Director: Fred Olen Ray
Heather Thomas, Jeffrey Combs, Ashley Ferrare

Every once in a while, either due to boredom or to give my brain something of a mental workout, I like to imagine that I have the mind of a typical person in the general public. My writing style and my taste in movies (among other things) certainly make me quite the non-conformist, so I want to figure out why the general public likes or dislikes the things that it does. When I give my mind that kind of challenge, it shouldn't come as no surprise that more often than not I ponder on the general public's taste in movies. For example, there are many box office hits that have me wonder why they were embraced by a mass audience. As I ponder movie questions such as that example, I drift to thinking about the factors that make people in the general public choose what movies they decide to watch. For me, I decide on several factors. I consider (among other things) the genre, the members of the cast, and the director. This is where it gets interesting. Certainly, the general public is certainly attracted to certain genres; superhero movies almost always are big box office hits. And certainly the specific actors in a movie can make the difference whether someone will fork over ten dollars to see the movie or not. But when it comes to directors, the general public doesn't seem to care that much about who directs a movie or not. Let me give you an example with Steven Spielberg. Without doubt, a number of his movies have been box office hits, but if you look at his complete resume, you'll find that his touch does not always make significant box office gold.

Of course, there are some directors that have managed to implant their "brand" into the general public's mind. It's here that things get interesting. It seems that the directors that manage to make some sort of "brand" are only of two extremes. Either they are very good at what they do, or they are very bad at directing. Few people follow the directors who fall somewhere in the middle. While I am sure almost every movie director hopes that they will be considered top notch at their craft, I wonder sometimes about those directors who are not very good but are well known. How do they feel about their not so stellar reputations? Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had Ed Wood not died in 1978, just before his hilariously awful movies were rediscovered - what would he have thought of being known for those movies. Well, I once read an interview with a former associate of Wood who stated that Wood would be "eating up" his new found fame and that people were now actively seeking out his movies. As for other directors who have less than stellar reputations, their reaction to the general public's opinion of their movies varies. Years ago, after I wrote a savage review of Albert Pyun's movie Omega Doom, I later got an e-mail from Pyun himself. He actually seemed pretty amused by my trashing of him and his movies, and after reading his e-mail my respect for him rose somewhat - if he had a sense of humor about his terrible reputation, he couldn't be all bad. On the other hand, what I have seen of Italian director Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2), he seems to be both irritated and confused by the public reaction to his bad movies.

One bad movie director that I sometimes wonder about is Fred Olen Ray. He is not just a director of bad movies, but he is an extremely prolific one; to date he has directed over one hundred movies. While I did find his Dinosaur Island movie (that he co-directed with Jim Wynorski) Cycloneokay (in a rainy day viewing experience where nothing better was available way), the other movies of his that I have seen have been nowhere as good. Looking at the movies Ray makes - and knowing he makes them very quickly and very cheaply - it seems that he doesn't care if he has a bad reputation just as long as he's working. That's why I long ago swore off watching any more Fred Olen Ray movies. But with Cyclone, I decided to break my vow this once. The movie promised to have been made with a bit more care and money than usual for someone like Ray. And it had quite the impressive B-movie cast, some which I will name in the following plot description. Though you might think by the title that the movie is some kind of disaster movie, it isn't - the title of the movie refers to a motorcycle built by scientist Rick Davenport (Jeffrey Combs, Cellar Dweller). The motorcycle is fitted with all sorts of high-tech features, like rocket launchers, and Rick intends to deliver the finished product to the government, which sponsored the project. But when Rick goes out on a night in the town to celebrate with his girlfriend Teri Marshall (Heather Thomas, The Fall Guy), he is assassinated by forces working for an arms dealer named Bosarian (Martin Landau, Strange Shadows In An Empty Room) that desperately wants the motorbike. The mourning Teri soon afterwards finds a message Rick left her just before his death, instructing her to get the motorbike to the proper authorities. Teri is determined to do so, but Bosarian and his men are equally as determined to get their hands on Cyclone.

Besides Combs, Thomas, and Landau, Cyclone also boasts in its cast Huntz Hall (the Bowery Boys movie series), Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire), and Troy Donahue (Cockfighter). There's even legendary stuntman Dar Robinson in a role, as well as the sons of Tim Conway and Ronald Reagan in bit parts. But the star I really want to talk first about is the title character - the high-tech motorcycle. To be honest, the depiction of the motorcycle was very disappointing to me. Oh sure, the motorcycle has features such as the ability to jump over obstacles, fire lasers, and also fire rockets. Oddly, however, the movie seems really shy to reveal the complete attributes of the motorcycle until much later in the movie. A bigger problem is that the motorcycle is painted completely with a silver color that doesn't make any part of its body really stand out, and as a result it looks like something that hasn't completely gone through the assembly line. Even worse is that in night scenes, it oddly has a purple headlight that jars strangely with its grey color. The motorcycle looks really cheap, though as it turns out, it's no cheaper than the other portions of the movie. From the first shot of the movie, a P.O.V. shot from a speeding motorcycle riding over a bumpy pothole and puddle-filled road surface, it's clear that director Ray will not have much in the way of resources to make the movie look better. Room interiors look extremely tight throughout, from Rick's "high tech" laboratory that is barely bigger than your typical bedroom, to a nightclub that looks like it was filmed in a two vehicle suburban home's garage. Set dressings for those two locations, as well as most other locations in the movie, are at an absolute minimum.

Those are not the only severe and very noticeable cost-cutting measures director Ray uses in Cyclone. Other ways Ray used to stretch the few pennies he had range from there being a limited number of wide shots (especially in interiors), to having shot actors at different times but having their footage edited together to make it appear they are sharing the same scene. When it comes to directing the movie's action scenes, Ray does better - a little. The climactic action sequence does pack a little punch, with several big explosions and some fairly impressive vehicle stuntwork. However, what action there was before the climax has far less of an impact. Most of this is due to the fact there is no feeling of real speed or energy, such as with vehicles not going all out in their speed, though there is also some questionable staging (an old station wagon chasing the high-tech motorbike?) What makes the action worse, however, is that in the entire 86 or so minutes of the running time, there aren't that many action sequences at all. In the first 60 minutes, there are only two bona fide action sequences, and one of them is a totally gratuitous (and very short) sequence of Thomas' character beating up some no-name punks trying to sexually harass her. The script isn't only weak when it comes to making excuses for action. The occasions of comic relief are old and lame, such as with two agents falling asleep while on a stakeout at Thomas' heroine's home. There is also far too much time (more than 50% of the running time, in fact) to set up the entire situation before Thomas' character starts on her journey to get the motorbike safely away from the hands of the villains. And there are plenty of plot details that don't make sense, such as why the government would allow the Combs character to make a high-tech motorbike that is completely powered by hydrogen sucked out of the air. If you ask me, the government would just want the hydrogen fuel source technology, especially since I think the high-tech motorbike would at best just have limited practical use out on a battlefield.

Another problem with the script for Cyclone is that the characters in the movie, good or evil, are not written in a way to be very satisfying. Certainly, there is stuff like evil henchmen who are somehow able to track down anybody without any explanation as to how they are able to do so. A bigger problem, however, is that the characters are very thin and possess little (if anything) that will interest us. We learn that Teri, for example, has a deceased father... and that's about it. We learn even less about her scientist boyfriend Rick, so we don't know why they are attracted to each other, which makes the scene where actors Combs and Thomas make out even more unappealing than it may sound here. As for the chief villain Bosarian, he wants the bike just so he can make money, and assigns all the work to his equally boring henchmen - not the least bit interesting. It then shouldn't come as any surprise that no one in the cast seems the least bit interested to give a good performance. Certainly, Troy Donahue can't do much in his less than one minute appearance, and all that Huntz Hall can do in his two minutes of screen time is to bulge his eyes. In his three minutes, Martin Landau just seems content to phone it in, literally or figuratively. Most of the acting burden, however, falls on Heather Thomas' shoulders, and she doesn't make the best of her lead role. She often speaks in a monotone fashion, even when her character is in an intense situation. When she does show a little spark, the attitude from her is simply that of crankiness, suggesting she knows that she's in a pretty much total bomb of a movie project. Had she or the other participants of the project both in front of and behind the camera shown some more enthusiasm, it might have been possible to have lifted the movie out of its very low budget pothole. But as it is, this is one Cyclone that simply won't blow away any viewers, even if one were to compare it with most of the other works of Fred Olen Ray.

(Posted February 28, 2023)

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See also: Deadly Weapon, Omega Doom, R.O.T.O.R.