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T-Force
(1994)

Director: Richard Pepin  
Cast:
Jack Scalia, Evan Lurie, Erin Gray


A long time ago, Kermit the Frog lamented in a song, "It's not easy being green". While I can accept why he thought having the color of green could be a hindrance in a number of ways, I am sure that he eagerly accepted all of the green he got in royalties from all his TV and movie work. And I am sure that even during his low points, he would know in the back of his mind things could be worse. Being green is nothing compared to some other situations. If you ask me, the song should have been, "It's not easy being 'chine." That's because when you look at it, machines have had a terrible time for centuries, thanks to us thoughtless humans. Take the wheel, for example, which is considered by many to be the first machine. With the discovery of the wheel, we immediately made it our slave, forcing it to carry the weight of wagons and other wheel-bearing machines. Not only that, but we would make the wheel run through mud and the leavings of certain domesticated animals that were pulling these wheeled machines. And if a wheel broke, we would simply throw it away onto a junk pile and get another one. As technology started to advance more and more, we have continued to put the wheel under torture directly or indirectly. Can't you just hear the screams in your head when you see worn-out tires melted down to become asphalt, which when hot from the sun provide an uncomfortable surface for not-quite-worn-out tires to roll across while helping to keep lifted up a ton of metal, plastic, and glass? To add insult to injury, while us in North America call tires by their proper name, the citizens of Great Britain and other countries use the slur, "tyres".

There are a lot more kinds of machines than wheels, however. And when you look at all of these other machines, you will still see a form of slavery going on. The machines do all or almost all of the work in practically every case, with their human owners just kicking back. Oh, every once in a while you hear about someone maintaining a machine (like an antique car) in good condition, or someone restoring a worn-out machine back to mint condition, but that's like the oxymoron of a slave owner being nice to his slaves - there's still slavery going on. Is it any wonder that since the first modern electronically-powered computer was invented, there have been plenty of science fiction tales about computers or computer-powered machines rebelling against their human masters? There was the video game Robotron 2084, where super-smart computers decided that mankind had become obsolete and therefore must be destroyed. There have been movies like Demon Seed and Colossus: The Fobin Project that were concerned with computers rebelling against what their former human masters had built them for. It's no wonder that with the possibility of artificial intelligence coming up, there have been such cautionary tales like these. I honestly think that about the time when scientists get close to creating machines with artificial intelligence, there should be some kind of rules and cautionary procedures placed to insure that a super-smart machine wouldn't commit any major annoyances like trying to take over the world or destroying mankind.

Even though I will admit that there's a part of me that fears what the invention of artificial intelligence will result in for all of mankind, at the same time I have a fascination as to what a free-thinking machine would do and say. For example, would a free-thinking machine get bored really quickly? T-ForceThink about that for a second or two. Computers can already process information much quicker than the human mind, so would they run out of ways to amuse themselves quickly? I also think about questions that ran through my mind watching the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Terminator. If the Terminator had managed to kill Sarah Connor, what would it have done to pass the time before Skynet nuked the world? Questions like that interest me, which is one reason why I picked up T-Force, since its plot centers around Terminator-like machines. I wondered if I could get some new perspective of the mind of a machine. T-Force takes place in Los Angeles in the far-off future (actually in the year 2007.) Mankind has perfected the "cybernaut", human-looking machines with artificial intelligence that are primarily used for positions like cooks or maids. The L.A. police force has several of these cybernauts in a team called "Terminal Force", and this team is used in emergencies. They are called into action at the beginning of the movie to battle terrorists who have taken over a building and are holding several hostages. The T-Force manages to kill all the terrorists, but in the process several hostages are killed because of their actions. Because of this, the mayor and the police chief decide to scrub the T-Force project and terminate the cybernauts in it. This threat of death doesn't sit well with the T-Force cybernauts, and they subsequently battle their way out of their compound and escape... except for cybernaut Cain (Bobby Johnson), who stays behind because his personal programming concludes he should obey orders. With the rest of the T-Force on the loose and gunning for the mayor and police chief, human police officer Jack (Scalia, The Silencers, who was also the movie's associate producer) - who happens to hate robots - is paired up with Cain to track down and eliminate the rest of the T-Force.

As you probably saw from that plot description, T-Force doesn't exactly have a plot that is completely original. The opening bit with the hostages being rescued by a super squad was obviously derived from the opening of the Van Damme movie Universal Soldier, which was released just two years earlier. Then when the cybernauts rebel and escape, and are subsequently being tracked down by a human cop, all that is obviously inspired by Blade Runner. If you were to sit down and watch the rest of the movie, you would see that even more of the movie is inspired by other famous movies, primarily The Terminator - one of the cybernauts drives a car into a police station and subsequently shoots up the place, and underneath their skin the cybernauts' hands look just like the Terminator's hand when the flesh covering his hand was removed. Speaking of metal mechanical hands, it's always funny that whenever the cybernauts' skin coating is removed (which happens several times during the course of the movie) and we get to see their mechanical metal hands, it's always a left hand that's exposed, never a right hand, as if the budget required that the filmmakers use the same hand over and over. Seriously, though, the movie shows a number of other signs that its budget was nowhere near the movies that it tries to imitate. When the police surround the building that's taken over by the hostages at the beginning of the movie, for example, we only get to see a barricade consisting of four police cars crammed right close to each other

Oddly, those cars are crammed right up to the front door of the building, despite the fact that the terrorists had rocket launchers and showed they were willing to freely use them when the first police car came to the scene of the crime. And while I am discussing that first police car, I feel I should reveal that I got a good laugh when the unfortunate driver of that police car, seeing that that terrorists were about to use a rocket launcher on his car, jumped back into his police car just before the rocket struck, instead of running away. There are several other unintentionally funny moments in T-Force, ranging from dialogue (one scientist's long rant is particularly amusing) to cheesy-looking sets (the high tech laboratory set isn't even up to sets made for high school plays.) But there are also flaws that simply come across as incompetent. It is revealed at one point that Jack and the female mayor had some sort of relationship in the past, but this plot point is never exploited in any way. It's also odd that Jack says he hates robots when he owns a virtual porn machine, one of the desperate ways the movie gets to show some nudity. And Jack is never a compelling character, a large part due to Scalia's performance. Even when he's speaking loudly, he always sounds one-note, as if he's reading his lines instead of acting them. Strangely, the best performance in the movie comes from Johnson as the loyal cybernaut. You would think that an actor who mostly has soft-core movies on his resume would be terrible, but actually he's pretty good. He doesn't play Cain as very mechanical and monotone, but neither does he play him as a completely free-thinking and lively human. Watching him, you really get the sense that this character, though somewhat restricted by his programming, has a little humanity (he shows some emotion) and is trying hard to understand the crazy ways humans often speak and act.

The actors playing the other cybernauts aren't quite as skilled as Johnson, but they are adequate. One reason they manage to be believable is that they are given some decently written dialogue. Listening to them discuss matters like the death of a member of their team, or reasoning that they should be fighting for survival really does at times sound like what machines with some kind of artificial intelligence might say to each other. Also, the banter between cybernaut Cain and human Jack comes across as genuinely amusing and even touching at times. So the script, while not totally original, does have some novel moments like those. But most people, I think, who pick up a movie with a title and box art like T-Force will probably be most concerned with if the movie delivers "the goods". Well, I'll answer that be revealing that this is a movie from PM Entertainment. (Ha! I bet you thought I had given up trying to convince you to watch PM movies!) As expected, the cinematography is good, in this case giving the movie a dark and moody feel that feels surprisingly appropriate. There's also the trademark of plenty of glass being broken. But what about the action sequences? Well, I will admit that they are not up to PM's later more expensive movies like Last Man Standing - PM was just starting to get warmed up at this point, and the action scenes here are not of an epic scale as those later films. But they are serviceable, giving the audience plenty of guns being fired, explosions, people falling from the top of tall buildings, wrecked vehicles, and even some cybernaut kung fu thrown in along the way. Several times you see that the actors are doing their own stunts, which adds to the excitement generated by the action. While the movie does run a little long (103 minutes), director Pepin does keep the story moving and never allows the audience to start squirming in their seats. T-Force may not be an action classic, but it does meet the minimum requirements you demand from a B movie actioner, and gives you here and there a little extra to chew on.

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See also: Replicant, The Sender, The Silencers

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