this post is made possible by readers like you. specifically, mitch from the video vacuum, who sent us this die hard-ish movie.
and now, our feature presentation.
from the company that brought you project: shadowchaser, virtual assassin aka cyberjack is also a die hard 1 variation with a scifi twist. while the former borrows from robocop and terminator, this one draws from cutting edge concepts such as “cyberspace,” “internet,” and “virtual reality” though it’s a direct-to-video movie, it came out the same year as johnny mnemonic, the net, virtuosity, and hackers, and it’s better than at least two of those theatrically released movies. it was a time when d-t-v movies don’t necessarily mean ripoffs or inferior products. i don’t think you’ll find very many movies that begins with a stephen hawking quote.
the opening credits sequence shows a futuristic cityscape that’s videogamey yet still looks better than most asylum movies. michael dudikoff plays police officer nick james whose partner is killed by a madman villain played by brion james (blade runner, the player, tango & cash, and the killing jar).
when we get to the present but still future time, james now works as a
janitor custodial engineer for a tech company who’s developing a biological augmented virus. the efficient expositions let us know that he now lives in a futuristic trailer, though not as romantic as the beachfront trailer that martin riggs has. he also meets dr. alex royce (suki kaiser from the virgin suicides) who works with her father on the virus. to avoid the hilariously stereotypical italian mobsters he owes money to, james has to stay in the building where he works, instead of his trailer home.
but wouldn’t you know it, the first night in hiding, a terrorist group takes over! to make things even more coincidental, the terrorist group is led by brion james! from the opening credits! the very same character who killed his partner! except now he’s more like billy idol channeling gary busey. perhaps inspired by billy idol’s cyberpunk era.
once the situation takes off, things land mostly on the fun side. like the better die hard-ish movies, virtual jack aka cyber assassin adapts the die hard template and injects ideas to create its own world, successfully. while the injection of computer virus into human is as inane as it sounds, director robert lee (absolute zero, tv’s disaster zone: volcano in new york, the boz’s the operative) and screenwriter eric poppen (monolith) came up with some nifty ideas. i don’t know if this has been done before but instead of letters and numbers on the license plates, they are all barcodes. another solid sequence has dudikoff being chased into a resident evil-esque corridor that creates clones, sort of like being inside of a photocopier.
i don’t know if i am reading too much into it but it’s kind of telling that after being replicated, our hero collects them and uses them on the bad guys chasing him. but when the lead terrorist passes through, his immediate reaction is to shoot and destroy the replicators. sure, it doesn’t make sense that either of them would know what the device is and how it works, but most movies would be content to paint technology as doing more harm than good or something purely evil. he’s more of a digital hero in a digital world.
another inspired idea is the police when they finally shows up. they send this surveillance robot into the building to assess the situation inside the building. like eve from wall-e, it does what machines are supposed to do, which leads to dudikoff being mistaken as one of the terrorists. again, a possible statement on technology. but more importantly, they successfully turn a small, almost throwaway aspect in die hard 1 and make it an integral part in the third act.
like 3ninjas4, many of the die hard 1 elements are lifted but shuffled. al powell is the building security rather than a cop. there is a bit involving donuts instead of twinkies. dudikoff crawls through the required number of vents, except he ends up in the women restroom at one point.
also like the 3 ninjas high noon movie, this terrorist group is culturally diverse. most noteworthy is james’ sidekick, an african american woman who seems to be wearing nothing but steel plates as clothes. she and james seem to be ready for goth/industrial night at their local bar/club. there’s an african guy here instead of the jamican in 3 ninjas episode iv. there is a southern cowboy guy, who never takes his hilariously large cowboy hat off. there is, as per die hard-ish rule, a german guy in the movie, except he actually works for the police. the computer laboratory, of course, has an asian tech guy. rarer is his first scene where he’s attempting phone sex with his girlfriend. also unique is that the hero’s love interest is an accomplished redhead scientist, instead of the wife/daughter/hostage we usually see in action movies.
shot in canada where harbor is spelled harbour, and with an obviously low budget, virtual assassin aka cyberjack proves that a good movie can be made with creative ideas and little money. though released direct to video, it looks and works better than project shadowchaser made only three years prior. i suppose i could nitpick about a few things: there are way too much baseball talk that doesn’t really add anything to the movie, which leads to arguments about whether the team has great outfielders; they eventually leave the building in the climax, to go to another building; there’s an unnecessary flashback to the i.o.a.s. that raises questions and eventually unanswered. on the whole though, it’s a satisfying, entertaining and funny (“hell of a week to quit drinking!”) futuristic die hard-ish movie. it’s the best one i’ve seen this month.
p.s. alcoholism is mentioned in the movie but i appreciate the fact that the movie doesn’t simply paint drinking as bad. the he-was-wearing-a-bulletproof-vest-all-along plays a part but it’s rare to see that the flask-in-breast-pocket actually saves lives.
virtual assassin aka cyberjack
the pitch: sci-fi hard…in a building
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: michael dudikoff, who handles the part well, though for some reason he reminds me more of emilio estevez than BRUCE
the gruber factor: nassim played by brion james, who will always remind me of the early sam raimi/coen brothers joint crimewave (1985). he’s fun to watch and not too hammy as the eventually larger than life villain
the hans objective: biological augmental virus. no pretense about politics or money
wrong place at the wrong time: pretty genius setup: dudikoff is hiding from mobsters and when the terrorists take over, he’s in the holodeck of the building watching a belly dance stripper. no one knows he’s there cause he’s not supposed to be there. he also would rather leave the building than stay and save everyone
the help: the building security has shades of al from die hard 1. but he is inside the building. the cops and feds don’t exactly help since they think dudikoff is one of the bad guys
the family element: dudikoff’s partner is killed early on, and that’s about it. his love interest works with her father, who is also one of the hostages
bonfire of the weaponry: other than the usual guns and fists and kicks, there are golf clubs, makeshift mollkov cocktail (inside an airduct!), metal ball grenade, garbage chute a la star wars, clones, those multi-axis chairs that astronauts train in, and an extremely pointy award trophy(?)
last man standing: not exactly a one on one fight but appropriately works in the i.o.a.s. and also the technology theme
unbearables: shades of al powell, african and german supporting characters; the cops-feds-squads structure; elevator explosion; a squad car suspicious of situation inside the building; attempt at getting squad car’s attention by breaking window; one terrorist said our hero is “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” director robert lee also directed the die hard-ish crackerjack 2 and act of war (1998), and served as second assistant director on project shadowchaser. dudikoff stars in possible die hard-ish chain of command, strategic command, crash dive, counter measures, and stranded. brion james starred in the die hard-ish diplomatic siege and assault on dome 4, and along with BRUCE in the fifth element and striking distance.
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