Eve of Destruction (1991) d. Duncan Gibbons (USA)
During an advanced testing session in public, a female android prototype (Eve VIII – looks a bit like “evil,” doesn’t it?) and its keeper find themselves caught in the crossfire during a bank robbery; the resulting mayhem leaves the human dead and the humanoid machine malfunctioning and locked in “battlefield” mode, its highest state of alert, ready to use deadly force at the slightest provocation. Oh, and did I mention she’s also packing a thermonuclear charge?
This is the situation that military marksman and manhunter Col. Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines) is called in to deal with alongside inventor Dr. Eve Simmons (Renée Soutendijk), with whose memories and visage the snappily dressed killer robot (dig that red leather coat/black skirt ensemble) has been equipped. The two pursue their quarry literally from coast to coast, beginning in San Francisco and concluding in the NYC subway systems, but the journey is one cobbled together from a multitude of late '80s action clichés and sub-par dialogue scenes courtesy of director Duncan Gibbons and co-screenwriter Yale Udoff. (Never heard of them, you say? Viewing their lackluster efforts here, there’s probably a reason for that.)
This latest title to emerge from Shout! Factory is a curious one to receive the Blu-ray treatment, an anomaly within their catalogue of underrated favorites. It lacks the usual cult appeal (no major genre players or even someone like Dolph Lundgren to bring in the loyals), and it’s little surprise that the movie failed to find an audience upon its initial 1991 release, perceived – correctly – as a second-tier cyborg-on-the-loose Terminator knock-off. (Ironically, that film’s turnstile-shattering sequel, T2: Judgment Day, would emerge a mere six months later, armed with infinitely more substantial star power and technical innovation.)
Gibbons is no wizard in staging action scenes or conjuring crackling dialogue to spur things along between set-pieces. Hines, while a more-than-capable actor, isn’t the kind of mainstream star that general audiences are going to be seeking out, nor does he hold any particular genre cred (despite his early turn as a coroner in 1981’s Wolfen). His slight build, bulging eyes, pouting lower lip, and sensitive demeanor make him an unlikely badass action hero, and Dutch actress Renée Soutendijk (Spetters, The Fourth Man) completely fails to impress, her dual roles as monster and maker both limited to occasionally widening her eyes, cocking her head, and staring intently into space.
Consummate character actor Kurt Fuller (Ghostbusters 2) is on hand, sleazing up the joint like a pro as a corrupt corporate stooge, but he’s given little to do except snark out the occasional one-liner. Veteran cinematographer Alan Hume’s (Legend of Hell House, Return of the Jedi, several James Bond films) usual magic is absent, matching the rest of the creative team’s low bar of “capable but unremarkable.” Hell, they even managed to secure Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twilight Zone: The Movie) for a day’s work and then fail to do anything interesting with him!
There are a few occasional bright spots, such as watching Eve VIII mow down random cops or engage in a wacky bit of road rage (the fender-bending latter turning her into a literal ticking time bomb), but there’s not enough big-bang-boom or zip-zap-zoom to sustain interest. In fact, it’s the film’s quietest scene, when Eve heads for NYC to find Dr. Simmon’s son, now in the custody of her ex-husband Peter (John M. Jackson, looking for all the world like Kevin Spacey), that proves to be its most effective.
With their ultra-bare-bones presentation, including a title menu that consists merely of the “Play Movie” function and a trailer, Shout! Factory doesn’t exhibit much enthusiasm for their recently acquired orphan either. There are no chapter stops, no extras, and nothing to earn this long absent (and barely missed) programmer any additional cred. I’m not sure who was clamoring for it, because its release comes off as more of a “Huh?” than a “Hooray!” Still, for you Hines and Soutendijk completists out there, your prayers have been answered. For all others, you'll probably more gain more satisfaction listening to Barry McGuire's classic anti-war rock anthem. It'll stay with you longer, trust me.
Eve of Destruction is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine