I watch a lot of movies with outrageous posters, but that is actually Nicole Eggert’s costume in the film, down to the cowcatcher face mask she sports when kicking butt. Why does she wear a train grill as a mouth guard? I have no idea. It’s explained to be some kind of two-way radio, but it’s never explained why it was designed to look like she might need to move cattle off the tracks while she’s doing it. I guess someone thought it would look cool.
It’s the mid-1990s. Crime spiked in major American cities in 1991 and is trending downwards, but Hollywood hasn’t caught up yet, and vigilante pseudo-superhero action films are all the rage in the cheap video market. Attitudes about the dangers of major urban centers also haven’t changed in America, and the cities are still seen as terrible places where people go to get drugs, look at naked women, and do criminal stuff. You know, all the fun stuff. So how do we fight our perceived crime in cinema?
Enter the Demolitionist: a cop left for dead, brought back to live with technology to live as a quasi-zombie, enhanced to be superhuman, and trained to be the best law enforcement agent money can buy by a mayor worried about her reelection campaign. She was taken out by a criminal biker bank robber gang-leading kingpin who escaped prison instead of going to the chair, and now she wants to take him out, by demolishing his organized biker gang piece by piece. But there’s a cancer in city hall: corruption at the highest levels, and so the Demolitionist will have to deal with the threat while also confronting her zombie-like nature as well as her greatest enemy: her feelings.
Hmm, dead cop, technological resurrection, crime and corruption. If you aren’t already thinking RoboCop, go smack yourself in the mirror and come back. The parallels in the general plot between the two are obvious, and yes, we do also get special full-auto handguns and a hero questioning what it means to only be sort of alive and catching havoc from the memories and emotions of her past life. However, it’s also one of a slate of superhero-type action films that were popular in the 1990s, from small screen series like M.A.N.T.I.S. and Night Man to movies like Black Scorpion, Blankman, Darkman, and many others. When you need something to stick between The Guyver and Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. on the video rental shelf, well, The Demolitionist fits rights in. Plus, we get a Baywatch star in the central role, much like when Pamela Anderson did Barb Wire. Remember Barb Wire? No? That’s fine.
Nicole Eggert isn’t the only name in the film for us trash connoisseurs though; The Demolitionist is surprisingly loaded with a lot of fantastic B-list, such as the scientist who maintains the entire project and aptly named Dr. Crowley: it’s none other than Bruce Abbott of Re-Animator fame, again working to restore dead tissue whenever Eggert finds herself decomposing, albeit this time without a crazy Jeffrey Combs egging him on. Heather Langenkamp also pops up after wrapping up her work on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Jack Nance, a regular of David Lynch’s work, is a priest, with Reggie Bannister hops over from the Phantasm film series to play the prison warden, ponytail and all. Even Bruce Campbell gets to join in as a gang member, though these guys are just making cameos. Whose making full appearances?
Richard Grieco is our evil villain. With special effects maestro Tom Savini as his second in command. Add in support from stuntman Nils Allen Stewart as a henchman, and you have a tough crew of bad ass bad guys for Eggert to tangle with, complete with leather jackets, crazy hair, and a chainmail sleeve because it was the 1990s and fashion had no rules. And then there’s the corrupt cops, led by actor Peter Jason, whose career spans decades and includes the likes of They Live and Deadwood. He’s just one of numerous “That guy” stars to populate the film. But what do you expect of a movie where Susan Tyrrell is the mayor? I tell you, these folks were pretty much doomed from the start.
But hey, it’s a Robert Kurtzman film. You might not know his name from writing and directing; this was his first time out at directing, while he previously had written From Dusk till Dawn. But you’ve probably seen his work. Kurtzman is much more well known for his special effects and makeup work, and he’s worked on over 400 films, from Night of the Creeps to Dances with Wolves. His career of horror, comedy, and science fiction projects is like a genre fan’s wet dream, and to say his work has brought us hours of joy is to underrate it. As a first time director, he’s clunky, and the script isn’t exactly great or original, but damn if I can’t love it all the same.
What do I mean? Well, The Demolitionist makes a lot of use of blue hues and sets that could easily pass for porn locations. The film lifts a couple of scenes almost directly from RoboCop, like a shadowy silhouette take down of some men attempting to rape a woman that feels more than a little like the classic “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me” moment. But it never hits the levels of satire on society, instead traversing into camp territory without feeling like it meant to. Again, this is a movie about a city that voted Susan Tyrrell its mayor. But most of it is centered on Eggert trying to kick butt via montage and squibs and then crying about losing her past life as she rots away.
Also, this is a movie where a guy gets fried by standing in a urine pool from another guy sitting in an electric chair, so I should have known what I was getting into when I started. On the upside, it does start with a prison cell full of Fangoria magazines, so at least we know the criminals of this world have some good taste.