The television adapted bastardization of his beloved illustrated Robot Ninja leaves comic book artist Lenny Miller with a bad taste in his mouth. His disgust with the direction angers him to part ways with the project, leaving the televised rights in the hands of a careless and uninspired studio crews and execs, but that won’t stop Miller’s creative juggernaut of the captivatedly violent, robot vigilante. Inspiration takes heart-rending form when Miller happens upon a roadside abduction and rape of a young couple where his attempt at a rescue ends tragic with the couple being brutally murdered and him severely injured, but with the help of his good inventor friend, Dr. Goodnight, the frustrated comic-book artist becomes the Robot Ninja, just as depicted in his comics, with a vengeful plan to hunt down the assailants and put a bloody end to their wrongdoing reign of terror. A good first night out ends with one thug dead and an ego boost for Miller, but Robot Ninja’s actions don’t deterrent crime and, in fact, crime hits back hard when not only Robot Ninja becomes the target, but also his friend Dr. Goodnight and innocent bystanders.
“Robot Ninja” is part one of an unintentional two part review segment about directors disowning their own cinematic handy work for X, Y, or Z reasons and while “Robot Ninja” was initially discarded by “Dead Next Door” writer-director J.R. Bookwalter due to poor post production that was essentially out of the filmmaker’s hands and a work print negative thought to have been lost for eternity, Tempe Entertainment foresaw the awesome potential for the late 80’s automaton avenger in an dual format ultimate edition after a unearthed work print surfaced and back into the Bookwalter’s hand to mend and correct his sophomore feature film! Forget Iron Man. Ignore Captain America. Incredible Hulk who? “Robot Ninja” is one of the only true comic book heroes from illustrations to to take a stand against crime passionately and not because if you have great power, there’s great responsibility.
Robot Ninja is the epitome of the combo character that could sway into either hero from the 1980’s, like in Paul Verhoeven’s “Robocop” and Amir Shervan’s “Samurai Cop,” or could even swerve straight up into the villain category though I have no examples floating around near the inner layers of my cerebral cortex, but the Robot Ninja bordered the very blurry gray lines of anti-hero status whether intentionally or not from the perspective you examine. The Robot Ninja character potentially could have set fire to the combo character direct-to-video cult underworld, but fell rather hard and flat on its face in the deadfall of the netherworld instead. None of film’s flaws or woes never sat its hampering weight upon the goldilocks graced shoulders of Michael Todd, who portrayed the clawed hand titular character. Todd’s enthusiasm for the role is beyond necessary, a real A for effort, into powering on Lenny Miller’s illustrated crime combatant. Lenny, aka Robot Ninja, vows to destroy, or rather disembowel, the local gang led by the ruthless Gody Sanchez, a she-devil aimed to please only one person – herself. Maria Markovic, another actor that’s in J.R. Bookwalter’s “Dead Next Door” circle, find herself in the antagonistic role in one of her sole two credits. Markovic’s acting chops are about as stiff as a board, but being surrounded by the right kind of thugs in James Edwards (“Bloodletting”), Bill Morrison (“Ozone”), Jon Killough (“Skinned Alive”), Rodney Shields, and Michael ‘D.O.C.’ Porter, Gody Sanchez is able to achieve par-level black heartedness. “Robot Ninja” round-kicks an uppercut class of actors such as Floyd Ewing Jr., Michael Kemper, the original Dick Grayson Burt Ward (“Batman” television series), the one and only Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”), one of Sam Raimi’s entourage buddies Scott Spiegel, and Bogdan Pecic and the good Dr. Goodnight.
Without doubt, “Robot Ninja” was destined for the direct-to-video market and the quality of work obviously shows, but with flaws aside, the obscure 79 minute feature still manages to be a part of Bookwalter’s “Dead Next Door” universe full of gore, violence, and a distain for human nature despite briefly disavowing “Robot Ninja’s” mucked up existence for years. Subtempeco EFX, comprised of David Lange, Bill Morrison, and Joe Contracer, don’t exactly go cheap when Robot Ninja’s dual blades pierce and pop eye balls inside the skull of some punk or when Lenny’s patching up his injuries without as much flinching in pain, the open, surely is infected wound just pulsates with exploded flesh and blood. Bookwalter’s direction is hazy at times around the beginning with the dynamic between Lenny and his publisher that feels stagnant and irrelevant; however, the comic book scenes interwoven into the meatiest part of the story, the Robot Ninja action, is remarkably cool for a late 80’s budget gas.
Tempe Entertainment have outdone themselves with the region free ultimate edition DVD and Blu-ray combos set of “Robot Ninja” with a “painstakingly” restored 2k film scan from the original 16mm A/B roll cut negative and presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The picture is night and day compared to previous VHS and DVD releases that underwhelm director J.R. Bookwalter’s vision. The vast color palette of various lighting and color schemes during the dream sequences have been gracefully corrected and the contrast has been restored to lighten up the much of the darker, almost unwatchable scenes. Good looking and unobtrusive natural grain from the 16mm stock and the re-edit makes a difference that finally seems cuts together without causing some confusion. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound is entirely new construction from Bookwalter and the lossless tracks have ample range and depth, balanced nicely throughout, and have little-to-no distortion or other imperfections. English and Spanish subtitles are also included. A slew of bonus material on both formats include audio commentaries from J.R. Bookwalter, Matthew Dilts-Williams of Phantom Pain Films, producer David DeCoteau, James L. Edwards, Scott Plummer, David Lange, David Barton, Doug Tilly and Moe Porne of The No-Budget Nightmare. J.R. Bookwalter also has a 21 minute segment about the whole start-to-finish journey with restoring “Robot Ninja,” a Linnea Quigley retrospect on her small role experience in the film, an interview with Scott Spiegel, a location tour with Benjamin Bookwalter, “The Robot Ninja” fan film from 2013 with introduction by director Johnny Dickie, artwork and promotional material, behind the scenes gallery, production stills, “Robot Ninja” unmasked featurette, rough cut outtakes, TV show promo, newscast outtakes, the original VHS release trailer, and Tempe trailers, plus much more. Lets not also forget to mention the stunning cover art by Alex Sarabia, Carol Chable, and David Lange and a new title sequence also by David Lange. Tempe Entertainment’s ultimate edition of “Robot Ninja” is a thing of beauty that should be seen by all who love campy, Sci-Fi horror flicks with grisly skirmishes and intense tragedy in every corner. The restoration work “Robot Ninja” is founded on absolute love, a rare concept seen for direct-to-video features so you know this film must be something special – a true redemption story.
A covert Russian submarine is trying to drill into the Southern Pacific communications system to benefit from United States secrets, but when the gung-ho captain decides to push the drill team to maximum velocity, the submarine inadvertently release a pre-historic, though to be extinct Megalodon. A nearby U.S. military vessel intercepts the heavily damaged Russian sub with a submersible and saves three uncooperative, Kremlin patriotic survivors from Davy Jones locker while barely escaping jaws of the powerful Giant shark. The aging U.S. sea captain, Streeper, and accompanying admiral, King, rely heavily on Commander Lynch to maintain constant attention on the circling predator, while Streeper attempts extracting vital information from the Russian operatives to further establish the hostile tense and disruptive Russian-U.S. relations. When the shark turns its ravenous attention to the vessel, the crew must use their smarts and what’s on board to go head-to-head against a ferocious, battle ready Megalodon!
You really have to hate-to-love The Asylum for producing and capitalizing on highly lucrative films. This past summer’s “The Meg” was a major blockbuster success for not only director John Turteltaub but also for Warner Bros and as if the Carcharocles megalodon wasn’t exploited enough, The Asylum’s “Megalodon” aimed to reap from Jason Statham face-off with “The Meg.” Director James Thomas, who delivered another knock off with “Tomb Invader,” a cash in on last year’s “Tomb Raider” reboot adaptation to the popular video game, submerses himself into the SyFy movie. The SyFy channel is no stranger in shelling out monstrous shark movies; let’s just name a few to paint a picture of what’s being described here: “Sharktopus,” “2-Headed Shark Attack,” “Ghost Shark,” “Jersey Short Shark Attack,” “Malibu Shark Attack,” and let’s not forget to mention the channel’s most prolific and preposterously entertaining “Sharknado” franchise. Unfortunately, sharks an easy target for villainy that viewers can easily digest and be enthralled by their mysterious nature, but to buffoon them with genetic mutations unnatural superpowers stiffens not only their actual gentle prowess, but also attenuates legitimate shark films. That’s not to say that Thomas’ over-saturated titled “Megalodon,” penned by “6-Headed Shark Attack’s” Koichi Petetsky, is a mega hit, but at least the shark isn’t radioactive, isn’t a spliced abomination, and can’t dorsal slice through sand, ice, and earth. The back to simplicity for the man-eating shark is a breath a fresh air in my book.
“Reservoir Dogs’” star Michael Madsen headlines with his name splayed right about the titular creature about to swallow a submersible. Madness, sporting a military non-regulation curly hairstyle, portrays an naval officer, Admiral King, at the end of his lustrous career. King’s lame duck presence is a formulaic means to an end that will decide the fate of more prominent characters so Madsen, as an unconvincing and unconventional U.S. admiral, has screen time that’s limited mostly to the first and third acts and scarcely peppered in between the dynamics of Captain Streeper and Commander Lynch. While Streeper and Lynch essentially share the lead and neither have the star-studded power to be an influencing purchase-me-now headliner, the two onscreen officers are structured as a one-two punch against two opposing forces. “The Demonic Dead’s” Dominic Pace, as Captain Streeper, has promising capabilities as a military ship commander as Pace maintains his usual type casted tough guy role from prior credits while his counterpart, Caroline Harris, plays passively strong in Streeper’s shadow that’s supposed to display edge-bordering defiance but never comes to fruition. As Pace and Harris jockey for lead, Russian submariners, Captain Ivanov and Yana Popov, sheathed a more interestingly perspective on duty versus mortality. Ego Mikitas (“Nazi Overlord”) and “Fear Pharm’s” Amiee Stolte lined “Megalodon” with a sub-story, no pun intended on the sub, as bullheaded survivors aiming to complete their clandestine mission without lifting a finger to assist the opposition. To be fair, the James Thomas script didn’t exactly put the U.S. in good light, scribing Streeper, Lynch, and others as pushy information extractors and the Russian are stereotypical misers of information. If I was being intensely interrogated while a massive shark circled our boat, I would also question the intentions of my captors and not give them squat. Other shipmate actors include Scott Roe (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”), Sebastien Charmant (“Halloween Hell”), Elizabeth Cron (“SuperHot Apocalypse”), Paulina Laurant (“Triassic World”), and Luke Fattorusso.
“Megalodon” provides a laugh track of production inadequacies and a cinematography from Paul Thomas could be said to be straight out of the Michael Bay school of filmmaking, but as far as SyFy premiered movies and The Asylum Home Entertainment films go, “Megalodon” is a Giant Shark sized leap of success. The CGI shark has surprised me being an object of crude, but of commending detail that exhibits an ancient beast marked with battle scars and also exhibiting realism with the donning of an acceptable gray-blue hue. Plus, the shark doesn’t have atomic level laser vision, can’t breathe fire underwater, and has the normal shark fins instead of octopus tentacles. Thank the shark Gods! While the megalodon passes plausibility of natural facts, it’s swimming motion and trajectory checks the box of clunky territory with a rudimentary, two-dimension view of the shark swimming at an unnatural diagonal angle away and toward the ship, like something out of the NES “Jaws the Revenge” video game. The CGI ship and submersible is more of an immediate concern than the CGI shark as Roger Rabbit has more realism. Suffering succotash! Actual location of the ship is a the USS Lane Victory, a defunct military vessel from WWII turned museum that’s docked off California and the museum aspects tactlessly are not veiled from view and, if a modern day military ship is supposed to go toe-to-toe with a megalodon, a ship with brass communication tubes. The obvious museum décor ships “Megalodon” into a strange and bewildering backwards alternate universe that causes confusing and complexities with a quarry full of questions.
MVDVisual and The Asylum Productions presents the SyFy original film, “Megalodon,” onto DVD home video. Original being the suspiciously key word here as original never really goes hand-in-hand with The Asylum produced films. Presented in the original widescreen format, “Megalodon,” for what it’s worth, has distinction despite the questionable special effects. No blotchy or aliasing detected and the coloring renders consistently. The 5.1 surround sound audio tracks has clear verbal dialogue, ample gunfire and explosion range and depth, and no distortions to note. The painfully generic stock score is an ear sore, but has balance and isn’t an overly commanding and obtrusive presence. The trailer is the only special feature available, but to broaden upon the lack of bonus material, the Asylum DVD releases always have kitschy graphic cover art and “Megalodon” is front and back gold standard that exaggerate the film’s action-packed appeal. Director James Thomas’ dual story batters the pre-history shark narrative to nearly null, but “Megalodon’s” unwavering action chums the water that begins with a large shark taking a bite out of a foreign reconnaissance submarine and ends with Michael Madsen extinguishing a cigar on the said shark’s large snout in pure Michael Madsen fashion.
In the year 2027, enhanced humanistic cyborgs virtually run the planet with the renowned L.A.P.D. being no exception. Alex Rain, one of L.A.’s finest brute cops, is partially cyborg himself, but the essence of his soul remains human intact while his synthetic flesh cloaks the icy machine beneath. After tracking down suspected cyborg terrorists and almost losing his life in the struggle to stop them, Alex questions his dwindling humanity, leading him down a path of unfulfilling revenge and botched smuggling before his former employer, the L.A.P.D. commissioner named Farnsworth, tracks him down and uses deadly coercion to force Alex as a pawn in dangerous covert mission. The burnt out cop is thrusted back into the fray of his former life when Farnsworth orders him to retrieve data from the treacherous female cyborg, Jared, who was once Alex’s partner and lover, before she hands over the sensitive information to a group of cyborg terrorists who call themselves The Red Army Hammerheads. With a micro bomb implanted near his heart as insurance, Alex has no choice but to accept the assignment before detonation in 3 days and with his time running out, finding Jared isn’t the problem as Alex comes to realize that deception has convoluted the stakes and nothing is who or what they seem.
Albert Pyun’s 1992 cyberpunk action-thriller “Nemesis” is an explosive-heavy, science fiction existentialism film never before seen, or even aware of, by this reviewer, but the ground-worked narrative has remained a constant piece of foundation in being the byproduct of inspiration extracted from other cyberpunk films of its kind, such as “Robocop,” “Blade Runner,” and “The Terminator.” “Nemesis” has a presence much to the tune of another film, “Cyborg,” starring John-Claude Van Damme and that inclination would inevitably make a world of sense when the awe-striking epiphany lands that Pyun also directed that film, also utilizing some of the same actors for his early 90’s cybernetic dystopian feature. In reviewing Pyun’s credits, the assumption can be made that the filmmaker has a sturdy hard-on for the intertwining of mankind and machine as not only did the director write and direct “Cyborg” and helmed “Nemesis,” but went on to be a part of, whether director, writer, or producer, of four more “Nemesis” sequels with a fifth being produced and shot, but scrapped in post-production due to Pyun’s flailing mental health. Rebecca Charles fed the scribal beast as “Nemesis’” screenwriter, along with penning “Nemesis 2: Nebula” and “Nemesis 3: Time Lapse.”
Alex Rain is a cold cut character, sliced thick like a cool cucumber on top of a hard to wedge salad. Rain’s iciness symbolizes his downtrodden humanity status and with each part of his body shattered from destruction, he becomes one step closer to being an automaton with eye brows. B-movie action star Olivier Guner essentially make a big career breakthrough with “Nemesis” as his sophomore feature. Guner’s military background suitably solidifies his physique as a workaholic cyborg cop while also presenting a rough cut speech impediment that’s very straight forward and without emotion. Some would say that Gruner’s approach fits his half-human, half-toaster oven character and I would say that would be correct. The 80’s and 90’s saw a crowded entry list of action stars, including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many others in various degrees of success – and Olivier Gruner became one of those faces that had since then been lost over the years; Gruner’s performance in “Nemesis” lacked pizazz which could have been the contributing factor to his success, but the monotonic, unflattering one-liners and blank face stare didn’t spark any fires on top of his average muscular frame. His performance, to keep with the fire motif, didn’t provide the oxygen, a combustible, or a flammable source to quickly set ablaze a trail for semi-popularity amongst his peers and that’s where “Nemesis” falters in entertainment value. Comparatively, “Trancers” franchise actor, Tim Thomerson, is full of range and vigor as an concealing Commissioner Farnsworth. Thomerson, in his early 40’s at the time of filming, displayed an impressive physicality to his role, keeping up nicely with his onscreen rival. Farnsworth, from the get-go, reeks of desperation when pressuring Alex to do his bidding and Thomerson really nails the part and can switch on the proverbial dime as an egocentric field operative when chasing Alex through the jungles on the Hawaii set. The night and day performance is a stark contrast between the two actors. What’s mostly disappointing about “Nemesis’” cast that favorable characters come and go; some the characters a pinned with terrific actors such as Shang Tsung himself, “Mortal Kombat’s” Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, as the leader of The Red Army Hammerheads and the late, great Brion James (“Red Heat”) chirping a lousy German accent of the Commissioner’s right hand man. The cast has many other recognizable names that, again, come and go, including a strung out looking Merle Kennedy (“Night of the Demons 2”) as Max Impact, Marjorie Monaghan as the algorithmic beauty Jared, Vincent Klyn (“Cyborg”) as a disposable bodyguard, an extremely fit and nude Deborah Shelton (“Body Double”), voice actor Nicholas Guest (“Dollman”), brief cameo by Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”), a fresh faced version of “The Predator’s” Thomas Jane, and Thomas Jane’s bare ass.
The financial backing was obviously designated for a particular department in the “Nemesis” workshop and that department was special effects. Explosions, rotoscoping, stop-motion, sculpture, implosions, practical effects and makeup are just the tip of the iceberg. Frayed wires and eye ball cannons are the elegant touch that makes “Nemesis” a cult favorite and bring substance to a clunky storyline and divisively dynamic acting. However, not all the specials are pinpoint precision and grounded by reality. The one scene that stands above the rest when Farnsworth is hot in pursuit of Alex and Max and he’s shelling off rounds of a shotgun, standing relatively still, blasting away without moving the barrel around to compensate for his prey’s length of distance gained or even when they decided to make quick pivots in direction. Somehow, the rounds hit very close to Alex and Max and that’s not all, they even explode like a single stick of TNT. ACME must have had a hand in the special effects department because the scene sure was loony. Yet, the implosion of a monolithic silo was uber-impressive, well-executed, and really ritzy for the silver screen.
Imperial Entertainment’s “Nemesis” infiltrates onto another home video release, a region free, dual DVD and Hi-Def 1080p Blu-ray format release, from MVDVisual under their MVD Rewind Collection series. Sheathed by a slick, retro-grade slipcover with familiar art, reminiscent of the now decade old Sterling DVD release, the special collector’s edition provides two aspect ratios, an anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 and a widescreen 1.78:1. This MVDVisual Release has stellar detail in the texture and in framing that are exhibited in various tint shades, such as yellow and blue, and eventually cough up toward a more natural look into the second act when Alex reaches the rough neighborhood of Shang Loo, Java. Even though the visual compositions and mold work doesn’t pop with color and are a bit fuzzy, “Nemesis” is a product of it’s time, the early 1990’s and you can’t fault Pyun’s film for that. The English 5.1 surround sound is beautiful. So beautiful and potent, in fact, that you can actually understand Olivier Gruner’s mumbling, putting dialogue for all characters right into the front row while offering a stimulating range and depth of ambience sound, an unlimited variety of explosions, and plenty of miscellany cyborg hubbub. Other language are available, including French, German, as well as English in 2.0 stereo and there are English and German SDH subtitles available The Blu-ray bonus features include new interviews with producer Eric Karson and director Albert Pyun, “Nemesis 2.0” the director’s cut with Albert Pyun audio commentary, and original theatrical trailer. The DVD is the director’s cut and also includes the Japanese cut with Japanese subtitles burnt-in. Bonus features for the DVD include introductions by the director Albert Pyun and star Olivier Gruner, an afterword by Albert Pyun, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with star Olivier Gruner, the making of segment involving the hefty special effects, stunt work, and visual effects, a featurette entitled “Killcount,” a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, TV spots, Key Art Photo gallery, and, top it all off, a mini-poster inside the casing. Inside a killer definitive, two-format and disc set from MVDvisual, “Nemesis” hones in on the existentialism notion of what being human actually means to each and every one of us through the bombardment of gun fights and jumbo explosions on top of a conglomerate cyborg coup that peaks with hard bodies and even harder viewer contemplation.