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Eliminators
(1986)

Director: Peter Manoogian
Cast:
Andrew Prine, Denise Crosby, Patrick Reynolds


A few years ago, I sat down to watch Charlotte's Web - the 1973 animated version, which I hadn't seen since I was a kid. Yeah, I know it's kind of a strange choice for a B movie buff such as myself, and there were indeed a few times while rewatching the movie when I questioned my choice, seeing among other things the trademark stiff animation courtesy of the Hanna-Barbera studio. But there was one moment in the movie that managed to strike me, and that was when the Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman penned song A Fair Is A Veritable Smorgasbord was sung. As the song was being sung by Paul Lynde and Agnes Moorehead, it certainly struck me that the Sherman brothers had descended somewhat in their careers, since a few years earlier they had been working for Disney, but now they were working for the less prestigious Hanna-Barbera studio. But it also struck me that it's not only fairs that are smorgasboards, but many other things in life. And one of those things happens to be the world of movies. Just think about it for a little bit - there are action movies, comedies, dramas, horror flicks, fantasies, family flicks... the list goes on and on. But in the world of movies, there is also a smorgasbord within the smorgasbord. Take the action genre, for instance. There are so many different kinds of action movies. There are kung fu epics, war movies, westerns, tough cop flicks, post-apocalypse struggles, spy thrillers, revenge movies, blaxploitation... the list goes on and on, resulting in the fact that there is surely at least one movie out there in the world for anyone's particular taste.

But it gets even better. There are not only sub-genres in each of the main genres, but there are also sub-genres in many of the sub-genres. Let me give you another example related to the action genre. Each of the sub-genres in the action genre - tough cop flicks, blaxploitation, etc. - can be made different depending on what's decided when it comes to protagonists. There is the classic "lone hero" kind of action movie, where there is one central protagonist who must work by himself against all odds to conquer whatever antagonistic force is out there. There are some advantages to using this formula. It's a lot cheaper, for one thing, than having the hero paired up with additional characters, which would mean hiring more talent. And seeing the hero by himself struggling against all odds can make everyone in the audience more involved with what's happening on the screen - everyone feels alone at one point or another, and they will inevitably wonder what they would do if they were in the protagonist's shoes, making them even more involved with the story. The disadvantage of the "lone hero" action movie is that it may be harder to flesh out the hero if he doesn't have anyone to interact with. So understandably, another kind of action sub-genre in whatever action sub-genre that movies producers have tried is the "team" action movie, where it's several heroes going against an antagonistic force. Yes, it's often more expensive than a "lone hero" movie, giving that more people have to be hired. But there is great potential to be tapped in such movies. More protagonists mean more chemistry and interactivity, which fleshes out the good guys and gives them individual personalities. Also, each protagonist can have an individual skill, which often can be more believable than a lone hero who somehow can do everything.

In the past, I have been a sucker for the "team" action movies. I admit that I like seeing different individuals forced to work together to conquer a common foe. I also like how the different individuals add variety to the movie that a lone hero would find difficult or impossible to do. EliminatorsI've written some positive reviews for such movies for this web site, such as The Five Man Army and The Deserter. But recently, I have been in kind of a rut when it comes to finding new and exciting "team" action movies. I have personally seen so many, a lot of them started to look strikingly similar. But recently I managed to get my hands on a "team" movie that had a team so unique I could say with confidence that there hadn't been another "team" movie like it before or since it was made. That movie was Eliminators, an Empire Pictures production. Empire Pictures had a spotty run during its lifetime, so I didn't know if I would like the movie. But it boasted a team of protagonists so unique I knew the movie one way or another would be memorable. The first member of the team to be is introduced is a former pilot (Reynolds) who after his plane crashed was transformed into a cyborg by the mysterious Dr. Abbot Reeves (Roy Dotrice, The Scarlet Letter), a scientist in Mexico dabbling in time travel. On the verge of executing some secret time travel scheme and finding escalating problems with the cyborg after much experimenting, Reeves orders his assistant to dispose of the cyborg. The assistant instead helps the cyborg escape, advising him to seek American scientist Nora Hunter (Crosby, Star Trek: The Next Generation). The cyborg manages to reach Hunter, and shortly after the two decide to team up and go to Mexico in order to stop the dangerous Reeves. Reaching Mexico, the two hire Harry Fontana (Prine, The Evil) a shifty riverboat captain, to sneak them past various dangers into Reeves' laboratory lair. During the journey into the countryside, the three bump into and are subsequently joined by a man named Kuji (Conan Lee, Gymkata), a ninja who is the son of the assistant who helped the cyborg escape from Dr. Reeves. All in all, an odd team... but it turns out everyone has some sort of skill that may help in the quest to stop Dr. Reeves.

I'll freely admit it - it doesn't take that much thought to realize that this plot for Eliminators comes across as kind of contrived as well as silly. But despite those negative aspects, the movie all the same has a potential strength that many other movies, B-grade or A-grade, can only dream of. That strength, of course, is the extreme diversity of its characters. With each character having different strengths and skills, the story and character possibilities are numerous. Of course, even with characters greatly diverse on the surface, you still have to remember important things like character development and good acting. So how do these guys come across in the end? I'll start with the two prime characters, the cyborg and Dr. Reeves. As the cyborg, actor Patrick Reynolds gives an adequate performance. What no doubt helped him to make his cyborg character different than your typical B-movie cyborg is that his character does express some emotion - which is to be expected, since he is part human. Reynolds subtly shows his character is pained and somewhat confused because of his robotic parts, and he has a good moment towards the end when he requests one of his companions to shut him down since he's had just about all he can take. This isn't a richly written or acted character, but clearly some care was taken with its acting and writing. Certainly a lot more than what's observed with the movie's villain, Dr. Reeves. Reeves is a really weak character, namely because he has a limited amount of footage. In the first eighty minutes of this ninety-five minute movie, Dr. Reeves only has three (very) brief appearances, if you don't count an additional small moment where we hear but don't see him. As a result of this limited amount of footage, I didn't get much of a sense that this guy was a real threat until near the very end of the movie. And it's kind of hard to get on the side of heroes if there isn't a real feeling of danger.

You may be wondering what Eliminators does instead of giving its prime villain more of a showcase. As it turns out, it focuses more on various henchmen, ranging from cavemen that have been brought to modern times by Dr. Reeves to rival riverboat trackers secretly working for Dr. Reeves. While I suppose some kind of threat could have been generated by these individuals, the actual end results feel kind of flat - the cavemen are simple-minded dullards who are scared by loud noises, and the riverboat captains are goofy yahoos. However, there is one positive result coming from these unsatisfying henchmen, and that is that they make the protagonists look better in comparison. When you take away the henchmen, one can easily see Denise Crosby giving either a simple-minded or bewildered demeanor that doesn't make sense for a scientist, and that Andrew Prime seems to be giving a half-hearted imitation of Han Solo from Star Wars. Conan Lee, on the other hand, isn't given that much dialogue so it's kind of hard to criticize his performance, but I kind of sensed he was just as unenthusiastic as his co-stars. Maybe the lacklustre performances by most of the cast came from seeing their often shabby surroundings. While I admit that the cyborg costume didn't look bad for a low budget production, and that Dr. Reeves' laboratory was built with some considerable detail (though for some reason we hardly get to see it), the remainder of the sets and special effects are at best nothing terribly special, and at their worse are pretty cheesy. While this is one movie where you can't spot the wires holding up actors and props that are for one reason or another suspended in the air, the movie painfully skimps out on other details, like the makeup on the actors playing Neanderthal cavemen.

It doesn't help that Eliminators' backdrop for these special effects and actors also doesn't look very good. If I were to tell you that the movie was primarily filmed in the Spanish countryside, you might think you'd get backdrops like those found in spaghetti westerns filmed fifteen to twenty years earlier. But for some reason, director Peter Manoogian (Arena) throughout the shooting found and filmed on locations that look as breathtaking as your typical local city park or what's a few feet from the side of a road in the suburbs. Actually, there are a few locations (such as a river) that appear that they could have look spectacular with the right camera angles, but Manoogian films these locations with absolute flatness and no flair. In fact, Manoogian films the action portions of the movie with the same apparent lack of enthusiasm. A lot of the time he seems to just point the camera towards what is happening, thinking that simple motion, like a speedboat approaching the camera, contains enough excitement. Since it's the director's job to spark the actors, stage the action well, and sell the special effects even if they are cheesy, I feel much of the blame for Eliminators' failure lies on Manoogian's shoulders. The only flaw of the movie I don't think he can be blamed for are some confusing moments that suggest the movie was considerably cut down from its original length in the editing room. (For example, the cyborg is eventually called "John" out of the blue by the heroes, even though there is no scene where his name is revealed.) Though even if details like those had been explained, Manoogian would still have to account for his poor handling of the rest of the movie. When a director can't properly direct a simple scene involving Denise Crosby in a wet tank top, you know that something with that director is beyond hope.

(Posted June 14, 2018)

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See also: The Five Man Army, Robot Jox, T-Force

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