“Mutant Hunt”

If there’s anything I respect and appreciate as much as a good movie, it’s a terrible movie. From time to time, I’ll be posting a review of a terrible movie I found either on Netflix or elsewhere. I think it’s important to highlight that these things exist, and that someone somewhere thought they were good ideas.

If there’s a cardinal rule of filmmaking, it would have to be this: Never be boring. This goes double for B movies, because without the budget to fill the screen with eye-catching explosions or famous stars, you have to do all the work of maintaining the audience’s interest yourself. “Mutant Hunt” offers a variation on this rule: Never propose something significantly more interesting than you’re prepared to show the audience. “Mutant Hunt” fails this rule early on, as the heroes discuss the plight of a captive scientist. Apparently, the bad guy can detain this scientist legally for 72 hours because of some law passed in response to “the space shuttle sex murders.”

That New York Post headline fragment suggests a contrast between man’s technological achievements and his base nature. A hypothetical “Space Shuttle Sex Murders” movie could be, for all intents and purposes, a feature-length expansion of the “Dawn of Man” sequence in “2001,” which connected the brutality of early man with its evolution into us with a single edit. Regardless of how distasteful those four words sound together, at least it proposes a story of human behavior, of betrayal and lust and how mankind has still not found a way to engineer those impulses out of our civilization.

You’ll have to forgive me for thinking so much about a throwaway line from a movie called “Mutant Hunt,” but it’s only because the movie itself gives one so little else to think about. Ostensibly an attempt to rip off “The Terminator,” “Mutant Hunt” seems more like it was filmed using an 8-bit video game’s instruction manual in place of a screenplay.

There’s an evil scientist, you see, who has created an army of kill-crazy cyborgs that will help him conquer the world. To create these unstoppable killing machines, he injects regular, run-of-the-mill cyborgs with a powerful narcotic called “Euphoron,” which gives the cyborgs a “preprogrammed sexual response” whenever they kill. The more they kill, I suppose, the more turned-on they become, the more they kill and so on and so on.

The evil scientist, Z, detains one of the only two other people working at the allegedly huge corporation Intelitrax for threatening to derail his plot. The good scientist’s sister – Darla, the third and only other employee of Intelitrax, presumably – escapes and runs to fetch Matt Riker, a mercenary whom she finds at his loft apartment in bed with a naked woman. Darla and Matt don’t know each other, by the way. Cyborgs have followed Darla to Matt’s apartment and Matt fights them off while still in his underwear. The fighting involves a lot of really slow lurching and generalized shoving. Calling these things an unstoppable army of killer cyborgs may have been overselling them a little, but what tech company doesn’t promise more out of its products than they can deliver?

In addition to the more-or-less-stoppable cyborg army, Z has a former partner and rival named Domina, who has her own cyborg assistant named Hydro and a dependence on Euphoron. She’s upset that Z wants to use all the drugs on his killer cyborgs when she could be using them to get high. Matt goes to Domina, presumably for a lead on where Z might be, but instead he is tied up and a bomb is put in his head. Domina will blow up Matt’s head if he doesn’t stop Z. Because Matt was already working on doing that, this comes off as unnecessary.

In fact, Matt has assembled his old team of mercenary buddies to assist him in tracking down the cyborgs – which the characters refer to alternately as “mutants” – and the hunt is on. This “hunt” is what makes up most of the movie, and it consists of the heroes wandering around New York City while the cyborgs stomp around murdering people. With their wrap-around sunglasses and flattop hair, it’s pretty obvious the filmmakers wanted to evoke “The Terminator,” but they look more like children playing Frankenstein, or Jim McMahon.

The hunt brings the heroes back to Z’s secret factory, where they fight more gooey mutants/cyborgs. Darla is dragged there by one of the first cyborgs Matt killed, who rebooted or something and now wants only for Z to end his suffering.

Watching “Mutant Hunt” from start to finish is something like watching someone playing a video game with the difficulty setting on “easy.” The heroes are presented with their task, bounce around from location to location fighting their way up to the main boss and then it’s over. The closest thing to character development comes from the half-melted cyborg. The main characters are mercenaries because it’s the easiest way to get them hunting mutants. Indiana Jones seeks knowledge, Luke Skywalker seeks adventure, Batman seeks revenge. The heroes of “Mutant Hunt” come out of a vending machine – and it doesn’t help they all look like they’d rather be doing something else.

It’s a shame that the movie spends so much time focusing on the mercenaries, because it casually throws out some ideas that wouldn’t be a bad place to start a movie. Besides the “space shuttle sex murders,” “Mutant Hunt” also makes a point to show us a world in which sex with robots is common, if not acceptable. Riker’s bedmate at the start of the movie is revealed to be a robot after she’s thrown out the window, and Domina takes time to rub up against her ultimate cyborg weapon like a cat marking a sofa while Hydro looks on. Is there a story to be told there? Does Hydro have the capacity to resent the other cyborg? Do Domina and Z represent the opposing impulses of sex and death to the nascent cyborg race? Which impulse is stronger? Can robots ever decide for themselves whether to love or hate? These are questions “Mutant Hunt” is neither prepared nor equipped to answer.

Still, there is one area where the movie escapes its limitations and delivers something at least interesting to look at. The special effects involved in creating the mangled, suffering cyborg toward the movie’s conclusion are impressive, given how the rest of the movie looks. It’s not hard to imagine that much of the budget went to creating the puppet robot head, because the other special effects evidently involved splashing buckets of green slime around the sets to simulate cyborg goo. Or maybe that’s exactly what cyborg blood looks like, we don’t know.

“Mutant Hunt” is a movie that consistently embarrasses itself. Why did anyone think it was a good idea to introduce one of the mercenaries eating Chinese food out of a carton while walking by himself in a dark alley? Why does Domina factor into the plot at all? How did anyone approve of the arthritic, plodding fight scenes? If “Mutant Hunt” is to have any reason for existing, I suppose it is to provide us with this other cardinal rule of filmmaking: If you find yourself typing the words “space shuttle sex murders” while writing your screenplay and never provide anything remotely as interesting, scroll all the way back to the top of the document and start over.

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