Nemesis (1992) (95 min)
Directed by Albert Pyun.
Written by Rebecca Charles.
Starring Olivier Gruner, Tim Thomerson and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.
Followed by Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995)
In 1992 Albert Pyun (Arcade / Cyborg) directed his 14th feature length film since debuting in 1982 with the sword & sorcery fantasy, The Sword and the Sorcerer. At the time of writing this review, Pyun has directed over 50 movies, so to say that Pyun, as a director, was (and still is) prolific is an understatement… He is a fucking machine!
“State of the fucking art, Alex!”
If you are 30+ like me, then it is very likely that you have already seen one of Albert Pyun’s movies on either cable television or on VHS. And whilst many have considered Pyun’s work to be low-grade b-movie nonsense, Pyun always presented himself as a director willing to take risks. He could take a concept and create something entertaining (and profitable) from the bare minimum; whether it be budget or time constraints. This has solidified his cult status, and is why I’m about to speak so fondly of the cyberpunk inspired action flick known as Nemesis.
In the year 2027, ‘information terrorists’ threaten to destroy order in society. Working for the Los Angeles Police Department, Alex Rain (Olivier Gruner – Angel Town) is gunned down during a routine assignment by a small faction of the terrorist group known as The Red Army Hammerheads; but not before dispatching of of all but their leader, Rosaria (Jennifer Gatti). As Rosaria approaches the severely injured Alex, she discovers that his injured leg is cybernetic.
“We’re trying to save humankind, and you, you protect the machines… Well no wonder you protect them, you’re mostly machine, you’re not really human anymore are you?”
In an act of defiance Alex lifts up his head, looking at Rosaria dead in the eye, and responds:
“86.5% is still human.”
Infuriated, Rosaria takes aim and releases multiple slugs from her sidearm into Alex’s cybernetic leg and torso. Yet Alex survives! And after six months of cybernetic reconstruction, he tracks Rosaria to Old Baja where he evens the score. Her death however, leaves him unsatisfied, as her words still haunt him. He questions his own humanity, and makes the decision to retire from the police force.
Now, one year later, Alex is shot during an assignment in New Rio De Janeiro under his new profession as a black market smuggler; rendering him unconscious once again. When he reawakens newly reconstructed, his old LAPD boss, Commissioner Farnsworth (Tim Thomerson – Trancers), proposes one final assignment. An old cybernetic colleague of Alex’s, Jared (Marjorie Monaghan), has stolen vital security information regarding an upcoming summit between Japan and the United States. It is believed that she will leak this information to The Red Army Hammerheads, and Farnsworth needs Alex as bait to lure her out of hiding.
If Alex refuses? A bomb implanted into his heart will detonate!
With no other option available, a burnt out Alex halfheartedly begins his search in Shang-Loo. But there is more to this assignment than retrieving stolen data, leaving Alex to not only question his own humanity once more, but to question whom his allegiance lies with.
From the moment the title appears, until the end-credits roll, Nemesis is a sequence of non-stop, over-the-top action set pieces woven together by a myriad of influences. Take Alex Rain for example: He is a burnt out police officer that is almost killed in the line of duty. He survives only due to cybernetic reconstruction (RoboCop), implanted with a bomb (Escape from New York) and subsequently given an assignment to track down a cyborg terrorist (Blade Runner).
Spoiler alert: The final fight sequence between Alex and Commissioner Farnsworth (in his exoskeleton form) screams James Cameron’s The Terminator. Interestingly enough, the visual effects director for this final sequence, Gene Warren, was also responsible for the visual effects on Terminator 2: Judgement Day, one year prior to Nemesis.
Yet, it never feels like Albert Pyun has lifted an idea directly from another movie. The influences are obvious but the execution in Nemesis feels unique. The neo-noir atmosphere…the gun fu style of action… Somehow Pyun’s mess of adrenaline fueled ideas creates something that is indicative of the action genre in the late 1980s / early 1990s, yet has that Albert Pyun signature style which elevates Nemesis to cult status (and spawned three sequels…so far!)
World Champion kickboxer Olivier Gruner does decent job as Alex Rain, in his second feature film as an actor. The somewhat wooden delivery of his lines can be attributed to the character of Alex, and his struggle with his own identity. Alex Rain is an overworked LAPD cop who fears that his cybernetic enhancements diminish his own humanity.
Besides Gruner, Brion James (Blade Runner) and Deborah Shelton (Dallas) also star as cyborgs on opposing sides of the law. Tim Thomerson is formidable in his role of Commissioner Farnsworth – his commanding presence elevating a high-octane chase sequence involving himself, Olivier Gruner and Merle Kennedy. Kennedy, previously known for her appearance in 1991’s Dollman (with Thomerson) portrays Max Impact, a member of The Red Army Hammerheads under the leadership of Angie-Liv; portrayed by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat). Finally, Marjean Holden (Beastmaster) It is the perfect b-movie cast, spoiled only by some odd accent choices (Gruner’s French accent being the only exception).
Nemesis is a one of those rare instances where style triumphs over substance. The plot itself is a convoluted mess, and you are never quite sure which side to root for at any given time. Is Alex a cyborg or human? Is he the law or the resistance? Yet, this abandon of coherency allows the action to take center stage. One scene in particular has Olivier Gruner escaping a hotel room by shooting out the floor from under his feet, all whilst Deborah Shelton provides covering fire. The execution is flawless, and it is sequences like this that make Albert Pyun’s Nemesis far more fun than it ought to be.
“The conflict is man and machine in the classic sense. The machines, of course, want to bring order and control to human impulse. The film really deals with an existential character, Alex Rain, and his impulse to do the right thing, which is human.” – Nemesis producer Eric Karson