Review – Wow, an upgrade that’s actually worth it… (“Upgrade”)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A human gets hurt, damaged, or killed and is replaced with cybernetic parts and then goes on a killing spree. Yeah, movies like Robocop, Hardcore Henry, Solo, a Black Mirror episode, or even Doc Ock in Spider-man 2 fit that bill. But sometimes it gets interesting…

It’s the distant future and almost everything is either voice-activated or computerized, but for an analog-kinda guy like Gray Trace (Logan Marsh-Green, who looks like Tom Hardy or Gerard Butler), that’s just fine. He’ll keep restoring classic muscle cars of the 80’s and wanting to make a pizza from scratch with his lovely wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo). But all good things come to an abrupt and horrible end when their auto-car goes haywire and crashes. Worse yet, some thugs come out of nowhere and kill Gray’s wife and leave him a quadriplegic.

Gray, recovering but wanting to die, is approached by a former car client, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson, who looks like a young Leonardo DiCaprio). Keen, a brilliant, but sociopathic computer whiz-kid, offers Gray a once-in-a-lifetime gift: install a secret, cutting-edge microchip called STEM into Gray’s spine to help him be whole again. With nothing to lose, Gray agrees and faster than you say “Six Billion Dollar Man“, Gray is up and walking in no time. . .not to mention having the voice of STEM (Simon Maiden) in his head as his on-board ‘computer conscience’, giving him info and advice.

This comes in handy, as Gray wants to track down the four bad guys that were responsible for his wife’s death, as police detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) isn’t having much luck. As Gray plays detective (with the help of STEM–sorta like KITT did with Michael Knight) and tracks down the bad guys one-by-one, he gets into some really nasty, gnarly, blood-spraying fights, thanks to STEM ‘taking over’ Grays body and becoming a lethal killing machine. Naturally, Gray isn’t too keen to kill anyone at first, but he’s getting closer to finding out who killed Asha and why.

Pretty soon, however, complications arise with Keen wanting to shut down his microchip programming in Gray’s spine and STEM wanting to keep helping Gray. Solution? STEM wants to go off the grid and become autonomous. If you saw the movie Transcendence or Colossus: The Forbid Project, you already know that that is a really bad idea. So, guess what happens? Yup, but wow, what an ending!

Every now and then you get a sci-fi/fan-fiction/graphic novel-ish story that actually works. Writer/director Leigh Whannell, who’s made his screenplay career with three of those blood-splattered Saw movies and four of the eerie Insidious films, pulls a nice hat trick with a typical sci-fi revenge thriller that’s loaded with dark humor, buckets o’blood and grisly deaths. Whannell also has a snazzy flair for direction that does NOT include all those quick-edits, slam-shots, or fast-focus pulls. At a trim 95 minutes, this movie zips along, not wasting any time with dumb side-stories or alternate plots. Just an exciting, well told story that’s lean, fast, and full of surprises… especially at the end.

Alot of people have already compared this movie to Tom Hardy’s upcoming Venom, not only because of Marshall-Green’s resemblance to Hardy, but in the plot structure as well. Marshall-Green, having played second banana in Spider-man: Homecoming and Prometheus, really shows he can carry a movie on his own with his wit and charm. Gabriel needed to be seen more, and Gilbertson was sufficiently creepy.

Steel and Lace (1991)

*

*
After seeing Upgrade you’re probably thinkin’, “Now where have I seen this movie before?” The answer? Where haven’t you see this movie before! The plot is so clichéd and over-used, that I though I would dig deep into obscurity and, lo and behold, I found this little dumb film.

It’s the trial of businessman/realtor tycoon/real nasty piece-of-work Daniel Emerson (Michael Cerveris). He’s been accused of raping Gaily Morton (Clare Wren), a beautiful concert pianist, but has an alibi: his four best buds/co-workers have vouched for him. Naturally, this scumbag is found not guilty and goes free, which sets off Gaily’s scientist brother Albert (Bruce Davidson). Despondent over the verdict, Gaily leaps off the courthouse roof to her death… but is she really dead?

Fast-forward five years later and Daniel & Co are making millions in not only real estate, but racketeering, extortion, etc. The Feds and the local cops haven’t got enough to catch him, but things are about to get weird. Out of the blue, each of Daniel’s co-workers are being systematically killed off one-by-one. And in each case it’s Gaily… or at least a sulty, smokin’-hot version of her in disguise to lure the unsuspecting guy to his demise by some truly unique deaths. Rotary vagina blades, anyone? Ouch!!

Anyway, intrepid Detective Dunn (David Naughton) is hot on the case, thanks to a nosy, but dogged former TV reporter turned artist named Alison (Stacey Haiduk). But what they don’t know is that dear brother Albert has turned his beloved sister Gaily into a robotic killing machine, bent on murdering all the false-testimony guys first, saving Daniel Emerson for last. Pretty soon, all parties collide at the top of a building where Daniel finally gets his (Gaily taking a page from Thor and throws a lightning bolt at him!).

This is one really low-budget and dumb sci-fi movie; the kind you see at 2am on the SyFy Channel. Known for their forgettable screenplays, Joseph Dougherty (Attack of the 50-ft Woman) and Dave Edison (Starship: Rising) wrote a done-to-death script that offered absolutely nothing new or fresh. The cast either was bored, overacted, or decided to give it their best shot. Naughton, who scored so high with An American Werewolf in London in 1981, sadly never got a chance to get another great role after that. Bruce Davidson, on the other hand, is the only credible actor here, showing the others what acting is all about.

This was Ernest Farino’s first and last theatrical movie as a film director. He usually made his money as a studio ‘renaissance’ man, plying his trade directing TV shows like Land of the Lost, a production designer, producer, writer, SPFX guy, art & animation designer, and even an actor! Dude, pick something! For some fun, check out the attempted comedy by David Landers who plays the CSI guy. Remember him as Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley? He tries SO hard to bring SOME comedy to this dismal movie.

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