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Plot: woman is targeted for termination by cybernetic adversaries from the future

As if Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995) wasn't enough of an insult Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (Prey Harder in certain territories) was stitched together from excess footage of the first sequel, with an additional 11 production days. Where Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995) stole from obvious sources, Predator (1987) and Rambo (1985) for the most part, it at least attempted, however meagerly, in some way, to continue the franchise in a new setting. Nemesis 3: Time Lapse has no such aspirations, and shows no interest in building on the initial promise of the original Nemesis (1992) with Olivier Gruner.

Battered and bloody Alex Raine (Sue Price) wakes up in the East African desert with no recollection of what happened to her. She retraces her steps and encounters Farnsworth 2 (Tim Thomerson) who offers to help her get medical attention. Farnsworth 2 gives her "a shot of endo" activating a latent memory warning her to not let Farnsworth 2 get her DNA. She quickly turns the situation around, and kills Farnsworth 2 with his own gun. Alex then passes out as past memories start to wash over her...

After the destruction of Nebula (Chad Stahelski) Raine was taken in by local rebel troops. Once cyborg insurgents wipe out the pocket of rebellion Alex' necklace starts glowing and a light appears in the distance. Following the light source, Alex runs into her half-sister Ramie (Ursula Sarcev) who explains that she has 20 half-sisters, but that Raine's the only one able to procreate, and thus start a genetically enhanced breed able to withstand the cyborg oppressor. Farnsworth 2 and a group of cyborgs imprison Ramie and her sisters and Alex teams up with Edson (Norbert Weisser) and Johnny (Xavier Decile), a somewhat damaged descendant of Max Impact from Nemesis (1992). Edson and Johnny are captured in the chaos when bounty hunting twins Lock (Sharon Bruneau) and Ditko (Debbie Muggli) raid the compound where a reprogrammed Nebula is massacring cyborgs. Alex manages to rescue her rebel friends, but then Farnsworth 2 sends a drone that destroys their jeep leaving Alex battered, bloody, and without memory.

Nemesis 2: Nebula wasn't the most graceful of sequels, but it at least attempted to steer the Nemesis franchise into a new direction. Nemesis 3: Time Lapse is the worst kind of sequel as it ignores both the original and the first sequel, and seems in no hurry to actually forward the narrative. As a stand-alone action movie it's functional enough, but it's not as if Nemesis 2: Nebula had raised the bar particularly high to begin with. Instead of setting up a plot device to let Raine get back to her own time, or at least send her on a mission to stop the cyborg uprise before it begins Nemesis 3: Time Lapse does neither. It's so aggravating and creatively regressive that it actually diminishes what little Nemesis 2: Nebula got right. Things wouldn't improve with Nemesis 4: Death Angel later in the year.

The new additions to the cast are hit-or-miss. Sharon Bruneau and Debbie Muggli are fun in their roles as wisecracking bounty hunter twins, but their little subplot is never developed enough to be of any importance. The same goes for Ramie, Johnny, and the 20 half-sisters which really must have been something of an afterthought. Under normal circumstances they could, or should, have been the crux to some sort of plot resolution - but Albert Pyun was apparently in no rush to tie up any loose ends, or develop any character beyond the rough contours of their designated archetype. The Ramie, Johnny, and the 20 half-sisters subplot is interesting enough to build an entire new Nemesis feature around, but that sadly never happened. The action is explosive enough but none of the set pieces are particularly involving. Especially in light of how the greater cast of villains are reduced to nothing more than one-note cannon fodder for heroine Alex Raine.

Not that the Nemesis series was ever known for its special effects work, but Nemesis 3: Time Lapse takes a plunge in that department as well. The pyrotechnics, stunts, and rubber suits are decent enough, but it are the visual effects that make Nemesis 3: Time Lapse the eyesore that it is. Instead of practical - and prosthetic effects there's now an excess of badly super-imposed, Windows 95 post-production effects, of which the neon glow over the antagonists’ eyes, the ripple effect on the dune buggy, and the morph fx used for shapeshifting characters are especially heinous. The lengthy flashback that makes up with bulk of the feature comes with a blue filter that probably only adds to the confusion. There's no shortage of explosive action scenes and the plot, or lack thereof, never gets in the way of the gunfire action. Pyun might not be much of a writer, but he always shoots action scenes well despite a lack of budget. Sue Price always handled herself well during action scenes, and here she does also. Price is the last person to blame for the mess that the Nemesis franchise became.

Somewhere in Nemesis 3: Time Lapse there's a halfway decent action movie. There's no shortage of action, for one thing. Pyun might not be much of a writer, but he always lenses action scenes well no matter how small the budget. Had Nemesis 3: Time Lapse focused on a battle of wits and endurance between the bounty hunter twins and Alex with a few supporting characters acting as allies or cannon fodder, and Ramie and her tribe of half-sisters as the prize it could have been so much more, and so much more effective. As it stands Nemesis 3: Time Lapse is the busiest of the four Nemesis episodes but has nothing to show for it. Just like Nemesis 2: Nebula before it Nemesis 3: Time Lapse doesn't feel much like a sequel, and it would probably have been better as a stand-alone feature. Not that Nemesis sequels would get better with time. In fact the opposite is true.

Plot: kickboxer is coerced into partaking in clandestine tournament

It's entirely within the realm of possibly that in 1995 Albert Pyun was spreading himself a bit thin, creatively. Not only did he direct the first Nemesis (1992) sequel Nemesis 2: Nebula, around the same time he shot three films on location in the Philippines. In a bout of creative economics he lensed the Bond imitation Spitfire, the pseudo-realistic thriller Hong Kong ’97 (1994) and the the Christopher Borkgren written cyberpunk martial arts romp Heatseeker. Despite a mildly promising premise, a relative nobody in the starring role, and a swath of Pyun regulars in tow Heatseeker looks exactly as lethargic and turgid as it sounds. It certainly won’t bother explaining why it is called Heatseeker. If the wretched Bloodmatch (1991) had anything going for it, it was Andy Sidaris babe Hope Marie Carlton. Heatseeker has to content itself with sometime Pyun muse Tina Cote.

In the far-flung future present of 2019 Sianon Corporation marketing executive Tsiu Tung (Norbert Weisser), who isn’t Asian despite his name, has devised the ultimate scheme for dominating the fledging international cybernetics market. In a clandestine, globally broadcast, mixed martial arts tournament rival corporations will be able to present their sponsored fighters, and the eventual winner, and its parent company, will monopolize the cybernetics market. In an unexpected turn of events Chance O’Brien (Keith Cooke), the last fully human competitor and one who is vocal in his condemnation of cybernetics, defeats Sianon grand champion Xao (Gary Daniels) in the ring. To ensure victory for the hosting house Sianon decks out their prize fighter with in-house enhancements in a sequence looking like a skid row re-enactment of the assembly scenes in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).

At the post-match press conference O’Brien and his fiancée/manager Jo (Tina Cote, as Tina Coté) announce their engagement, and they are soon beset by Tung with his price fighter in attendance. Refusing to bend knee to the interests of corporate overlords O’Brien and Jo head off to Paris, France for a short romantic getaway. Jo is abducted by Tung’s goons and implanted with a mind control chip, the workings of which will, of course, never be explained. Under aegis of Tung she is forced to train Sianon prize fighter Xao under the threat of bodily harm. To make matters worse, Jo is forced upon Xao because Tang apparently mistakes physical affection for love, neither of which Jo is prepared or willing to give. Xao himself doesn’t seem comfortable with the arrangement, and will often look dismayed – or that may just be Daniels’ complete inability to emote combined with the cold looking azure contacts he is forced to wear. To get O’Brien to do his bidding Tung threatens to kill Jo if he doesn’t follow his plan. How killing Jo is supposed to be beneficial to Xao’s training regiment is, of course, conveniently glossed over. Neither does Tung seem to have a contingency plan in place in case O’Brien doesn’t want to partake in the clandestine tournament, and is prepared to sacrifice Jo to facilitate his escape.

In tradition of Bloodsport (1988) and Kickboxer (1989) – wherein Jean-Claude van Damme is as oiled up and flexible as Cooke is here - the only way to avenge the killing/taking of one’s sibling or paramour is by partaking in an underground martial arts tournament, or a full-contact kumite. Checking in at his hotel in New Manila a helpful receptionist (Hazel Huelves) points him to the right direction to enroll in the tournament. The tournament is, to avoid all possible confusion, simply called The Tournament. Supposedly because The Arena, Kubate, or Mortal Kombat were already taken. As genre convention dictates upon arriving in the Filipino capital of New Manila, O’Brien has barely left the plane or he is accosted by street thugs, and robbed of both his clothing and whatever possessions he brought along - an old Filipino action movie convention that also could be found in the Cirio H. Santiago topless kung fu classics TNT Jackson (1974), Naked Fist (1981) and Angelfist (1993). It is here at O’Brien runs into Bradford (Thom Mathews), a corporate executive acting as his own sponsor and quite literally defending his firm in the ring. Bradford is supposed to act has a buddy to O’Brien, but nothing substantial is made of it. A subplot wherein Tung coerces Bradford to sell O’Brien down the river is brought up, but has no visible effect on the main plot.

As Chance works his way through the early part of The Tournament he attracts the attention of the Zanac Corporation, who decide to sponsor him. Corporate assistant Liu (Yau Chau-Yuet or Selena Mangharan, as Selena Mangh), who everybody refers to as “Lou”, makes sure O’Brien remains properly motivated. Eventually Chance faces reigning champion Xao, who multiple characters lovingly call “a tin man”, an obvious reference the Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel, who despite being almost completely rebuilt from cybernetic components still doesn’t reach his full potential as a fighter. Xao, like LL Cool J before him, needs love to unlock his true power as a cybernetic combatant. When O’Brien defeats Xao in the ring a second time, supposedly due to the fact that O’Brien is empowered by love, the latter sacrifices himself by taking a bullet meant for Jo. O’Brien, dimwitted as always, walks away from the situation oblivious to Xao’s rather blatant and obvious heroic self-sacrifice.

Unlike the vastly superior Mortal Kombat (1995) or the Jean-Claude van Damme box office bomb Street Fighter (1994), Heatseeker hardly, if ever, manages to deliver on its promise. The mildly interesting premise, the stylized look, and even the fights come across as overly stilted and daft. The cybernetic implants and upgrades are heavily emphasized in the mess of a screenplay but it’s impossible to tell which combatants are enhanced and which are not. Neither do said implants seem to give any of the more enhanced combatants any strategic upperhand or special skills. One of the bigger, and more important, problems for Heatseeker is the unequivocally flat and unenergetic action choreography. The fights universally and uniformly are clunky, slow, and lack in athleticism, rhythm, and grace.

If this had been a Hong Kong production at least the fights would have been good. Not so here. Further complicating matters is that there's a complete absence of interesting camera angles, every scene is shot in soft focus, and the fights are easily the most boring aspect of the production. A great deal is made of Heatseeker being about a full-contact kumite yet it's practically bloodless and the injuries of the cybernetic combatants are shown with small, budget-efficient exposing of wiring and circuitry embedded in human flesh. Each cybernetic combatant hits the canvas with the expected eruption of sparks, vapors of smoke, and light electronic buzzing. It’s a sad day for a budget-deficient martial arts movie when the referee (Mary Courtney) becomes the only aspect of a fight worth paying attention to.

Somewhere in Heatseeker there’s a worthwhile little martial arts movie, or a passable character study of cybernetic enhanced martial artists in search and contemplation of the nature of humanity, and their loss thereof - or a protest against the corporization and mass commercialization of popular sports entertainment. All of which director Albert Pyun, or most likely screenwriter Christopher Borkgren, has no interest in exploring to any degree. It’s interesting that two of Pyun’s more worthy offerings were far more grounded in reality than his usual dystopian cyberpunk vehicles. Hong Kong ’97 benefitted from having two lead stars (Robert Patrick and Ming-Na Wen) that could actually act, and Spitfire was a popcorn spy/adventure flick in the truest sense of the word. That Heatseeker, much more in Pyun’s comfort zone than anything else that year, is so immensely, unforgivingly stale that it might as well signal that Pyun was spreading himself a tad too thin creatively that year. Heatseeker makes one long for the glorious incompetence of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.