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Junkfood Cinema: The Vindicator

By  · Published on July 30th, 2010

Junkfood Cinema: The Vindicator

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; if you meant to read Culture Warrior, please log off and try again. But if, like me, you find intellectually-stimulating, expertly-written lectures on film and society require way too much of you, let me be the first to welcome you to the alternative. Every week I reach behind the front-facing movies on the shelf to find the dusty, long-abandoned misfits hiding deliberately out of sight. These movies are not what you might call quality, given your definition of quality is the actual definition of quality, but that doesn’t stop them from tickling a very specific part of me. I will document the badness of these films to maintain some guise of credibility before squandering all your faith in me by then lovingly rubbing their schlocky goodness all over myself. And if that doesn’t whet your appetite, I will also pair the film with an apt snack food item to assert the so-bad-it’s-good concept.

This week, I bid you subject yourselves to: The Vindicator.

A scientist working on a top secret experiment becomes concerned that appropriate safety precautions are not being followed. His concerns fall upon the deaf ears of the higher-ups who are themselves worried about the profitability of the research should they have to shut down to correct some piddling safety hazards. As you can guess, Prof. Homeboy gets all exploded and everyone assumes he’s dead because…he’s dead. But the evil corporation that funded the experiment decides to use his somehow untarnished brain as the catalyst for a second experiment. They transform him into a robot and program him for eeeeeevil. Well not evil, more like bizarre intimacy issues. Anyway, VINDICATOR!

What Makes It Bad?

This movie is about as b-grade as they come; bordering on c-grade. The acting is almost entirely sub-sub-par and offers about as much intellectual stimulus as gambling on which dust mite will blow across the kitchen floor first when you open the door. Seriously, the secondary scientist characters are so god-awful that you will hope and pray that the titular vindicating will be you being granted the ability to reach through the screen and pistol-whip them. The Vindicator had a budget that rivaled the cost of up-sizing that Arby’s combo meal you had last night so you can imagine the level of astounding effects and sets and…passable usage of lighting. There is a reason you cannot find this film on DVD folks, no one in this country thought this film was worthy of the great videodisc format upgrade and that it was better suited fading into obscurity.

It is in every way, shape, and formless blob a Robocop ripoff that fails everywhere that Robocop succeeded. The story is just similar enough to be recognized as a ripoff and just divergent enough to be recognized as a terrible film. So yes, we have the upright, job-devoted but still loving family man who is killed in the line of duty and has his body hyper-mated with technology by an evil corporation. And yes, he has some strange prime directive that should not exist and while it serves the corporation’s agenda, spells doom for innocents. But let’s take a gander at the design of our robotic hero. Where Robocop had a sleek, blue and gray metallic suit with all the impressive showiness of a Sci-Fi wet dream, Vindicator looks like a walking pile of garbage. And where Robocop had a cool robotic gait and made awesome robot sounds when he walked, Vindicator looks like a walking pile of garbage.

They explain this away in the film when Vindicator falls into an incinerator and gets blasted with a giant fireball. But does that really excuse the filmmakers employing the Hefty bag and gas mask brand of costuming? As I said, Vindicator trips and falls into the incinerator. He also trips and falls through a stairwell…and a warehouse floor…and about a dozen other times throughout the film. The almost-entirely unprompted fall from the church balcony reaches new heights of bone-headedness. Because if there is one thing every robotic hero should possess it’s a bad case of vertigo coupled with the world’s worst inner ear infection. I know I feel better about my chances of being vindicated when the personification of my revenge keeps tripping over his own stupid feet and face-planting on the linoleum like a big, wet bag of stupid.

The secret directive programmed into Vindicator is something quite special. It forces him to destroy anyone who comes near him. So of course by special I mean that the screenwriters had recently switched from weed to OxyContin. And the thing is, unlike the plot of Robocop, this directive jeopardizes the corporate goons who created him just as much as the average Joe Doofus who happens by. The fiscal benefits of this programing are mind-numbingly absent. It’s sort of like the underpants gnomes from South Park. Phase One: make a half-man/half-robot who looks like garbage, has zero balance, and kills anyone who touches him. Phase Two:…..? Phase Three: Profit! But this is the same film where our hero can still communicate in his human voice but only through speaker static so obviously their grasp of technology is less-than-adequate.

Why I Love It!

I am an enormous fan of bad ripoffs, something to which I think the early days of JFC can attest. More often than not they are landmarks of ineptitude and The Vindicator is no exception. As I am so apt to point out, there is a sort of beauty in failure of this magnitude. At some point, half-way through filming, the director took a look at what they had accomplished and, undaunted, finished it. Fearless! I live for VHS films that, for all their 80s charm and luster, fail to reach a wide enough audience for anyone to consider spending a dime to transfer them to DVD. It’s as if the distribution companies are saying, “The Vindicator, we don’t feel you are worthy of being remembered so we will banish you to the realm of the forgotten.” Enter one ridiculous film geek and his bad movie column to save the day! Well, I’m not so much saving the day as I am subjecting all of you to this horrible movie. Hooray!

This movie does, inexplicably, have a couple of notable actors in it. The first would be the baddest soul sister to ever walk the melonfarmin’ Earth: Pam Grier. She plays a character named Hunter…guess what her sole purpose is in the film? I love Pam to death, but I am fairly certain the amount of painkillers/cocaine/cheap whiskey coursing through her during the filming would’ve turned Mel Gibson nice again. Her character is not only a raging bitch, which Grier plays with delicious authority, but the most easily swayed villain in cinema. Her character changes sides throughout the course of the film not for any financial gain, but because of a series of effective arguments presented by characters on either side. Is she evil, or just a fan of the Socratic dialogue? Also appearing in the film is recently-deceased, fantastic character actor Maury Chaykin. He plays the hero’s best friend who lusts after his widow and is generally a sweaty, despicable chode. But again, Chaykin’s ability to morph into any role put in front of him with skillful adeptness is a sight to behold.

One of the great mysteries of The Vindicator is the fact that Stan Winston did the special effects. More specifically, he designed the look of the cyborg himself. Now Stan Winston was one of the greatest special effects wizards in the business and his talents need no explanation or summation from the likes of me. But I honestly have to assume that he did this film on a dare. Either that or he ate an entire Thanksgiving dinner, fell asleep for six months, and woke up the night before the suit was due. In his haste, in Close Encounters style, he dumped the contents of a trash can onto his living room floor and MacGuyver’ed his way through it. Suffice it to say that footage of The Vindicator robot probably went unsung during his Oscars highlight reel.

Junkfood Pairing: Jell-O Mold

During the course of the film, the villain decides to use the cyborg’s complete lack of coordination against him. He tricks Vindicator into, you guessed it, falling into a vat of liquid nitrogen. He ends up frozen in what appears to be a giant Jell-O mold. So as you try not to laugh at this atrocious action romp, enjoy a perfect cube of gelatinous tastiness.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.