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Hipster Holy Grail: Cyber Tracker (1994)

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

Cyber Tracker loses some steam by its third act, so I can't give it a firm recommendation.  Even so, a few great early scenes and a general sense of fun, combined with Don Wilson's face-kicking, makes this a generally enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.

My Rating: 3 / 5 (Junior Varsity Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

We open with a seedy city street where some nogoodniks are hanging out at a bar selling legalized drugs.  (A helpful hologram outside the place informs passersby that they sell heroin and reminds them that yes, it's legal now.)  Out of the steamy night wanders a Tracker (Jim Maniaci).

The Tracker is a burly blonde cyborg that can materialize a badge and gun out of nowhere.  It's one of many robotic units owned by Technology Corp and licensed by the state to act as an agent of the law.  Trackers take the element of danger to law enforcement personnel out of the equation by hunting down violent criminals on behalf of police officers.  Case in point: the Tracker in question is looking for a suspect in the heroin bar.  Once it finds him, it announces its presence and intention, and then... shoots him to death.

Well, hell.  If cops were allowed to just do that, then they'd hardly ever be in danger, would they?  ("He's ten miles over the limit.  Give me the shotgun.")  Seems to me that Trackers are solving the wrong problem.  The trick is bringing people to trial alive safely when they refuse to be arrested.  I mean, you don't need complicated AI to kill a guy.  You just need a gun with an accurate sight and a complete lack of morals.

Anyway, I guess the citizens of Cyber Tracker want to make this same point, because nobody's happy with the Tracker program.  Cut to the next morning, where a bunch of protesters are expressing their anger over Tracker technology.  But Senator Dilly (John Aprea) and the Technology Corp CEO, Rounds (Joseph Ruskin), see it differently.  They're holding a press conference to expound the many virtues of the Tracker program.

Nobody seems to buy it.  The reporters on the scene are all irate and the crowd doesn't seem impressed.  Oh, and there's a bunch of armed assassins trying to gun down the senator.

An action scene breaks out, but fortunately for Senator Dilly, Secret Service Agent Eric (Don Wilson) is on the case.  Eric catches wise to the gunmen in the audience right away and takes them out.  There's a nifty part where some other agents escort Dilly to a helicopter, then send the helicopter away without him as a decoy.  Another assassin shoots a rocket launcher at the chopper and blows it up while Dilly escapes in a sedan heading the opposite way.  (Neat misdirection, but I feel bad for the pilot.  Dude didn't know he was going to be missile bait.)

The sequence goes on for a little while and is actually kind of a highlight, but eventually it ends and Eric saves the day.  Later, Senator Dilly thanks him in person, much to the chagrin of Ross (Richard Norton), Dilly's security director.  Ross and Eric square off in a show of bravado, then part ways.  Later, Dilly tells Ross that he wants to bring Eric "into the fold."  Ross refuses at first - Eric is still relatively new to the service, and Ross can't be sure if Eric is trustworthy.  But Dilly insists.

And here's where I have to admit that I'm really confused by who's who.  I was under the impression that Eric is a federal Secret Service agent - he says this several times and the movie makes a big deal about it.  But Dilly treats Ross as if he's a privately hired security agent and Eric's just some new guy he hired as part of his pool of goons.  Is that how the Secret Service works?  You get to pick an agent who works as your guy, and then he sub-contracts work to other Secret Service agents?  Or is this just shitty writing?  Or was I just not paying attention?

Anyway, it cuts to another scene that I really enjoyed where Eric is trying to get drunk and relax at his apartment.  He has a computer that controls everything in his place, and the computer is wary about him drinking too much.  "You'll get sad," it fears.  So Eric changes its suggestibility setting by 50%, thus rendering his AI drunk, which allows him to toss back a few in peace.  It's a fun scene.  Doesn't really go anywhere, but that's okay.

Now, then, back to the main plot.  There's a double agent working at Technology Corp who gets discovered by Ross.  Dilly uses this as an opportunity to test Eric's loyalty; Ross and Dilly invite Eric to a car park in the middle of the night and reveal they've got the agent tied up in a trunk, then ask Eric to shoot and kill her.  Eric refuses and runs away, so Ross and Dilly end up having to consider him an enemy.  They kill the agent and frame him for her murder, then call the Chief of Police (who's part of their inner circle of conspirators) to let her know the score.

Eric's now on the run, and since he's a fugitive, that means the state is allowed to deploy a Tracker after him.  He tries to get some late night dinner and call the Secret Service to clear his name, but then Eric squares off for the first time against a Tracker.  They get into a gunfight and Eric is wounded, but not killed.  He manages to damage the Tracker a little bit, but not enough to get it off his tail.  Eventually he managed to crash a fire engine onto it and blow it up, and then he's able to limp away to safety...

...until he's abducted by the Human Rights Union, an underground group of rebels that seeks to dismantle the Tracker program.  The HRU is led by Connie (Stacie Foster), a prominent journalist by day and tough-as-nails fighter by night.  She orders her guys to perform some emergency surgery on Eric and treat his wound, then tries to convince Eric to help them out.

This is the exposition scene where we're supposed to find out what the double agent was doing earlier on that led to her death, but the movie glosses over it.  All you need to know is that there is evidence of wrongdoing on the computers at Technology Corp's headquarters, and now they need to go get The Evidence in order to end the Tracker program.  Eric is unconvinced at first, but changes his mind after a brief scene transition.

(Somewhere around this part is another pretty good scene where we cut away to Rounds, Ross, and Dilly, who are all plotting and being nebulously evil.  Rounds has a personal assistant who is serving them a meal, and he asks her to sit down in a chair.  Then he proceeds to strangle her to death while the others watch quietly.  Dilly has this perfectly annoyed, "Oh, god dammit, are you killing somebody again?!" look on his face.)

Back to Eric and Connie.  They're getting ready to plan a break-in at Technology Corp's HQ building, but then another Tracker shows up and busts down the doors to the HRU's hideout.  The Tracker wipes out all of the rebels one-by-one until only Eric and Connie are left.  Eric finds a rocket launcher that's conveniently sitting in the parking lot outside and blows it up.

So, by this point, Eric has killed two Trackers.  And while you can argue that it hasn't been easy for him, this definitely undercuts the menace that the movie has tried so hard to build up so far.  If you think it's bad, though, you haven't quite gotten to the worst of it - that comes up when Eric finally does break into the company's HQ building.  Ross deploys the remaining Trackers, and suddenly they just become ineffectual wimps.  By this point, you pretty much don't even have to worry about them.  The Trackers are just kinda background dressing.  So... let's pretend they don't exist.

Instead, we'll focus on the A-plot again.  After breaking into the HQ, Eric manages to steal The Evidence, and then immediately has it taken from him again by Ross.  He and Ross fight, which you expect should be a riveting showdown since the movie has been teasing at their rivalry the whole time, but it's a pretty dull fight and isn't shot very well.  Eric kills Ross, then he and Connie run away from the building empty-handed.

No Evidence, so the movie can't end, right?  Well...  in a smarter movie, they'd have to find some other way to outsmart Technology Corp and reveal their wrongdoings to the world.  But Cyber Tracker isn't that smart, so the denouement is literally just Eric going up to Dilly while he's in the middle of another press conference and shooting him in the head.  Dilly's skin melts away and reveals that he's been a robot the whole time, this reveal is captured on film, and instead of Eric being prosecuted for any crimes, the robo-assassination somehow clears his name and puts an end to the Tracker program.

Then Connie arbitrarily reveals that she reprogrammed a Tracker to hunt down and kill Rounds. The movie abruptly ends with a Tracker sneaking up on him at a beach.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

The first half of this movie is a lot of fun.  I liked Don Wilson's action scenes as well as all the moments where you get a glimpse of the technology of the world.  The movie is consistently, gleefully dumb throughout and has a lot of great bad dialogue and cheesy special effects.

I feel like it hits a brick wall when Eric meets up with the rebels, though.  This isn't just a problem with Cyber Tracker - I feel like any movie set in the future with a group of rebels has the same problem.  Demolition Man, Johnny Mnemonic, etc.  They're perfectly serviceable dumb-fun movies that turn into a slog once the hero gets wrapped up in "the war."

The problem is that an underground rebel group will permanently change the tone of the movie.  When Eric is on the run and trying to evade capture, it's a "man vs the world" situation.  You keep wondering where he's going to go, what he's going to do about food and shelter, how he'll get out of each tight spot.  And that makes for a lot of implicit tension even if the movie doesn't do very much with the premise.

But the second a rebel group shows up and gives the character sanctuary, you basically kick all that suspense to the curb.  I don't care if the rebels get wiped out in the next scene - you're still giving us a sense that there's somewhere the main character can go to relax for a bit.  Who wants to see that?  I don't want my protagonists to check into a hotel for the night and recover.  I want them to be doggedly pursued until it seems like they can't possibly take anymore, and then I want to see them get out of each situation through more and more clever ways.

When Eric has his second act breather and checks in with the rebels, he gets a new mission - "Go here and get The Evidence to save the day" - and that's not the movie I signed on for.  I was up for a fugitive movie, and now you're giving me a watered down spy movie.

Even worse, the direction seems to get crappier as the movie goes on.  The first action scene where Eric saves Dilly's life is fun and halfway inventive.  The action isn't the best I've ever seen, but it is shot clearly enough that you can follow it and enjoy it.  Then the next big action scene where he fights his first Tracker is a little more convoluted, but still fun.  And then each scene after that gets progressively slower and more awkward.

Eventually it gets to the point where there isn't even an action scene.  The final confrontation between Eric and Dilly should be something big and explosive because it's the climax of the movie, right?  But, no.  Eric just walks around a corner and shoots Dilly in the face.  There's no security for him to fight through (arguably this is because he killed all the security the night before) and barely anybody even tries to pin him down after he pulls the trigger.  It's an anemic end and a complete reversal - not just in terms of character motivations - from the first action scene, which took place in the same exact spot.

The last twenty minutes of this movie are a real slog.  It's not bad enough to put it in the Failed Secret Comedy category, which is basically the trashcan for good bad movies, but it's dull enough that it goes into JV Bad Movie territory.  You can put off watching this one until you exhaust your supply of better bad movies.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

A good amount.  Produced by PM Entertainment, stars Don Wilson, is about robot cops, has bad effects - those are all positives.  It's got a little too much notoriety, though, so it's not as obscure as a truly hipstery movie would be.  So I'll give it 40 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

I found Cyber Tracker on Youtube.