“The Vindicator” is a movie about a man transformed into a cyborg killing machine, and yet the longest action sequence in the movie involves a pudgy loser manhandling and later attempting to rape a pregnant woman. But that’s the kind of movie “The Vindicator” is – it’s the cinematic equivalent of one of those “grim and gritty” superhero comics. There’s a man who’s half-robot who can lift a car over his head, but there’s also a lot of swearing and sexual assault to let you know that this isn’t for little kids or anything like that. Looking past the attempts at gruesome violence and “mature” subject matter, there isn’t anything in “The Vindicator” that’s any deeper than the average episode of “Power Rangers.”
Carl is a scientist, devoted husband, and father-to-be who works on secret government projects to develop some kind of new super-weapon. One day he’s alone in the lab and has himself a real honest-to-goodness Marvel Comics origin story. Someone left the super-weapon machine on, and Carl just so happens to get stuck inside of it. Whoops. Carl’s sleazy boss sees it happen, but does nothing because he’s apparently tired of testing on monkeys. Carl is fused with an experimental super-suit that’s supposed to be used in outer space but also forces Carl to kill anyone who touches him. I’m not sure what the practical applications of that technology would be, since there already are a lot of heavily armed people out there who would be happy to kill anyone who touches them even without bionic technology.
Carl is not one of these people, however, and waking up to discover he’s a K-Mart RoboCop with a hair trigger who looks like Daft Punk is enough for him to snap. He bolts from the secret government facility by hopping a garbage truck and starts seeking revenge on his boss while also letting his wife know he’s sort of still alive. Carl’s boss wants to get his science project back, so he hires a bounty hunter named – go on, take a guess – you’re right: Hunter.
As far as unintentionally murderous cyborgs go, Carl is kind of dull. Any kind of contact with a living thing sends him into instant-kill mode, so he kind of shoos people away like he has a bad cold he doesn’t want them to catch. He doesn’t have any cool weapons or anything like that, he just kind of punches people to death. We don’t even get a single instance of “cyborg vision,” which I thought was standard with these types of movies. You know that shot where we see things as the cyborg is supposed to see them, and the screen is filled with numbers and digital readouts and you wonder how the hell this guy is supposed to see his way to the bathroom let alone kill an entire room full of thugs? We don’t get that in “The Vindicator.”
What we do get are some of the least effective villains in movie history. There’s Carl’s boss, who spends the whole movie delegating his evil deeds to others, which leads to the attempted rape of a pregnant woman mentioned earlier. Carl’s boss has a toady named Burt, a tubby computer expert who carries a torch for Carl’s poor wife Lauren. With Carl presumed dead, Burt has been providing a shoulder for Lauren to cry on, and he’s very interested in pushing that relationship into new, icky directions. Burt’s feelings for Lauren are a matter of public record, so when the bad guys catch Carl and they want to tie up the loose ends, who should Carl’s boss order to kill her but good old Burt?
This backfires pretty much right away, as Burt tries to convince Lauren to come away with him. Lauren resists, Burt immediately threatens her unborn baby’s life, wrestles her to the ground, tries to strangle her with a telephone cord, tries to force himself on her, and finally punches her out when Hunter arrives. This sequence goes on forever, and even includes a moment played for laughs when Lauren’s friend comes home and assumes she walked in on Lauren and Burt having a consensual encounter. Lloyd Kaufman has made movies with more tact than this.
Hunter is the most competent villain in “The Vindicator,” which isn’t saying much. Hunter is introduced as Carl’s boss interrupts a kendo sparring match. Hunter removes the heavy armor to reveal, GASP, a woman! And, GASP, it’s Pam Grier! For most of the movie she’s reasonably effective in tracking down and capturing Carl, but by the time she uses Lauren as bait to lure Carl back to the lab, things go way off the rails in hilarious fashion.
Hunter tracks Carl into a corridor, where a huge steel security door slams shut behind her unexpectedly. Using Lauren as a human shield, Hunter attempts to bargain with Carl, threatening to throw Lauren at him so he would be forced to kill her. Carl also is bleeding out from a wound he suffered earlier, so Hunter really has him over a barrel in this situation. Even though she apparently has the upper hand on Carl, Hunter starts trying to bargain with Carl, telling him she doesn’t care about the money anymore and just wants to get out of this alive. She heaves Lauren at Carl, forcing him to do something to her off-screen that breaks some glass. Hunter turns to get away but completely forgets that there’s a big steel door blocking her way out. She turns her gun on herself and snuffs it.
Hunter’s suicide turns out to be an overreaction, because Lauren’s not actually dead. Carl reprogrammed himself in the lab moments earlier to remove his instant-kill program. Wow, what a lucky break. All that’s left for Carl to do is sacrifice himself defeating two more cyborg monsters and his old boss. Years later, Lauren and Carl Jr. (brought to you by Carl’s Jr.) visit a space museum where the experimental suit Carl was fused with is on display. Lauren tells her son that his daddy was a hero, and I guess that’s true in a way. But given how well things go for them in this movie, I would assume the bad guys would have ended up dead in a few weeks with or without the Vindicator vindicating.