it’s only been a week into die hard-ish month and i’ve already broken my own rule. project: shadowchaser is technically a sci-fi movie. but it’s ok cause i’ve wanted to see it ever since i read about the die-hard-in-a-hospital premise in the early 90s, and the sci-fi element is about as important as the disaster movie element in the original die hard. so to call project: shadowchaser a sci-fi movie is the equivalence of calling the die hard movies disaster movies.
and just so you can adjust your expectation accordingly, the first thing we see is the prism entertainment (vice academy, cheerleader camp, snapdragon) logo, followed by the one and only trailer of a corey feldman/zach galligan vechicle called round trip to heaven. i do have to give them credit for putting nudity in the trailer. for the rest of the movie, the only nipples we see are on manboobs.
another thing to keep in mind is that the movie was actually in production in early 1991. and released direct to video a year later. so it was actually made before terminator 2 and hard boiled. in fact, it was made just before universal soldier. so i’ll forego the obvious comparisons.
though for simplicity sake, project: shadowchaser can be summed up as die hard meets terminator. the mostly shirtless android played by frank zagarino (operation delta force, project shadowchaser ii, project shadowchaser iii, project shadowchaser iv) and his fellow clones take over a hospital demanding ransom money. even though this is the future and his name is romulus, there’s no cloaking of any kind in the movie.
one of the hostages in the hospital is the first daughter, played by meg foster (stepfather ii, they live, best of the best 2). she seems to be the terrorists’ main bargaining chip.
with everything set, all we need is a mcclane. when the feds find out about the hostage situation, they somehow decided that the only person who can help them out of the die hard-ish situation is the architect of the hospital, cause he’s the only one who would know the building inside and out. they also intended on having him going in to the hospital with the squad. so it’s also a the rock-ish situation. except that anytime we see the hospital in the movie, it looks just like any regular office building. since the movie seems to take place in the future, or at least the future of 1991, maybe blueprints are outlawed. it’s not like they are available to just anyone with an internet connection or a library card. after 9/11 i’ve heard about how the feds have limited online research abilities but damn, having to rely solely on the architect of the building to figure out the structure is pretty depressing, and makes me feel unsafe. maybe that’s why obama is easing on what the feds can do, so if androids or terrorists take over, they don’t have to find architects.
and it’s not simply of finding the architect either. the architect they are looking for was actually found guilty of murdering his wife. instead of prison, in the future of this movie, prisoners are cryogenically frozen. but hilarity ensues as the pot smoking technician, who obviously funded terrorists by smoking pot, mistakenly unfrozen former football player desilva played by martin kove (tv’s cagney and lacey, the karate kid 1, 2, and 3, first blood, part ii). he goes along with the mistake since the feds offer him freedom if he frees the hostages. the guy they ended up unfreezing is a former football player who killed a redneck as an act of self-defense. it’s a year or two before demolition man and five or so years before con air. so +2 for retrospective nic cage reference.
obviously unrealistic since we all know that the u.s. government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, let alone trading favors with criminals (in hostage situations). but hey it gets the plot going.
two other supporting characters worth mentioning are the cheney-ish/robots’ creator dr. kinderman, who worked on some secret government project played by joss ackland (the apple, lethal weapon 2, the hunt for red october). paul koslo (xtro 2, robot jox) plays the fbi leader trevanian, who reminds me of kurt russell.
don’t be fool by this review though, all the above mentioned stuff happens within the first half hour of the movie. the rest of the movie is pretty formulaic and just what you would expect from an early 90s die hard-ish direct-to-video movie. there are some twists and turns in the third act that work to varying degrees. the villain’s masterplan simply doesn’t make sense, unless they change the laws and constitution in the near future, which was not mentioned in the movie. there is also one editing gaffe in the third act that kind of ruins the experience for me. i was actually kind of going along and suspending disbelief with it until that moment.
in a movie like this you have to find treasure wherever you can. i like the fact that the fbi leader has a black and a white assistant, who almost one-upped the two agent johnsons in die hard 1 by having names like whiteside and blackwood, respectively. they also tried to update die hard 1 by having the al character being the fed and the agent johnsons being some secret government military agency.
the terrorist cyborgs have a female robot but it was an interesting idea that never got developed. i also don’t know how and if the terrorists know for sure that the first daughter is going to be in the hospital since she mentioned specifically that she’s at the hospital because of food poisoning, the excuse for the movie to have her wearing a fancy dress for most of the movie. did the bad guys poison her food? or were the bad guys following the daughter so closely that they knew where she would be if she were to get food poisoning? you can’t have it both ways. they also make the first daughter who apparently knows quite a bit about football, at least more than i do, to create some kind of bond between the hero. like the dress and her action scenes, it feels more like wish fulfillment than integral to the story. though she gets more screen time, she doesn’t get us quite as involved as holly gennaro.
overall it’s a pretty promising premise that doesn’t quite deliver. not that the filmmakers skim on bullets but there’s nothing really clever or entertaining about it. it’s not memorable at all but these days i’m just happy to see a direct-to-video action movie where i can tell what’s happening on screen and doesn’t require any special substandard in rating the movies.
project shadowchaser is only available on vhs. maybe that’s why it’s not even listed on netfLIx.
the pitch: die hard in a futuristic hospital
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: martin kove, playing an ex-football player with a mullet
the gruber factor: frank zagarino as a future robot. despite what i thought, he’s not european like arnold or dolph, he’s american.
the hans objective: at first, money. but we learn later that he is controlled by the “ironically” named dr. kinderman, who’s not kind but as far as i know, is indeed a man. when the masterplan is finally revealed, it doesn’t quite make sense especially since the movie never mentioned any changes in the line of succession for the presidency. although i did get a pretty good laugh out of the motive.
wrong place at the wrong time: the hero football player is mistaken as the hospital architect but he went along with it cause the feds make him an attractive offer. he actually said the words “wrong place at the wrong time.”
the help: the hero talks to the feds on the outside, who don’t seem to be of much help. the first daughter kind of help our hero on the inside, but the movie doesn’t seem to want her to help too much so the hero would still look heroic.
the family element: the president’s daughter is one of the hostages. the fbi leader talks to his wife on the phone.
bonfire of the weaponry: guns, booby trap bombs, cyborgs, robots, clones, fists, toilet tank cover.
last man standing: there is a final fight sequence between the robot and the hero but it’s not that interesting. the robot comes back so many times from seeming death that it makes you wait for the end of the movie instead of its natural progression.
unbearables: it does takes place in a building like die hard 1. the two funny named fbi assistants also. the bureaucracy angle is brought up but not developed. the terrorists group seems to have some human in it, a nerdy guy with glasses even. the you-think-the-bad-guy-is-dead-but-he-comes-back climax sequence. they went through the elevator shaft and ventilation shaft scenes pretty early on. this is totally unrelated but the music in the movie is almost the same as the tim burton era batman themes.