Programmed to Kill (1987)

Rating: C-

Dir: Allan Holzman
Star: Robert Ginty, Sandahl Bergman, James Booth, Louise Caire Clark
a.k.a. The Retaliator

I’m not sure whether or not to call this a mockbuster. It beat Robocop to the cinema screen by about three months, and definitely shares similar themes. In both, we have an evil corporation which “resurrects” a near-dead person into to turn them into a part-human, part-machine enforcer. Except, the subject has not had their memory wiped as was supposed to happen, and consequently goes off the intended tasks, posing a threat to the company which made it. The main difference here, is that the cyborg creation is the villain – or, more accurately, villainess, being terrorist Samira (Bergman). The hero is, instead, the man who captured her, US agent Eric Mathews (Ginty).

He wants to interrogate Samira, to get to her terrorist partner, but is told she died. He then finds a picture of her being wheeled out of hospital by Dallas Brock (Booth), part of military-industrial company Cybertron. The further he digs, the more shady everything becomes, until Cybertron decide he’s as much of a problem as Robo-Samira. She, meanwhile, has ripped an arm off one of the guys supposed to be monitoring her, removed the robotic eye, and is heading back to take revenge, first on Cybertron, and then the man who captured her. Or, more specifically, Eric’s family, wife Sharon (Clark) and son Jason. The latter is played by a very young Paul Walker in his second feature role, after Monster in the Closet.

There were a slew of similar “female cyborg” films around this time, such as Eve of Destruction or Steel & Lace. This seems to pre-date them, though unfortunately, does not do as much with the concept, and takes too long to get there. Indeed, it feels as if Eric’s whiny wife, who keeps complaining about him going away on missions, gets more meaningful screen time than Robo-Samira, despite being considerably less fun to watch. It provides a pointless subplot, since at the end, Eric has to stand between his family and Samira, as she storms the base where they are being kept “safe”. Building their relationship as a loving, mutually satisfying one would have worked better for the climax than this unnecessary drama, which feels like it snuck in from a soap-opera.

The action is a bit of a mixed bag. Most of it is your standard eighties fare, in which millions of rounds of ammo are unleashed to no great effect, along with the occasional Giant Fireballâ„¢, extras falling from guard towers, etc. However, the finale is actually well-executed, with Robo-Samira engaging in a running battle with the base’s soldiers, through a maze of shipping containers. Although the Samira-vision is super low-tech, it does manage to get the job done. I did also find the ending satisfactorily brutal, with her finding that even robotic enhancements are no match for a bulldozer, driven enthusiastically by Eric. But I would definitely have liked more scenes of Robo-Samira dealing with assholes in bars (top).