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Plot: behold the new model to fight the cyborg oppressor.

Once upon a time Hawaiian shlockmeister Albert Pyun directed Nemesis (1992), a low budget action movie that placed film noire characters in a dystopian cyberpunk setting with the style, swagger, and gunplay of some of John Woo’s best explosive Hong Kong heroic bloodshed features. It liberally lifted ideas and concepts from James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and gave them a HK bend. With the arrival of Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995) and the induction of Sue Price the series took a turn for the worse – something from which it never recovered. For those who thunk Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) was the ultimate insult and the lowest the series would sink, Nemesis 5: The New Model pulls the once-glorious franchise to previously unimaginable new lows. With Albert Pyun executive producing (more of a symbolic honorary title instead of anything substantial) and Lincoln, Nebraska micro-budget one-man-industry Dustin Ferguson directing Nemesis 5: The New Model (Nemesis 5 hereafter) makes one cardinal mistake. That is considering the Sue Price episodes canonical. If Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) effectively buried the franchise for 21 years, then the nostalgia-driven grab-around Nemesis 5 will ensure it remains that way for the next twenty, or so, years.

Nemesis (1992) was an introspective musing on life and what it meant to be human – and when it wasn’t, it was a hyper-stylized explosive HK action movie with a cyberpunk aesthetic and literal acres of skin, both of male and female persuasion, on display. The Nemesis sequels with Sue Price were nowhere near, or at all for that matter, as thoughtful or nuanced as the original. They weren’t written by David S. Goyer after all. The depth and subversive elements that Goyer brought to the original were conspicuous only by their absence. For Nemesis 5 apparently nobody bothered dissecting the original and why it worked as well as it did a quarter century ago. When a franchise doesn’t produce a sequel in over two decades there’s probably a very good reason for it. After Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) even Albert Pyun thought it was high time to relegate the franchise to much deserved obscurity. Nemesis 5 is not that long overdue sequel or soft reboot to restore the long-suffering series to its rightful glory. Instead Nemesis 5 is a crushing disappointment. A cruel and sobering reminder that good things not always come to those who wait. If this was meant to be a symbolic passing of the torch, Nemesis 5 is a stark and abject failure on all fronts.

It is the year 2077. Humanity has been enslaved by the cyborg oppressor. The Red Army Hammerheads control all aspects of life, but the arid wastelands are overflowing with dissent and rebel enclaves are omnipresent. In the ruins of civilization once-fearsome bounty hunter Alex Sinclair (Sue Price) continues the grassroots insurgency. After her parents are killed in an attack young Ari Frost (Joelle Reeb) seeks out Sinclair and becomes her student. In the years that follow Sinclair tutors Frost to become her successor thus earning the tag of The New Model. Once she has come of age The Red Army Hammerheads realize that Ari Frost (Schuylar Craig) poses a threat against their power structures once she kills one of their operatives (Daiane Azura) in a hotelroom. Henceforth the Hammerhead strategists/controllers Lt. Telecine (Robert Lankford) and Sgt. Telecine (Jennii Caroline) dispatch the bounty hunter twins (Breana Mitchell and Lia Havlena) as well as Nebula (Zach Muhs) to dispose of her. Ari is ordered to take down a reclusive Red Army Hammerhead leader (Mel Novak), but he won’t be going down without a fight and is constantly guarded by his trusted partner Barbarella (Dawna Lee Heising). Aiding Frost in her seek-and-destroy mission are Eve (Crystal Milani), Dan (Daniel Joseph Stier, as Daniel Stier), and Edwin (Edwin Garcia).

That the above plot summary reads nothing like an Albert Pyun Nemesis movie was expected. That it would get the most established basics wrong is far more damning In the original Nemesis (1992) LAPD cop Alex Rain was a police detective tasked with tracking down Red Army Hammerheads information-terrorist cells. On one such mission he suffered grievous bodily harm and his handler convinced him to defect to the Red Army Hammerheads camp. In changing his alliances Rain drew the ire of his former employers and was hunted by a cybernetic infiltration unit disguised as his direct superior in an attempt to dispose of him. It’s later revealed that the police and government have been mechanized by the cyborg oppressor, and the Red Army Hammerheads are in fact the last bastion of human resistance.

In the sequels, set several decades after the original, genetic descendant Alex Raine (later Sinclair) is transported to 1980s Africa where she’s first chased by Nebula, cybernetic bounty hunters Lock and Ditko, and much later an upgraded Farnsworth. No mention is made of the Impact clan, nor are there any references to Ramie (Ursula Sarcev) and Sinclair’s tribe of half-sisters from Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996). Nemesis 2 to 4 never managed to resolve their overarching plotline, and Nemesis 5 does so by glossing over the particulars. There’s a gender-swapped re-enactment of the “goddamn terrorist” scene from Nemesis (1992) but it makes little to no sense even in its present context. The remainder of Nemesis 5 is piss-poor on just about every conceivable level. In short, this is an exercise in tedium and futility that bears little to no semblance to the series it’s continuing.

If anything Nemesis (1992) was not afraid to be sexy. Olivier Gruner was bare chested for at least a quarter of the movie. Deborah Shelton, Merle Kennedy, Marjean Holden, Marjorie Monaghan, Jennifer Gatti, and Borovnisa Blervaque had something for everybody. The only good thing to come from Nemesis 5 on that end are Schuylar Craig and stuntwoman Crystal Milani, both of whom would be right at home with Rene Perez. The only star, nominal though it may be, that Nemesis 5 was able to afford is Dawna Lee Heising who (pre-plastic surgery) famously had an uncredited bit part as a showgirl in Blade Runner (1982), as a priestess in Big Trouble in Little China (1986), and a number of famous TV shows. The obligatory faded American star is martial arts veteran Mel Novak who has several decades of pulp to his credit. In that capacity he appeared in, among many others, in respectable fare as The Ultimate Warrior (1975), Game of Death (1978), and Force: Five (1981), Moonbase (1997), to direct-to-video action/science-fiction fodder as Future War (1997), Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance (2015), and Dustin Ferguson’s latest attempt at a franchise, RoboWoman (2019).

Nemesis (1992) never let its creativity be restricted by the budget, Nemesis 5 on the other hand is dictated entirely by its budget – or complete lack thereof. To dispense with the obvious, Nemesis 5 is cheap, shot on video cheap. This makes the oeuvre of Rene Perez look like Stanley Kubrick and Neil Johnson like Michael Bay. It was so cheap that it couldn’t afford neither director of photography George Mooradian nor composer Anthony Riparetti (although he’s involved as sound designer). It slavishly follows the template of the Pyun-written sequels with Sue Price, and never quite seems to grasp just what made Olivier Gruner headed original a modest hit on home video.

More often than not Nemesis 5 feels like a very bad piece of fanfiction. And it looks like it too. Nemesis (1992) had some hard-hitting and explosive action that clearly took after Hong Kong heroic bloodshed and bullet ballet. Nemesis 5 has random nobodies, faded once-somebodies, and pseudo-goth chicks standing around in the Nebraska desert holding dollar store props with a red or a green filter for that futuristic look. The action was more explosive and convincing in Ugandan action-comedy Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010) as were the martial arts for that matter. Nemesis 5 is amateurishly shot, badly choreographed, terribly written, and acted even worse. It’s the ultimate insult to anybody who ever followed the Nemesis series in any capacity for the last two decades and counting.

If there’s one thing that Nemesis 5 does right it’s that it, rightly, decries the increasingly totalitarian state of the US government, the increase of the police state, and the rampant militarization and systemic unaccountability of its law enforcement. It’s absolutely the last place where you’d expect to find a leftist, anarchistic agenda. Schuylar Craig couldn’t possibly be expected to carry this thing and the brunt of the blame for this unmitigated fiasco falls squarely on the shoulders of Dustin Ferguson and writer Mike Reeb. They completely dropped the ball on this one. Nemesis 5 not only lacks just about everything that the Albert Pyun original (and the three sequels of increasingly diminishing returns) had – but apparently forgot what this series was about.

The fifth episode of any series is usually where the bolts and nuts come loose, and things are no different here. Nemesis 5 is the malformed offspring of the series, the abomination of which nobody speaks, and the unspeakable atrocity from which there’s no return. In other words, Nemesis 5 stands among universally loathed cinematic abortions as Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), and Terminator Genisys (2015). As with many of these ventures, nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. Nemesis 5 is, as the great philosopher James Hetfield once put it, the thing that should not be.

Plot: retired assassin is targeted for extermination

For the last twenty or so years Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (Death Angel in some regions) was the lowest that anybody thunk that Albert Pyun's once-glorious Nemesis franchise could fall. Gone were days of Hong Kong bullet ballet action, of robust desert action, and hell, even the science fiction aspect was becoming negligible or strenuous at best. The law of diminishing returns struck hard and swift on Albert Pyun's once stylish but surprisingly watchable Nemesis series. That Olivier Gruner didn't reprise the role that made him famous for the first sequel should have been plenty indication. Sue Price made the best of what little she was given. The blame for Nemesis taking a turn for the worse lies squarely with director-writer Albert Pyun.

Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (Nemesis 4 hereafter) abandons all pretense of even bothering with established continuity and has Pyun indulging some of the worst inclinations typical to trash directors under the double strain of non-existent budgets and compressed production schedules. Nemesis 4 was afforded a grand total of 5 production days while Pyun was engaged in re-shoots for Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996). Pyun was never a good writer to begin with, and even his best writing was marred by sketchy, paper-thin plotting and nearly non-existent characterization. Pyun, no cinematic wünderkind by any stretch of the imagination, usually is able to conjure up at least an interesting action set piece or two more than this unsightly monstrosity that supposedly is meant to give closure to the two or three, depending how you count them, Nemesis episodes. Fear not, however, as greater atrocities were yet to be visited upon the unsuspecting franchise.

Six years after the events of Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) a truce has been reached between the warring factions of the humans and cyborgs. With the war ending operatives from each side now work as mercenaries for private contractors. In some unnamed East-European city Alex Sinclair (Sue Price), who has shed her Raine surname and enhanced herself with cybernetic components, works as an assassin and is haunted by visions of a mysterious Woman In Black (Blanka Copikova). Hired to kill Carlos Jr. (Juro Rasla) Sinclair dons the disguise of an escort and completes her contract. When it is revealed that the hit was a setup to have her eliminated by her handler Bernardo (Andrew Divoff) Alex pieces together that her intended target is Earl Typhoon (Nicholas Guest). To get to him, and find those behind the conspiracy to disgrace and sully her name, she sets her sights on Tokuda (Norbert Weisser) and finally Bernardo. Amidst this chaos she also has a run-in with Johnny Impact (Simon Poland), a descendant of Merle Kennedy’s Max Impact in the original, and vastly superior, Nemesis (1992).

That it would come to this should surprise no one as the prior two sequels offered some spectacular devolution in their own right. Nemesis 4 at long last returns the franchise to the bleak urban cityscapes of the original but without an ounce of coherence and style. The pyrotechnics and stuntwork are conspicuous only by their absence and what once passed for low-rent action has been reduced to a softcore skinflick with occasional bouts of action. Nemesis 4 is neither here nor there. Had it starred Melissa Moore, Samantha Phillips, Tina Cote, or Julie K. Smith than it least could have been passed off as a marginally tantalizing affair. Sue Price was an award-winning bodybuilder, and not some sex-crazed femme fatale. Nearly unrecognizable without her cornrows and military garb this is not the Alex Sinclair you remember. Hell, this is not even the Nemesis you might remember with some fondness. Nemesis 4 is reductionist to the point of writing itself out of existence.

It's telling enough that the only big names in much of the promo material are Sue Price and... Blanka Copikova. Copikova was a featured extra in Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996) where she played the demanding role of "additional cop". Sue Price, of course, had been the series figurehead in Gruner's sorely felt absence and for her to have to sink this low is beyond forgiving. To have the burnt-out urban hellscapes of Vukovar, Croatia and Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina serve as the locales for something as drab as this begs the question why this was even deemed a good, or feasible, idea. Nemesis (1992) was a modest hit on home video and sequels were both expected and probably demanded, but not even a low-key action series as this deserved to be dragged through the mud quite the way it did. Pyun and his cohorts clearly dropped the ball on this one, and it shows. Does it ever show. For a primarily style-driven director as Albert Pyun this one distinctly lacks in showmanship and, well, basic style and decent cinematography even.

To have Nemesis, once a mildly promising franchise that went off to a surprisingly solid initial outing, reduced to this waste of celluloid is in itself not surprising. The two prior sequels at least hinted at such a devolution, but nothing quite pointed at a regression this dire. That Pyun went from a stylish John Woo heroic bloodshed imitation, through two sequels worth of cheap post-apocalyptic Mad Max (1979) knockoffs, to this unconscionably horrid waste of celluloid is frankly unforgivable. Pyun made better movies, often on the same limited budgets and timetables, than this. Were it not for the technical polish and reasonable cinematography Nemesis 4 could easily be mistaken for any late night skinflick. If it wasn’t for the dystopian science-fiction background, and the insistence of being a sequel to an established franchise, Nemesis 4 has little to differentiate itself from anything you could find on Skinemax or late-night softcore erotic trash.