Monday, April 28, 2014

Cyber Monday: RUNNING DELILAH (1992)

When I wasn’t careening wildly through life, during the ‘90s I pretty much exclusively watched HK action films and Italian crime epics. Can you blame me? The ‘90s were a sucking black hole for anything creative. It is as if the ‘80s used up so much awesome that the following decade had to go dry. Horror movies turned into cynical, self-aware outings that felt they were too cool to take themselves seriously, and don’t get me started on ‘90s music with every freakin’ hardass band on the planet going unplugged for charity. The only glimmering ray of hope could be found in your local video store under “sci-fi” and “action”. While most of these jewels of gasoline-fueled goodness were the product of Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi’s PM Entertainment, but not all. It was a good time for action and an even better time for cyborgs.

THE TERMINATOR (1984) is responsible for inspiring low-budget filmmakers in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but it was two other films that really lit a fire under their asses: Albert Pyn’s CYBORG (1989) with its motto of “no money, no time, no problem”, and THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992), which proved that you don’t have to be good, or even liked, to make a buttload of cash. Soon cyborgs and virtual reality movies began flooding the direct to video market which can only mean one thing. Network television took notice.

Tapping the prodigious talents of Aussie director Richard Franklin and erm, Kim Cattrall, ABC television productions decided that they wanted a piece of this lucrative market. In modern times we have TV studios sinking tens of millions into a series, but back in the day it wasn’t like that. TV movies have always been cheap, but particularly during the ‘70s, filmmakers would be forced by this poverty to get creative and make an interesting script and some clunky, but endearing effects work. TV movies such as ABC’s CONDOR (1986) proved this with panache. So what do we have seven years later? 

Kim Cattrall stars as Delilah, a secret agent for an unspecified government organization that is trying to get the goods on a greasy Greek businessman named Kasharian (Yorgo Voyagis) by working as his secretary. Kasharian is involved in some nasty deals with the world’s most wanted terrorist named, what else, Carlos. The only way to get the dope on him is to steal the manifest logs of his illegal arms trading which is, no joke, kept on a floppy disc in the cabinet of the employee break-room next to the coffee maker. Naturally she gets caught after her bitter co-worker, jealous of the boss’ roving eye, snoops on her computer. The Greek and two of his henchmen drive her out to the woods at dusk and empty their clips into her after throwing her down a hill. It must have been a long car ride as she is literally caught while on her lunch break. You’d think any secret agent worth their salt would be able to devise some sort of escape plan during a six hour drive!

Delilah’s “runner” Paul (Billy Zane) has a thing for her (as evidenced by earlier bouts of cloying flirtation), and can’t stand to see her all shot up and dead, so he takes her back to the agency’s super-secret labs and begs a scientist to use her as a test subject for his current experiment. Turns out this experiment is to use cybernetic technology to create the ultimate secret-agent! Kim Cattrall as a cyborg secret agent? Holy jeezus, is this heaven? The answer is a resounding no. It’s exactly the opposite. A deep, dark, burning polar opposite filled with suffering and torment.

In spite of being made better, stronger and faster, by having her spine, eye, ear, hand and leg replaced with robotic parts (without even a single bruise to show for it), Delilah has a total emotional breakdown screaming things like “am I even a woman anymore?” while Billy Zane desperately struggles to look wistfully sympathetic to the sounds of a steel string guitar. She flees the agency’s hospital bed only to find herself in what appears to be downtown Detroit where she is accosted by some homies who think she’s a hot piece of ass in spite of the fact that she has two unfinished robotic limbs that look like garden tools. Come to think of it, there’s probably a website devoted to that. Delilah quickly clubs them with her metal appendage while a group of homeless men laugh around a burn barrel, and decides that the mean streets are just not helping her emotional state.

After a bizarre, forced and way too long scene in which Paul and Delilah laugh in the rain after her hand shocks him, she returns to the agency. Now she gets some flesh put on her limbs (phew, no more spendy effects!), and is informed that she has had an implant in her brain that allows her to learn anything at an accelerated pace. What to do with this new found ability? Highly specialized combat and espionage training, right? Try achieving her lifelong dream of becoming a concert-quality pianist! Now this is riveting television! She also learns how to fight (ummm, wouldn’t this have been covered in her basic training?), do gymnastics, shoot a gun very well (which leads to Paul having his delicate ego bruised at the shooting range) and play the electric guitar while wearing sunglasses.

For the first time, the touching story of a woman trying to cope with acute cyborgosis.

At the 52 minute mark Delilah proclaims to the head of the agency (Dianna Rigg in a completely pointless bit part) “I’m ready!” I should fucking hope so, there’s only another half hour left! At this point Paul and Delilah take off to Paris to scope out a summit meeting that Kasharian is attending. While Delilah pours herself into a tight, black leather outfit (clinically proven to make you spy better) and scopes out the hotel, Paul is back in a super-secret ops room that is so secret they can’t even turn on the lights. Later they reconvene for a simple dinner between the two of them where Delilah demonstrates her futuristic abilities by cooking something with mushrooms in a cast iron skillet. At this point I literally had to pause the film and go wash the dishes in my sink just for a little bit of excitement.

So you figure after all this, the action can begin, right? They decide that since there is only twenty-some odd minutes left in the film they should go after Kasharian and they do! They quickly kidnap him so that they can talk to him in an interrogation room. MAKE. IT. STOOOOP! They convince Kasharian that it would be in his best interest to double cross Carlos at a meeting in an airplane hangar. Great. Now we get some action, right? Well yes, after Delilah lines up for a shot with her rifle about four times and doesn’t shoot, we quite literally get a two second firefight that ends with Delilah (I am not making this up) tripping on a bullet hole in the pavement almost allowing the bad guy to get away, but allowing Paul to show up with a gun in the nick of time so Delilah can shoot the plane out of the sky in a bad ‘90s CG fireball. Speaking of bad CG, the epilogue where Delilah sits on Paul’s lap and makes everything vibrate while the two of them laugh uproariously until the windows of the hotel room explode into the street is probably the worst CG I’ve ever seen in my life, made even worse by the utterly idioticness (it’s a word) of the scene itself.

If you couldn’t tell, this movie is all about relationships and emotions. Imagine a TV movie from the Lifetime network that was incidentally about a secret-agent cyborg and you kind of get the idea. As the newly minted robo-hottie, Cattrall is far too cute and girlie for the role. There is nothing in her sweet, bubble-headed nature that suggests that she could possibly be a secret agent much less any sort of potential threat to a terrorist organization. She does look good in tight pants though. On the other hand, Billy Zane’s uhhh, “acting style” is much more suited to playing a robot as the barest of human emotion (in an extremely emotional movie) is a task of Herculean proportions that he is not able to overcome. Aside from his patented, ludicrous half-smile that he seems to take great pride in, his performance can be found on the periodic table under Pb 82. To make matters worse, the film is simply scene after scene of two people talking about their emotions to the cheesiest of early ‘90s music. Don’t believe me? Here is a sample of dialogue from the 50 minute mark:

Geeze, show a little backbone, will ya?
Paul: “What’s wrong? You don’t have to tell me.”
Delilah: “Sometimes I feel like it is going to be ok. I don’t know exactly how or why, but I feel that way… and then it all comes crashing down around me. Everything… what I’ve lost and I don’t know if I’m going to make it.”
Paul: “You’re going to make it.”
Delilah: “You so sure?”
Paul: “If anyone on this Earth can, it’s you.”
Delilah: “You really think that?”
Paul: “Yes, I do.”
Delilah: “You’re supposed to be the cynic.”
Paul: “That’s right.”
Delilah: “Why the change in philosophy?”
Paul: “No change. I just figure if anyone in this world’s got a chance of making it, it’s a beautiful woman who can kick a man through a wall.”
Delilah: “Thanks, at least I got that to keep me warm.”

'90s cliche #842b: The Slutty Hitwoman
Ghhhaaaa! Shut. Up. For chrissakes, I’ve seen soap operas with more sense of purpose than this movie. Just in case you are thinking it, yes I did take out the most obnoxious exchange in the movie, but it is completely representative of the rest of the film. From the pointless confrontation of the blonde secretary Barbara (Marilyn McIntyre), who makes a big deal out of the boss hitting on Delilah to the wince-inducing absurdity of the final scene, this is a cyborg movie that just doesn’t want to be a cyborg movie. It desperately wants to be a tearjerker romance, except the emotion is hollow and the flirty chemistry between Cattrall and Zane is not only non-existent, but is punishing to watch.

Richard Franklin may be one of the greatest directors ever for one simple fact: he made a sequel to one of the biggest milestones in movie history and it was not just good, but it was great. He will forever claim that throne, at least until Michael Bay’s hotly anticipated CITIZEN KANE: APOCALYPSE comes out. Unfortunately, this is a film that really should be left off of his resume. It’s so bad, I feel the need to apologize to Mimi Lesseos. Maybe, if I'm lucky, she'll take me back.

2 Reactions:

  1. Yeah, that one is pretty bad. You should check out the "Chameleon" TV movies starring Bobbie Phillips. Same basic principle. lots more manly action.

  2. Glad to see I'm not the only one who has suffered through this. Thanks for the recommendation, I'll check out those "Chameleon" flicks.


All comments are moderated because... you know, the internet.