A true mark of quality in a shitty sci-fi flick from Hollywood in the 1980s and ’90s was use of the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, California, as a shooting location. Just check out this list on IMDb. The more ruinous parts of the mill were a perfect location for a post-apocalyptic or dystopian landscape. Those portions have since been paved over for the Auto Club Speedway, but they live on in films like Robocop, The Running Man, and Nemesis, a 1992 cyberpunk, neo-noir action flick that, somehow, spawned a direct-to-video franchise.
Directed by Albert Pyun from a screenplay by Rebecca Charles, Nemesis stars Olivier Gruner as Alex Rain, a gritty detective in the LAPD.
It’s the future! 2027, as explained by a graphic overlaid on a very smoggy still of the Los Angeles skyline. In this future, androids are plentiful, as are cybernetic implants for us flesh and blood folks. Get a limb blown off by a rocket? No problem. Need a new set of eyes? The future has you covered. The problem is, this is a dystopian future, one where these advances in science come at the cost of sentient androids, some of whom are keen on taking over the world from their human overlords.
After Alex survives a vicious firefight, his massive injuries require replacing most of his body with implants, and he suffers from bouts of desire for furious vengeance, and some serious PTSD. He didn’t get those implants for free, however. The police commissioner, Farnsworth (Tim Thomerson), needs Alex back on duty as soon as possible to hunt down some androids who are up to no good. While watching, one should notice that this movie is very much in danger of becoming a Blade Runner ripoff. Well, it is. The good news is that it’s more the overriding theme of Blade Runner that Charles cribbed, and not particular plot elements. Yes, there are androids running amok, and, yes, there is a police detective with amorphous loyalty to the human race, but that’s about it. Blade Runner had a hell of a lot fewer explosions and gunfights. That masterful film also had a comprehensible plot.
Coherence in the plot seemed very much a low priority for Pyun and company. In the first act, by my count, Alex has three different missions given to him. One results in a very silly and spectacular gunfight filmed at the Kaiser Mill that results in Alex’s injuries, one that he flat turns down and which leads to a redundant character development sequence, and another that becomes the meat of the film. Then, in the very next scene after he begins this mission, it all becomes topsy-turvy as Pyun and Charles laid layer upon layer of betrayals and deception on the story. Meanwhile, there are more gunfights, more explosions, a bunch of dead androids, to go along with a bunch of dead people.
The film hops the globe from Los Angeles, to Baja, to Rio, to Java (filmed, respectively, in Los Angeles, Arizona, Arizona again, and Hawaii). All this jumping around feeds the confusion. The best way to watch this film is to ignore all that storytelling stuff, and treat it as mindless action. After doing that, a viewer might notice that this flick is a rollicking ride. Gruner, despite all expectations, fits right into the senseless shoot-em-up and ass-kicking that makes this film work. Considering he’s in just about every scene of this film, it would have been a disaster for Pyun if he had sucked.
Along the way, he’s supported by Brion James putting on a silly accent, Thomerson taking the expected heel turn, and some of the craziest, oversized guns one will ever see in an action flick. It’s like Pyun looked at Jesse Ventura in Predator, and Mark Rolston in Aliens, and thought to himself, “We can go bigger.” No joke, there’s a scene in this flick where one of the bad guys is lugging around an M2 Browning and firing it from his hip. Those things weigh eighty pounds. Also, keep an eye out for a young Thomas Jane and Jackie Earle Haley in small roles.
The finale of the movie drifts away from Blade Runner and goes full Terminator. The effects in this scene are outrageous, doing as much for this film’s shitty bona fides as everything that came before. It’s one of those sequences in a b-movie that has to be seen to be believed.
Without all the booms and all the bullets, Nemesis would be a terrible watch. It has little else going for it. But, since it does have booms and bullets, and a decent pace to its 95-minute running time, it’s a watchable movie. It lands in the top 100 of the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index, displacing Damnation Alley at #79. What a pleasant surprise.