Project: Shadowchaser

Project: Shadowchaser, directed by John Eyres, is the first in a series of low budget sci-fi action flicks featuring Frank Zagarino as a killer android of some sort. There were four, although I believe the fourth one, Orion’s Key (aka Alien Chaser) is the only one not called Project: Shadowchaser in some way. The first Shadowchaser also stars the great Martin fucking Kove and the gorgeous Meg Foster, although I’m pretty sure everyone was more interested in seeing Zagarino’s android character kill people and whatnot. I’m also fairly certain that a good chunk of the people who rented this movie back in the early 1990’s thought the movie starred pro wrestler Sting, as Zagarino sort of looks like the old surfer Sting that was kicking butt back then. I know that’s what I thought until I actually read the video box.

So anyway, Zagarino stars as Romulus, a killer android super soldier created by the U.S. government that escapes from the lab and teams up with a bunch of human terrorists so they can kidnap and hold for ransom the daughter of the President of the United States. The first daughter, Sarah (Meg Foster), is being treated inside a major city hospital (the movie never says where exactly). The takeover of the hospital is quick and brutal as the terrorists kill multiple Secret Service agents and hospital security people and then detain the hospital employees and regular people who didn’t get out of the building fast enough. It doesn’t take long for the FBI to get involved and come up with a plan of attack for getting the First Daughter back. Agent Trevanian (Paul Koslo), the FBI agent in charge, decides to bring in a badass SWAT team to infiltrate the hospital and take down the bad guys. Trevanian also decides that the SWAT team will need the help of the architect responsible for designing the hospital, which is a good idea as long as the architect, a guy named Dixon, is alive and available, He’s alive, but he isn’t readily available. Dixon is in a nearby cryoprison, frozen for his crimes against the world. Trevanian gets the prison to unfreeze Dixon and bring him into the fold. If he agrees to help out (and, let’s face it, survives the SWAT assault) Dixon will get a full Presidential pardon. Dixon thinks it’s a good plan and agrees to help. However, there’s a massive problem with the plan. Dixon the architect isn’t Dixon the architect. Dixon is actually a man named Desilva (Martin fucking Kove), an ex-football player convicted of murder and sentenced to life in cryostasis.

Desilva, who really doesn’t want to go back into the fridge, plays along with the plan and hopes that the SWAT team doesn’t need his help all that much. He doesn’t know anything about architecture and doesn’t want to see anyone get killed, but, again, he doesn’t want to go back into stasis. So Desilva tags along with the SWAT team, answering questions and pretending that he knows what he’s doing. It doesn’t take long for Desilva’s obfuscation to cause a major problem and, while entering an elevator, the entire SWAT team is knocked out of commission with a booby trap bomb that sends the elevator crashing to the ground. Desilva manages to escape the elevator catastrophe and find a hiding place in the air conditioning duct work. What the heck is he going to do now?

After the destruction of the SWAT team Trevanian and his team figure out who “Dixon” actually is and flip out. What the hell is an ex-football player going to do against a band of heavily armed terrorists? He can’t save Sarah, can he? Well, if he wants that pardon Desilva better figure out how to become a Special Ops badass pretty damn quick. It’s a terrible plan, a terrible option, but what else is Trevanian going to do? It’s not like he has many viable options.

So Desilva becomes the FBI’s eyes and ears and action man inside the hospital, and Trevanian communicates with Romulus and his fellow terrorists. Romulus wants fifty million dollars or he’ll start killing hostages, including Sarah. To make sure that the FBI takes his group seriously Romulus murders and old man by throwing him out a window. That bastard!

While all of that is going on, Sarah, a rather resourceful woman, manages to escape from her room and into the ductwork, hoping to find a way out of the hospital. The terrorists go after her, as you’d expect them to, but since she’s so dang resourceful she stays away from them. Sarah also ends up running into Desilva, and it’s at this point that Desilva starts fighting the terrorists head on (well, as much as an ex-football player can). Desilva does kill a few of the bad guys, but you get the sense that he gets them via dumb luck. Sarah helps a bit, too, but she isn’t all that proficient with machine guns.

And while all of that is going on, Trevanian and his team figure out what Romulus actually is and who is responsible for creating him. Kinderman (Joss Ackland, the bad guy from Lethal Weapon 2), a top notch government scientist, created Romulus as part of the Shadowchaser Project, a super- secret super soldier program that uses advanced robotics to create a killer android that destroys with remorse. It’s a great idea if bad things never ever happened, but hey, something bad happened and Romulus escaped. Who could have seen that happen?

So then some stuff happens, Desilva and Sarah decide that it’s a good idea to tea up and fight back, and all hell breaks loose. Suddenly both Desilva and Sarah become machine gun experts and terrorists start dropping like flies. It’s also at this point that Romulus decides to weapon up and attack Desilva and Sarah head on. Romulus wants to get paid, but if for some reason he can’t get paid he will make sure that Sarah and her protector don’t leave the hospital alive.

Project: Shadowchaser, at times, has pacing issues that drag down the story’s forward momentum. The flick’s “quiet moments” seem to drag on forever at times. It’s also weird how the hostage plot kicks in rather quickly but, after that, things slow down. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency from anyone, especially the FBI. Shouldn’t the FBI of the future have more than one SWAT team ready to go in the event that there’s a major event where its skills are needed? It’s also weird how, despite the mix up in the cryo lab caused by the pot smoking attendant, the FBI doesn’t have a photo of Dixon the architect. Yes, I know that, back in 1992, no one thought that the world would have access to seemingly instant information on everyone and everything, but you would think that the future would have easier access to information like who built a big, modern hospital in a major city. Wouldn’t there have been newspaper stories with pictures of the architect? Why wouldn’t the FBI have access to that?

The whole cryostasis thing for criminals isn’t explained all that well, either. When did the government start freezing criminals and, ultimately, what’s the point of doing it? Someone in the movie sort of explains what the cryostasis thing is all about but it comes off as a half-assed explanation more than anything else. And what else do future people do? Why isn’t there more “advanced technology” on display in the future? If the government can build a killer android why can’t it also build laser machine guns?

The last fifteen minutes contain a twist that, in retrospect, I should have seen coming from a mile away but it’s still a bit of a surprise. What kind of killer android decides to pout when it becomes self-aware? Why would an android ever pout for any reason? And how does an android put together a team of terrorists? Is there some sort of computer database where potential names can be brought up?

The flick’s action scenes are generally good and exciting. The machine guns sound like movie machine guns and when people get show they get goddamn shot. The fight scenes are good but they don’t go on long enough. The movie also lacks killer android bits, which is a shame because Romulus is terrifying killer android. Part of that is his penchant for walking around nude while killing people, which is just gross. He also talks in this weird drone voice that, in the right state, could give you nightmares. I do wish I knew why Romulus likes walking around sans a shirt but wearing a trenchcoat. That comes off as especially weird behavior for a killer android.

Kove is, as usual, awesome as the flick’s anti-hero Desilva. Kove is in full on smart-ass mode most of the time, but when he has to break out the machine guns he clearly knows how to use them. He also has great chemistry with Meg Foster, who does a great job as the equally smart ass and difficult Sarah. The scene where they argue about a football game is one of the movie’s highlights. It’s also great how both Kove and Foster are completely committed to their roles despite the fact the situation they find themselves in is ridiculous.

Paul Koslo does an adequate job as Trevanian. It seems as though he’s holding back most of the time, which doesn’t really work as you’d think that Trevanian would become more unhinged as the movie progresses. I mean, his entire hostage rescue strategy falls apart. Why isn’t he angrier? And when he finds out that Desilva isn’t Dixon why isn’t he foaming at the mouth? Joss Ackland, as expected, is slimy as hell as Kinderman. You’re not quite sure if he’s a good guy or a villain, but you do know that you don’t like him (you can hate good guys sometimes).

Angie Hill-Richmond is interesting as the female terrorist Jonah. She acts as though she’s the girlfriend of Romulus but, since he’s an android, maybe it’s just a show? You can’t tell. Hill-Richmond also has an interesting look in the movie (short blonde hair and a blank expression on her face). The movie should have done more with her. The movie also should have done more with Trevanian’s underlings Whiteside and Blackwood, played by Raymond Evans and Robert Freeman. They have great buddy chemistry that should have given them at least two funny scenes beyond what they get to do already in the movie. Perhaps there are deleted scenes somewhere showing this?

It isn’t perfect but Project: Shadowchaser is a minor sci-fi action classic from the early 1990’s. It’s a little too slow for its own good but it’s good where it counts. Martin fucking Kove and Meg Foster are great. They should have been in the sequel.

See Project: Shadowchaser. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: At least 20.

Explosions: Multiple.

Nudity?: None beyond the “Zagarino walking around nude in the lab” opening titles sequence.

Doobage: Computer nonsense, a naked human android massacre, head through a computer monitor, wheelchair hooey, a Pepsi machine, machine gun hooey, the death of random people in a hospital, total office destruction, pot smoking, a cryo prison, a fat henchman, multiple escapes via duct work, exploding door, a booby-trapped elevator, throwing a hostage out of a window, toilet top to the back, face slapping, attempted rape, face kicking, chair breaking, electroshock paddles to the head, multiple grenade attacks, ceiling hooey, off screen hostage killing, playful finger biting, dress ripping, a quick nap, exploding henchman, exploding gurney, a philosophical discussion of the meaning of freedom, android attack, wound fixing, a double cross, metal pole javelin through the chest, finger removal, scalpel to the leg, fire extinguisher to the face, awesome “man on fire” gag, injection scalpel to the forehead, multiple exploding rooms, a nifty chopper stunt, and beer drinking.

Best lines: “You like Italian? Italian what? Politics?,” “You’ve got two minutes to clear out this area. You now have less than two minutes to clear out this area,” “Oh, shit, someone is having a serious party,” “Anybody got a beer?,” “Say hello to your father, Sarah,” “No one is telling you do gung ho. Good, because I don’t do gung ho,” “Romulus Shadowchaser? What the hell is this?,” “I’m telling you, Desilva, stay out of our way!,” “I out a goddamn football player up there?,” “Bitch!,” “Hey, asshole, can you hear me?,” “Same old Trevanian,” “You gotta be kidding me. This psycho is an android?,” “Do I look like a goddamn terrorist? Yes!,” “But what if the creation destroys the creator? That is true freedom,” “Step down from office? You’re insane,” “Hey, sweetness, my grandmother can shoot better than that! And she’s dead!,” and “You sonofabitch.”

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