Monday, March 25, 2013

Cyber Monday: T-FORCE (1994)

One of our mottos here should be “so many movies, so little time.”  Despite plugging away at this tiny blog for nearly 3 years, we still haven’t covered 1/10 of what we want.  A perfect example is the storied catalog of PM Entertainment. Sure, we hit a few here and there (ALIEN INTRUDER, the phenomenal RAGE) but we are far from doing an all-encompassing overview.  Born from the 80s direct-to-video outfit City Lights, PM was conceived by producers Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi (hence the PM) as an independent production company that catered exclusively to the video market with a series of action films.  They kicked off with some real cheap stuff (just to give you an idea, Dan Haggerty was in an early one), but soon kicked into high gear by getting B-movie stars like Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Lorenzo Lamas, and Wings Hauser (who even directed a few outings) in their films.

Starting around 1994, the company really started finding its groove.  The budgets got bigger and that meant the explosions did too.  Under the guidance of stunt coordinators like Spiro Razatos and Red Horton, PM was (in my opinion) producing better action scenes than most major studios at the time.  Cars flipped through explosions as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ego, always landing on a perfectly placed crash cam.  It was damn high art, I tell ya!  Even though they weren’t shown theatrically, the PM stuff was a godsend for us lame folks still going through withdrawal after the Cannon boys closed up shop.  Even better is around this time the Pepin and Merhi boys started expanding their universe and brought their style of slam-bang action over to the science fiction world (no doubt due to the success of some unknown film named TERMINATOR 2).  One of their earliest full blown sci-fi outings was T-FORCE.  Can you guess what the “T” stands for?

Now this logo I can get behind!
The film opens in an unidentified future where a group of terrorists led by Samuel Washington (Vernon Wells) take over a high rise housing a U.N. ambassador.  Five minutes in and I’m getting Wez from THE ROAD WARRIOR shooting people and throwing a woman out a window?  SOLD!   Anyway, this sounds like a job for the T-Force, a group of five cyborgs, er, cybernauts trained to kill and put the termination in their “T” name.  The team consists of leader Adam Omega (Evan Lurie), Cain (Bobby Johnston), Zeus (Deron McBee), Mandragora (Jennifer MacDonald) and Athens (R. David Smith).  Wait, you sure this isn’t a bootleg version of AMERICAN GLADIATORS?  Also along for the ride is Lt. Jack Floyd (Jack Scalia), a renegade cop who plays by his own rules and hates robots.  Can you see guess where this is going? The hostage crisis goes smoothly with only Athens taking some irreparable damage. Unfortunately, the team’s credo of “infiltrate, locate, destroy on contact” (damn, I wish they had made that rhyme as “infiltrate, locate, eliminate” has such a ring to it) ends up resulting in a helicopter with six innocent hostages onboard being blown up.

Anyway, losing six innocent civilians is always bad PR (unless you’re in the Bush administration) and Mayor Pendleton (Erin Gray, still rocking it in her 40s) orders cybernaut creator Dr. Jonathan Gant (Martin E. Brooks, who also built THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN) to dismantle the four remaining bots. Naturally, the robots object and find a loophole when they realize the order of termination conflicts with their primary directive of self preservation.  Well, actually, Cain doesn’t buy their logic and he stays behind after the other three kill their creator and decide to take out the “corrupt” law enforcement that ordered their termination.  The lawbreaking bots hole up in a “decriminalized zone” (meaning: empty factory and rock quarry) and it is now up to Floyd to track them down before they assassinate the mayor. And who better to help him out than someone who can think just like them? Yep, the hard drive hatin’ cop just got himself a new partner in cyborg cutie Cain!  They quickly jump on the trail of our renegade robots and maybe – just maybe! – Floyd will come around to the idea of having a “tin man” as his partner.

T-FORCE isn’t quite a PM classic, but it is a great time waster.  Yes, the script is clich├ęd as they come (if you saw ALIEN NATION [1988], you already saw this) but the film makes up for it with a good cast and action scenes every 10 minutes or so.  Jack Scalia is very good as the lead and you can buy him as the grizzled cop who holds a grudge against machines because they put his old man out of work at the auto factory back in the day.  He would do two more sci-fi action pictures with PM (THE SILENCERS and DARK BREED) and both are definitely recommended.  One other impressive thing is he does a lot of his own stunt work.  Bobby Johnston is a former Playgirl model so he was probably cast for that alone, but he is also fine as the robotic partner and the rapport with Scalia is nicely done.  Evan Lurie, who is a dead ringer for WCW’s Kanyon, is also entertaining as the lead villain (although his style did lead me to wonder why a doctor would give a cyborg a pony tail).  I do wish director Richard Pepin had done a bit more to establish the time period of the film though. Seriously, you can’t have anyone say a date?  The closest we get is someone referring to a weapon as “vintage 20th century.”  It is odd because they do a lot of things right like the cyborg designs and even little stuff like a convenience that proudly sells guns, booze and groceries.  Of course, I can’t complain too much about a film that has two cyborgs break into a sex scene after they discover a nudie mag lying on the floor of their steel mill headquarters.  Genius!

PM's executive conference?
Of course, as with most PM films, the biggest asset is the crazy ass stuntwork.  You’d think PM stood for Plenty o’ Mayhem because they blow stuff up real good here.  In fact, the first 25 minutes is nothing but action with the high rise hostage situation.  Stunt coordinators Joe Murphy and Red Horton love them some big explosions and the abandoned steel mill (also seen in the likes of Albert Pyun’s NEMESIS and DOLLMAN) provides the perfect backdrop for goodness, gracious great balls of fire!  They have some insane stuff going down here, including some explosions so close to the actors that the singed hairs on the back of James Hetfield's neck stand up any time they go off.  Whether it is commitment to their filmmaking craft or a bit of craziness (I suspect a bit of both), it is practical stuff like real cars flippin’ and big bombs a bustin’ that makes this 100 minutes worth my time.  You can take your fancy CGI flames and shove ‘em!

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