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Truck stop carnage. Burning vehicles and bloody corpses litter the parking lot of a nondescript diner. A heavily armored SWAT team cautiously explores the ruins. Inside a men's room they find a bizarre cyborg-soldier repeatedly punching a wall as though stuck in a loop. The sole surviving waitress cowers beside a smashed urinal.
Good opening! I get so tired of that ten minute meet-the-characters exposition-o-rama that most movies use. Show, don't tell.
The above mentioned SWAT team is lead by the heavily bearded John Carpenter (William Hootkins: FLASH GORDON, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, BATMAN, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, THE OMEGA CODE, THE BREED), who turns out to be a big executive at a standard movie issue Evil Corporation called CHAANK. They manufacture weapons and their slogan is "Hard tech for a hard world."
Cut to a news broadcast where the waitress (Jackie Sawiris: EYES WIDE SHUT) is being interviewed. The anchor tells us that the public is enraged and terrified by CHAANK's human experiments. New chief executive Hayden Cale (Ely Pouget: THE LAWNMOWER MAN 2) is shown arriving at the CHAANK building where the cops are barely holding back an angry mob. One of the demonstrators manages to get close enough to Miss Cale to deliver a punch in the mouth.
Cale is met at the door by standard movie issue evil corporation greedy asshole chief executive Scott Ridley (Richard Brake: SUBTERFUGE). Ridley tells the protesters that if it wasn't for companies like CHAANK they'd all be speaking Russian.
Cale, Ridley and Carpenter (along with a bunch of seat-filling non-speaking extras) have a board meeting to discuss the situation. Cale is of the opinion that they need to make a full disclosure to the government and the public about the Hard Man project (the cyborg in the diner at the beginning of the movie being the latest example). Everyone is reluctant to do that since it involved brain-wiping combat veterans.
The brave Miss Cale is also intent on firing CHAANK's resident evil genius, a scientist named Jack Dante (Brad Dourif: EYES OF LAURA MARS, CHILD'S PLAY, DUNE, THE EXORCIST III, BLUE VELVET, HARDWARE, ALIEN RESURRECTION, THE PROPHECY 3, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: The Two Towers). Dante turns out to be much worse than an evil genius. He's psychotic and sexually sadistic and he has a great sense of humor about the whole thing. Cale has a long list of reasons to want him fired but becomes hesitant when she realizes that the other executives are terrified of this guy (mostly because the executive Cale is there to replace recently met a grisly death) and because Dante reveals that he knows everything about her including her bank balance and home address. This guy is not getting invited to the company picnic.
After some clever computer manipulations (using the most antique, text only computers you've seen in years - an odd choice) Cale manages to delete Dante's computer privileges thereby effectively firing him. Dante proceeds to give new meaning to the term "disgruntled ex-employee" and unleashes his latest robotic warrior, the Death Machine. By an odd coincidence a group of eco-terrorists choose that moment to invade the building with the intention of blowing up CHAANK's labs and stopping the evil experiments once and for all.
This is a pretty cool story and Brad Dourif's over the top mad scientist is especially fun but there are a few glaringly obvious questions that never get answered. First, where the hell is security? A huge company like this always has a squad or two of rent-a-cops. It would be their job, not a board member like Cale's, to escort a recently downsized individual like Dante off the property. Second, when they're being chased through the halls by the bad robot, why doesn't it cross anyone's mind to call 911? Even if the building's phone system was knocked out by the terrorists or Dante or impure thoughts, these people are executives! Where are their cell phones?
Speaking of technology, it's time for a
The halls of the building show the strong ALIEN influence brought by the director. It looks more like a space ship than an executive suite. Perhaps Mr. Norrington has never been invited to the top floor. The bulk of the movie is a lot of desperate chases through corridors and air vents as the robot monster closes in on its targets, things we've all seen before. On the bright side there are a lot of interesting twists and a fair amount of humor, both from Brad Dourif's psycho-scientist character and from the robot itself as it puzzles over the activities of its human prey. There's also lots of movie references for those who like to spot them, although at times they are so obvious as to threaten your suspension of disbelief. I give DEATH MACHINE three shriek girls.
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