There is so much awesomeness inside Empire Pictures' 1986 sci-fi action movie Eliminators that it's a shame the movie isn't more awesome. This is a movie that combines robots, ninjas, gladiators, cavemen and time travel. There is no excuse for it to feel as sluggish as it does. It's entertaining for sure, but probably half as entertaining as it ought to be.
A pilot crashes in South America and is rescued by a mad scientist named Abbott Reeves (Roy Dotrice), who brings him back to life with hardware and turns him into a Manborg. This Manborg (who is really called Manborg for almost the entire movie and is played by Patrick Reynolds) has the ability to travel in time and brings back a Roman centurion shield for his master, which seems like a trivial detail at the time but ends up playing a huge role in the ultimate endgame of the film. Abbott plans to have the Manborg disassembled, but his assistant helps Manborg escape (and is killed for his trouble), telling him to track down a scientist named Nora Hunter (Denise Crosby). Hunter and the Manborg forge a plan to return to South America to stop Reeves, picking up riverboat guide Harry Fontana (Andrew Prine) and Kuji (Conan Lee), a ninja trying to find his father...who happens to be Reeves' dead assistant. The foursome band together to become the ELIMINATORS! I mean, they never call themselves that, but surely that's what the title is referring to, right? Why else is the movie called Eliminators?
the underrated Enemy Territory and Arena for Empire, as well as Demonic Toys and Seedpeople (among others) for Full Moon. It is written by Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson, the duo responsible for Trancers and who would go on to write Trancers II and The Rocketeer, as well as create and write for the early '90s CBS series The Flash. These are people with tremendous genre bona fides.
With Eliminators, they weren't trying to create just another genre movie -- they were trying to create EVERY genre movie. The results are mixed. Bilson and De Meo's kitchen sink screenplay is a lot of fun and very self aware. They're not winking at the viewer or making fun of the tropes they're using in the movie, but they're definitely conscious of what they're doing; the only reason cavemen end up in Eliminators at any point is because the writers realized they had everything in their movie BUT cavemen and decided to rectify that. This is the stuff in the movie that works, and it comes to life when it most embraces being an insane bouillabaisse of exploitation genres. By the time we're seeing a ninja fighting alongside a manborg, we've either given ourselves completely over to Eliminators or this movie is not made for us. The screenplay allows for all this stuff to co-exist with just enough rationalization that it almost feels organic -- there's none of that obvious "hey, aren't ninjas awesome and isn't this awesome because we have a ninja in here" mentality that sometimes mars the kinds of contemporary work so clearly influenced by movies like Eliminators. I'm looking at you, Kung Fury.
Even the action scenes don't come alive as much as we might hope. Maybe it's just Manoogian's inexperience coming through; though he had directed a segment in the Empire anthology The Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar), this is his first real feature. By the time he made Enemy Territory a year later, he had gotten better at lean, no nonsense action, perhaps learning some valuable lessons during the making of Eliminators. Or maybe it's just working with the special effects that hinders him somewhat. One of the fun things about the movie is that there are a whole lot of practical and optical effects, from Denise Crosby's tiny robot assistant (a kind of cyber-dog clearly inspired by R2-D2 called "S.P.O.T.") to the laser guns and force fields. And because this is an Empire film, there was enough money to work with (I'm sure the filmmakers would disagree with me) to realize the effects in a way that can still look cheap but is satisfying, especially to those of us who like these kinds of movies.
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