the minimalist dialogue/acting style suggests hypnosis. Even sober it’s a singular, transfixing throwaway that simulates intoxication by virtue of its off-kilter weirdness, but should you decide to inhale, a circuit-fried crystal vision awaits.