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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: kickboxer avenges the death of his brother.

At one point in the mid-nineties Albert Pyun was the go-to guy for cheapo kickboxing movies. Sure, he was no Cirio H. Santiago, but who is? Santiago was the master of topless kickboxing with TNT Jackson (1974), the self-proclaimed “first erotic kung fu classicNaked Fist (1981) (with Jillian Kessner), and the relative unknown Angelfist (1993) (with Cat Sassoon and Melissa Moore). Pyun was the man behind the first sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme action classic Kickboxer (1989) and if there’s one thing that can be counted upon, it’s that Pyun never will let an opportunity go to waste. Before he made the cyberpunk slogfest Heatseeker (1995) (with Keith Cooke and Tina Cote) there was Bloodmatch. An expert in stretching budgets and resources (as his Nemesis series attests to) Bloodmatch was filmed back-to-back with Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991) and shared much of the same production crew and cast. It answers that question that has haunted Sidaris fans for years: what exactly did Hope Marie Carlton do after Savage Beach (1989) and her exit from the Andy-verse?

Well, for a while at least it looked as if hottie Hope was going to carve out a decent career as supporting actress for herself. Before her last outing with Sidaris she already had a bit part (where she showed quite a bit) in Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988). She could be seen in the Huey Lewis and the News music video for ‘Give Me the Keys (And I'll Drive You Crazy)’ in 1989 as well as Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1990) and the Roger Corman produced Slumber Party Massacre III (1990), more often than not in roles wherein some nudity was required.

To top things off Carlton also made an appearance as Stiletto in the 1994 Electronic Arts point-and-click adventure game Noctropolis. And the other big name (although that is, admittedly, very relative) is Thom Mathews. Mathews had starred in The Return of the Living Dead (1985), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) but by the following decade would become an Albert Pyun regular with roles in, among others, Nemesis (1992), Heatseeker (1995), Blast (1997), and Mean Guns (1997). Michel Qissi played a small role in Bloodsport (1988) and perhaps is best known as the villain Tong Po in Kickboxer (1989). Sadly, Qissi has done little of interest since. He’d feel right at home in Ben Combes’ long-awaited Commando Ninja (2018) sequel.

Brick Bardo (Thom Mathews) plans to exact revenge on everyone involved in the disappearance (and apparent death) of his brother Wood Wilson. After chasing and subsequently torturing Davey O’Brien (Michel Qissi) on a stretch of concrete in the baking sun he learns a few things. First, Wilson was involved in illegal price fighting and this transgression led to his exile from the sport and was key to his apparent suicide.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, O’Brien (whether Davey is related to Chance or China is, unfortunately, never revealed) spills the names of the parties involved in the scheme: current middleweight champion Brent Caldwell (Dale Jacoby), kickboxer turned janitor Billy Muñoz (Benny Urquidez), fighter Mike Johnson (Thunderwolf, as Thunder Wolf), and promoter Connie Angel (Hope Marie Carlton). Bardo and his assistant Max Manduke (Marianne Taylor) travel crosscountry to pick up their targets, and if they don’t cooperate the duo simply drug, coerce (either by having Max bed them, or kidnap their families), or knock them about into doing their bidding. For the occasion the duo have rented the Las Vegas Arena to enact their own Bloodmatch.

The American martial arts movie is a strange beast. On the one hand there are the early Jean-Claude Van Damme classics who do the genre justice, and then there’s everything else. Bloodmatch, obviously, falls into the latter category but acquits itself at least partly with the presence of Benny Urquidez (who also was responsible for all the action choreography) and Dale Jacoby. The arena fights are heavily edited and artificially intensified by making ample use of fast cuts and constant repeats of the same punches and kicks. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and an effective one when used sparingly. Not so here since none (except maybe Urquidez and Jacoby) were actual fighters and preparation for the fights was probably minimal. Of the vintage Sidaris bikini babes Hope Marie Carlton was always the only who could reasonably act. She does so here too, and for once the role doesn’t require of her to get naked. Who does get naked is Marianne Taylor. Taylor bears some resemblance to Nemesis (1992) star Deborah Shelton, and Pyun doesn’t shy away from shooting her from a few very flattering angles. Like Tinto Brass, Pyun too seems to like junk in the trunk. The remainder of the cast are complete nonentities, and not worth discussing as such.

As always director of photography George Mooradian at least makes whatever Pyun shoots look good. The same goes for long-time composer Anthony Riparetti who provides a suitable score for what, for all intents and purposes, is a boring slogfest. Heatseeker (1995) and Mean Guns (1997) (both not Pyun’s finest hour either) were not only marginally more interesting visually, but they actually had a pulse. Bloodmatch was apparently shot on autopilot and none of that keen visual flair and deft action direction that made Nemesis (1992) a minor action hit is accounted for here. The screenplay is functional in its minimalism and was written by Pyun under the nom de plume of K. Hannah (an apparent portmanteau of Kitty Chalmers and Hannah Blue, two pen names old Al frequently used around this time). It’s not often that it happens but Bloodmatch makes Angelfist (1993) and Heatseeker (1995) looks like works of art in comparison. That Bloodmatch would fail as a thriller was all but a given and it makes the critical error of having stilted and slow kickboxing routines. Nobody expects the American martial arts movie to match, let alone surpass, its agile Far East counterparts – but even by lowly American standards Bloodmatch is terminally rote in every sense of the word.