Video Review

Cyber Bandits (1995)

MPAA Rating: R
EW's GRADE
F

Details Movie Rated: R; Genres: Action/Adventure, Sci-fi and Fantasy; With: Martin Kemp and Alexandra Paul

Click. Zzzt. Whirrrrr... Thank you for using Critic Droid 81757. What would you like reviewed today? Please choose from (a) movies; (b) TV; (c) music; (d) videotapes; (e) celebrity mud-wrestling holograms.

You have selected (d) videotapes. Please place the tapes you would like reviewed into the receiving bay in my stomach. Thank you.... You have chosen four movies of the failed mid-'90s sci-fi subgenre called the cyberthriller. Itemizing: the big-budget Keanu Reeves movie Johnny Mnemonic and three video imitations, Automatic, Cyber Bandits, and Cyberzone.

Is there any particular question you would like answered by a comparison of these four tapes? Please input below.

Yes. I'd like to know how Hollywood can screw up such seemingly foolproof, visually potent ideas as virtual reality and the Internet.

Your question exceeds allotted memory. Please rephrase.

Why are cyberthrillers so dumb?

Question accepted. Preliminary historical background proceeding.... In the mid-1990s, the American film industry produced a number of movies that took as their subjects emergent technologies. Producers' aims: to cause younger audiences to part with their parents' money, to give special-effects houses something to do, to write off their PCs and online accounts as business expenses, and, perhaps most important, to avoid looking like cultural dinosaurs.

In so doing, producers followed the precedent that had resulted in films about early rock & roll, biker gangs, and break dancing. That is, they laid an old plot onto a new fad they didn't fully comprehend. But since in 1995 the majority of Americans remained unwired and uninterested, many cyberthrillers were quickly deleted from theaters. This did not, however, stop producers from making lower-budget knockoffs with an even more tenuous understanding of the new technologies.

Item No. 1: A movie entitled Automatic. Plot: In a corporation that manufactures security robots, a secretary (Daphne Ashbrook) and a conflicted droid (Olivier Gruner) are marked for death. Cast familiarity: Obscure. Gruner is a French kickboxing star. John Glover reprises his antic CEO shtick from Gremlins 2. Cast ability: Good. Monosyllabic Gruner is smartly cast as a monosyllabic droid. Geek quotient: Fair. Special effects are convincing. Thumbnail review: A nicely written B movie that loses its way in endless fight scenes. Rentability: Medium. Would you like more information?

Nope. Next, please.

Item No. 2: Cyber Bandits. Plot: When a sailor (Martin Kemp) and a beautiful woman (Alexandra Paul) steal a CD from her powerful lover (Robert Hays), they are marked for death. Cast familiarity: For fans of 1980s new wave, high. Kemp was the bassist for Spandau Ballet. Adam Ant and Grace Jones also appear. Paul (Baywatch) and Hays (Airplane!) are known. Cast ability: Ludicrous. Hays and Paul play against type as, respectively, a cold-blooded power monger and a smoky femme fatale. Kemp wrestles an American accent, loses. Geek quotient: Hilariously low. ''Futuristic'' props include an audio CD and a dental X-ray machine. Thumbnail review: Do the people who made this movie even own a computer? Rentability: None.

Ick. Next.

Item No. 3: Cyberzone. Plot: When a bounty hunter (Marc Singer) in 21st-century Phoenix tries to find four buxom runaway ''pleasure droids,'' he is marked for death. Cast familiarity: Middling. Singer slides further downhill from 1982's The Beastmaster. Cast ability: Beside the point. The pleasure droids flash enough silicone to float the Titanic. Geek quotient: Directed by grade-Z auteur Fred Olen Ray, which means you can almost see the Scotch tape on the videophones. Thumbnail review: For a cyberthriller, it's a decent T&A comedy. Rentability: Low.

Okay, get on with it.

Item No. 4: Johnny Mnemonic. Plot: When a data courier (Keanu Reeves) stores mysterious information in his brain's memory banks, he is marked for death. Cast familiarity: High and weird. Besides Reeves, cast includes musicians Ice T and Henry Rollins, ex-Warhol star Udo Kier, and Rocky IV punching bag Dolph Lundgren. Cast ability: Solid. Reeves looks lost, but others appear to be greatly enjoying themselves. Geek quotient: Excellent. Future anarchy is impressively imagined by artist-turned-director Robert Longo, and the vision of the Internet as a 3-D interior landscape captures the heady feel of author-screenwriter William Gibson's science fiction. Thumbnail review: Underrated. The script has its howlers (see Reeves' agonized climactic monologue about...room service) and the momentum flags toward the end. But some critics' difficulty with the movie may have been due to unfamiliarity with Gibson's work. Rentability: High.

What about my question? Why are cyberthrillers so dumb?

Easy. Because they're from the same people who made movies about the lambada. Would you like to see my Roger Ebert impression or go directly to grades?

Uh, grades, please.

Sigh. Very well. Johnny Mnemonic: B-; Automatic: C; Cyber Bandits: F; Cyberzone: D+

Originally posted Nov 17, 1995 Published in issue #301 Nov 17, 1995 Order article reprints