Circuitry Man (1990)
Circuitry Man (1990)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: October 31st, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Steven Lovy Actors: Jim Metzler, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Lu Leonard, Vernon Wells, Barbara Alyn Woods, Dennis Christopher, Karen Maruyama




orty years after the ocean died and the last tree fell in the last rain forest, the air became unbreathable. Mankind moved underground and decided to ravage the only terrain left uncharted – the human mind. Such is the premise of “Circuitry Man,” a semi-cyberpunk, science-fiction adventure film that tries to delve into the realm of non-remote, hard-wired mind control. “Plugging in” to the brains of humans and cyborgs to gain knowledge and wage war is an interesting idea, though it’s probably best remembered from “The Matrix” (1999). This low-budget film may have arrived first, but in its feeble attempt to explore cutting edge concepts, it’s only rarely able to entertain.

The opening title sequence is a precursor to “Speed’s” lead credits, save for the nightclub act female vocals by Deborah Holland, which continue to play over the top of various segues – continually taking the audience completely out of the science-fiction atmosphere. It’s an uncommon touch, but hardly fitting. The story proper is set in Subterranean Los Angeles in the near future. The Juice (Lu Leonard), a big-time smuggler, needs a bodyguard and has one particular woman in mind – Lori (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), a tough-as-nails fighter turned fashion designer. To prove her merits, Lori is forced to battle a trio of bizarre thugs, led by the suit-and-tie-wearing blonde Yoyo (Barbara Alyn Woods). Once recruited, the new protector is involved in an illegal chip exchange gone bad, which finds Juice murdered by maniacal gangster Plughead (Vernon Wells) and both the blame and the suitcase of valuable merchandise in Lori’s unprepared hands. With few options left, Lori heads to New York to unload the loot, with the aid of a biosynthetic Romeo pleasure droid named Danner O’Merrick (Jim Metzler). Their first stop is to acquire some wheels from Jugs (Garry Goodrow), a half-man, half-machine fusion, who moves around on a giant pulley system (strangely reminiscent of the Overdog from “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone” [1983]).

Once on the road, the duo drive around rather aimlessly through an enormous parking garage that never ends. It’s there that they discover the only way to their destination is to go topside – and only the toxic sewer-leech-eating Leech (Dennis Christopher) has the oxygen to do it. Upon reaching the surface, the motley trio is exposed to a vast desert full of hazardous dust and abrasive country music, while Plughead is in hot pursuit, in turn tailed by overweight cop Beany (Paul Willson) and his squeamish partner Squid (Andy Goldberg).

“Drop the heaters and kiss the carpet!” cries Beany, delivering a somewhat anachronistic quote during the initial chip-bust. The dialogue is expectedly terrible and the acting is extremely flat. Oddly, most of the action takes place off-screen, as if the budget didn’t allow for sets to actually get destroyed or for stunts to be choreographed. When Lori tries on one of her handmade outfits and twirls for Danner, it’s shot from the bust up, so the audience doesn’t even get to see her garments. Several more scenes follow this same inexplicable style of over-minimalism; even the final showdown takes place in the background.

By far the most interesting character is Plughead, an ex-psychotherapist turned legitimate crook, with metal ports embedded into his skull. He seems to be the only one who can make use of plugging directly into machines to control them and into human heads to download their memories, even though many other characters reference the ability. He spends time being both a serious baddie and a joke-cracking goofball, but still manages to be a marginally formidable foe – and the only memorable persona. The underground sets have a comparably distinct style, ominously dark, dingy, and full of wires, tubes, and smoke, which gives the film a deconstructed futuristic look that sets it just slightly apart from other forgotten endeavors at postapocalyptic sci-fi (though this was successful enough to spawn a sequel four years later, entitled “Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II”).

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10