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Hipster Holy Grail: Digital Man (1995)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....


The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews:


The amount of internal conflict I have over Digital Man is made all the more comical by its complete lack of ambition.  It's a B movie and proud of it, wearing its shortcomings on its sleeve and smiling the whole time, but there's just enough signs of something more intelligent under the surface that it becomes frustrating to watch by the end.  I have a hard time recommending it even as I have a hard time hating it, so I'm splitting the difference and giving it the most borderline possible score I know.

My Rating: 2.5 / 5 (JVBM, Sort of an SE)

The Plot Summary


Digital Man takes place some time in the future where cyborgs have been invented and are being crafted to perfection by the military.  The story opens with a group of terrorists (led by Clint Howard, somehow) who have hijacked a nuclear weapons silo on the moon and stolen important launch code information.  General Roberts (Ed Lauter) and Dr. Parker (Paul Gleason) are collaborating and trying to figure out the best way to retrieve the launch codes when Captain West (Adam Baldwin), an ambitious officer, decides to take initiative and deploy their new Digital Man technology.

Digital Man is a cyborg played by Matthias Hues who is apparently the latest and greatest in computerized warfare.  He rockets off to the weapons silo, kills all the terrorists effortlessly, and downloads the launch code information into his brain in a matter minutes.  It seems like the mission is a success!

Unfortunately, Roberts is none too pleased that West deployed DM; apparently it's still a prototype and they are wary of using it in battle.  Keep this in mind when we get to the shocking plot twist later.


While DM is en route back to home base, he experiences some kind of transportation error and crashes on Earth in a remote town in the American southwest called Badwater.  Roberts and Parker fear that DM is glitching out and may harm innocent civilians, so they call into action an elite squad of soldiers to travel to Badwater, neutralize DM, and reclaim the launch codes before anything terrible can happen.

The soldiers are an interchangeable group of toughies led by Sergeant Anders (Ken Olandt).  And when you see them in action for the first time, you get the feeling that the entire movie was written after the producers discovered they had access to a bunch of unused mini-gun props and football pads.  Every single soldier carries the biggest gun in the universe as if the extra weight and rapid fire are the default option on the list of ways to kill people.  It's like they saw Predator and saw Jesse Ventura's character, then said, "Let's just do that times six."

But whatever.  Anders and his team pack up, and we cut to Badwater, where Digital Man has landed and is already getting into trouble with the locals.  Y'see, DM's programming tells him he needs to upload the launch codes to a remote user somewhere, so he starts searching for communications equipment to let him do that.  The first thing he sees is a satellite dish, but unfortunately, it's attached to a trailer owned by Billy the Redneck (Don Swayze), one of the worst characters in history.

Billy is the broadest of broad stereotypes, an uncouth, poor, trash-talking idiot with an accent that qualifies as hate speech.  But once you see everyone else's performances, you might actually think Don Swayze has more respect for small town America than anyone else.  It's not a very nuanced movie, is what I'm saying.


Billy and his girlfriend, Susie (Chase Masterson), are interrupted mid-coitus by DM's sudden intrusion, so Billy starts throwing a fit and yelling at him.  This leads to the first time that the movie reveals it's a little more clever than it's letting on, because DM doesn't immediately freak out and kill anybody.  His programming tells him to cycle through a few different "moods" before he goes into full-on Combat Mode.  So at first he tries to be patient and just explains what he's doing.  But Billy, an idiot, tries to pick a fight and won't let it go.

Eventually Billy goes to bother The Sheriff, a cartoonishly obese coward.  The Sheriff, like all the Badwater residents, is terrified of Digital Man and draws a gun on him.  This proves to be the final straw that pushes DM into Combat Mode, so he shoots a missile at The Sheriff and blows him up.  Mayhem ensues as everyone runs for cover.

Finally, Anders and his crew land and get to work.  The first thing that happens is they run into Billy and Susie, who bring the soldiers up to speed on the havoc DM has wrought so far.  Anders assigns his crew to split up and start searching, and unfortunately decides to keep Billy in tow as an adviser of some sort.

That's when Digital Man shows up and kills the first soldier and the movie reveals its second great idea.  The soldier, as it turns out, is also a cyborg.  Nobody knew - not even the cyborg.

The squad debates what this means for a minute and everybody is a little bit freaked out.  It also introduces a neat little element of conflict that I liked.  Gena (Kristen Dalton), Anders' second-in-command and sometimes-girlfriend, wants to pull the soldier's dog-tags, but Anders tells her not to because "it" was just a cyborg - there's no need to honor its memory.  Gena remembers training with the cyborg and doesn't want to treat him as just a broken piece of equipment, so she takes the tags anyway.  It's a great little moment that's actually way too smart for the movie it's in.


The same thing happens again not that long after - another soldier is killed and revealed to be a cyborg, and once again, the squad freaks out.  Jackson (Sherman Augustus), another soldier and a cyborg-phobe, starts to question reality and wonders if he might be a cyborg.  Suddenly there's hints that the movie might turn into a paranoid existential thriller, and suddenly I'm actually really excited to see where the movie goes....

...and this is about where you can also draw a line where the movie goes off the rails.

We cut back to the military base now and again to get into the B plot that's going on with Roberts and West.  West starts investigating the communications they've been getting from Digital Man and eventually realizes that DM never malfunctioned; actually, he was commanded by somebody at the base to send the launch codes back and he's just following his orders to the letter.  Shortly after this discovery, General Roberts reveals he's a traitor / profiteer and kills both Parker and West, then gets in a ship bound for Badwater so he can reclaim the codes in person and sell them for profit.

Now, this is a pretty stupid twist because early on in the movie Roberts got mad at West for sending Digital Man to reclaim the codes.  But his entire plot relies on DM, so why the hell did he get mad in the first place?  And what would his plan have been if West hadn't taken initiative?  But lest you think this is the stupidest thing to come out of Roberts's betrayal, Digital Man has an ever dumber moment ahead.

While that's going on, the movie goes back to the A plot and completely abandons any pretense that it might have been a cerebral thriller.  Turns out nobody else is a robot - they're all just humans, after all.  Digital Man kills everybody except for Gena and Anders, and then Anders gets into a fist-fight with Digital Man and manages to hold his own even though he should be getting crushed like a grape. Gena sneaks up behind DM and shoots him/it to death, and they recover the codes.


Then Roberts lands in Badwater.  Now, earlier I said there was a point where you can see that the movie is going off the rails, but this is the line you can draw where it plummets right off a cliff and into a deep pool of stupid.

In a span of about two minutes, the following happens:

1) Anders and Gena salute Roberts and offer to give him the launch codes.  Before he takes them, though, Roberts pulls a gun on them and explains that he's going to kill them so there's no witnesses.

2) Mildred (Susan Tyrell), a random townsperson and gun enthusiast who we saw for like two seconds earlier when she was railing against the federal government, shows up and shoots General Roberts in the back.  Roberts recognizes her and says, "Mildred Hodges?", then dies.

3) Gena reveals that she knew Roberts was a traitor because Digital Man was sending the launch codes to him in the first place.  Now this - this is the stupidest thing in the movie.  Because what this means is that Gena looked up a thing on her computer that said, "Roberts is a bad guy, don't trust him," and instead of using that information to her advantage and setting a trap, or warning Anders, or discarding the data, or doing anything to otherwise prevent him from carrying out his scheme, she just marched right into the final showdown and allowed herself to be disarmed - only to be saved by random chance when some asshole militia-woman who knows nothing about anything shot her boss in the back.


What the fuck, Digital Man?

The Stuff I Liked / Didn't Like


First, the good: I keep saying the movie has signs of cleverness, and I really do mean that.  There are genuinely interesting elements to this movie that I was not expecting.  The political intrigue in the B plot with West and Roberts is actually pretty fun to watch, and all the "What is a man!?" stuff in Badwater is interesting while it lasts.  These moments are like rays of sunlight peeking out through a cloud.  You keep waiting for the cloud to move, but by the time the sky has cleared, the sun has set and your movie is over.

So once you're past those actually good moments, you have a thick layer of ironically good moments to sift through.  And there's plenty - the cheesy sound effects, the shitty early '90s computer animation, the campy props, the dollar store costumes, and more.  It has all the schlocky atmosphere you could ever want out of a B movie.  There's just enough stupidity in the characters to give it a campy feel.

A good example: late in the movie, Anders and Jackson set up a bomb and Jackson unexpectedly gets trapped in a steam factory where the bomb is about to go off.  He panics because there's no time to escape.  Anders's solution?  "Just run really fast and you'll make it."  That is the actual dialogue from the movie.


I also enjoyed how useless the cyborgs are.  This is a movie where at least three characters are cyborgs, and yet all three die as easily as the humans.  Even Anders, a meat bag, can survive a fistfight with Digital Man.  It reminds me of how useless the robot body parts in Heatseeker were.

But under that layer of irony you just have an even thicker layer of tedium.  And this is why I'd lump the movie into the category of Junior Varsity Bad Movie instead of something more accessible like a Novice Bad Movie.  There's just too much downtime to slog through.

Ultimately the movie sits too precariously on a fence.  If it allowed itself to be more clever, you could've had a neat little cult movie about robot soldiers who freak out about their origin.  If it allowed itself to be more stupid, it would have been a good one to watch while drunk.  As it stands, I was drunk while watching, and there just isn't enough here for the casual bad movie fan.

And now, I'd like to introduce a new "bit" that I'll be adding to my Holy Grail reviews, whenever I remember to do it.  It's a little something called:

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?


(Update on 6/23/16: Fun fact for those of you who are looking through the archives... this is actually the first time I started giving out hipster cred in my Holy Grail reviews.  This is something I should have been doing from the very beginning, so I've started to go back and retroactively score movies I reviewed before Digital Man.  So if you're marathoning through my reviews and read this one, it might seem a little weird without context.)

It occurs to me, two and a half years into this website, that I'm not paying enough attention to the "hipster" aspect of my Hipster Holy Grail movies.  Sure, I try to find movies that are generally unknown, but that's really just a guideline for me.  But for you?  Well, let's face it.  There's really only two reasons why you're reading these reviews:

1) Google arbitrarily suggested my site based on a combination of tangentially-related keywords, and you're probably going to disappear forever; or

2) You're a burgeoning movie hipster and want to find bad, cheesy, campy, or obscure movies to prove how ironic / in-the-know you can be.  (Don't be ashamed to admit it.  Why do you think I'm here?)

If you fall into that second category, then I'll throw you a bone.  Using a highly advanced algorithm known as "making stuff up," I'll give each movie I watch (from now on) a score from 0 to 100 Hipster Cred.  The more you earn, the more you have the right to feel in the know on a very special inside joke.  (And the punchline is... us.  Welcome to the club, buddy.)


So, here's the deal. Digital Man was made by Green Communications, which appears to have produced / distributed only 13 movies (although the website for their latest incarnation, Green Films, says 17, and none of the ones listed match up to IMDb).  It was directed by Philip Roth, who collaborated with Green Communications on a few other projects, the most-rated of which on IMDb is A.P.E.X.  I haven't seen A.P.E.X., but based on the reviews, I imagine it's basically more of the same.

Digital Man has around 460 user ratings on IMDb, which means it should get some kind of bonus for being obscure, but not too much of a bonus since I've reviewed plenty of movies with less than a hundred.  It also falls in the category of cheesy science-fiction and it's not totally shitty.  So with all those factors in mind, I think it's worth about 35 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

But wait!

Suppose you want more bang for your buck?  Well, if you're sticking with Philip Roth / Green Communications collaborations, I'd go with Red Snow, which has a paltry 19 user ratings and a score of only 2.2.  It's about a snowboard instructor who's framed for murder by armed robbers and appears to be shitty.  That's got to be worth at least a good 60 hipster cred.  (I'll give it 50 cred just for the small number of ratings alone.)

But you know which Green Communications movie I'm more curious about?  The Elf Who Didn't Believe, at 79 user ratings, which is about a girl who needs a heart transplant and has this as a poster:


Sight unseen, I give that 75 hipster cred.  And I'm going to add it to my list, if I can ever find a copy.

Where You Can Watch


I watched Digital Man on Youtube, but if you have Prime, you can currently stream it for (basically) free on Amazon.com.

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