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It’s really quite amazing how a movie like “Sci-Fighter” managed to get made in 2004, much less found its way to an audience via a DVD release in mid-2005. The film is hopelessly anachronistic, from its stars — a who’s who of ’90s B-movie action stars, including Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, and Lorenzo Lamas — to its silly plot and straightforward, point-and-shoot execution. The premise of the film, involving virtual reality, also belongs in the ’90s, back when VR was all the rage with low-budget filmmakers, even though not a single one of them had any real idea what VR really was, or how to pull it off with any realism on film. A decade removed from their glory days, it seems B-movie filmmakers still haven’t a clue about VR. As such, if a movie like “Sci-Fighter” was somewhat acceptable in the straight-to-video boom of the ’90s, it’s terribly unnecessary (nay, unwarranted) in the 21st century.
“Sci-Fighter” (not to be confused with B-movie brethren “Sci-Fighters”, the similarly titled film from 1996 that starred ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper) stars Wilson as Jack, a martial arts instructor whose teen son Brad (Daneya Mayid) gets himself trapped in a virtual reality fighting game created by Jack’s professor father (Aki Aleong) for the FBI. The how’s and why’s of how the son got himself trapped inside the game (which looks oddly like a converted X-box game console, with the VR “helmets” looking like bicycle helmets that someone super glued black goggles onto) is better left unexplored, as I’m afraid it makes as much sense as — well, someone making a movie like “Sci-Fighter” in the year 2004.
Not surprisingly, the film’s simple plot makes it possible for the movie to have an endless series of fighting scenes, which is really the whole point of such a movie in the first (and last) place. Much like the recent “Pit Fighter”, which used the tried and true B-movie plot device of illegal tournament fighting as its backdrop, the virtual reality scenario of “Sci-Fighter” allows the film an abundant action quotient without the hassle of having to justify them vis-Ã -vis all that narrative stuff.
The hefty dose of action may also explain why star Wilson seems to be moving a tad slower than usual. It could just be age catching up to the man with the odd-shaped head, but Wilson was only 40 when he made the movie, and from all appearances looks to be in good shape. Then again, considering that he’s in about 20 fight scenes in the whole movie, he probably wanted to pace himself. I don’t blame the guy. Although that doesn’t quite explain why the action seems to move in slow motion, as if everyone involved is having difficulty remembering their choreography. And then there are times when it seems like no one knows what he or she is doing at all.
While the movie’s poster insinuates that “Sci-Fighter” hosts three big name stars (or at least “big name” by B-movie standards), Wilson gets the bulk of the screentime, with former ass-kicking queen Cynthia Rothrock doing mostly civilian duty, and Lamas showing up in two (or was that three?) quick scenes to (somewhat) justify his appearance on the movie poster. It’s too bad, because after his tongue-in-cheek performance in the brilliantly bad (but very funny) “Blood Angels”, I had become something of a minor fan of Lamas.
As for Rothrock, she plays two roles here, one as the professor’s assistant, and a virtual reality counterpart named The White Dragon. Rothrock, who has built a healthy career out of being a rough and tumble fighter (including stints in Hong Kong, where she did all her own stunts as the Hong Kongers are wont to do), is almost unrecognizable in the few fight scenes she gets in the film. If I didn’t already know of Rothrock’s career, and all I had to go on was her performance in “Sci-Fighter”, I would swear that she had never seen the inside of a dojo. Of course it could just be that director Art Camacho (a former action choreographer himself) was undercranking the camera and using so much (bad) wirework during Rothrock’s fights that he all but doomed them to a life of ridicule.
Camacho has put together some supposedly big names in the martial arts world for the film, which I suppose should be of interest to martial arts fans. Notice that I said “supposedly big names” because personally I’ve never heard of any of these names other than the three primary stars, although I should probably take the film’s word for it that the supporting players are all martial arts stars in real life. At least, judging by the ranks each fighter has underneath their name during the opening credits. I especially like the guy sporting the title of “Monkey Kung Fu Master”. What exactly does one have to do to become a Monkey Kung Fu Master, anyway? Also, there’s a brief fight scene between Wilson and a pair of twins on a beach that’s quite funny.
Without belaboring the point too much, if you were a fan of the straight-to-video B-action movies of the ’90s that either starred Wilson, Lamas, or Rothrock, you would probably appreciate “Sci-Fighter” much more than I. As with the movie “Pit Fighter”, “Sci-Fighter” is a throwback film, much like the band “Poison” is a throwback band. If you happened to love “Poison” back when they were hot (in the ’80s and early ’90s), you most likely still love them now that they’re older and slower. The same with “Sci-Fighter”.
Art Camacho (director) / Tom Callicoat (screenplay)
CAST: Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson …. Jack Tanaka
Daneya Mayid …. Brad Tanaka
Cynthia Rothrock …. Sally/The White Dragon
Aki Aleong …. Prof. Tanaka
Lorenzo Lamas …. Andrew Dean