Who doesn’t love Vernon Wells? Seriously, who doesn’t? Because if you don’t love Vernon Wells, then you and I aren’t gonna get along. In this article, we’re going to see what happens when you combine Vernon Wells with that popular 90s sub-genre – the Cyber-Thriller. And boy, have we got an experience for you.
PLUGHEAD REWIRED: CIRCUITRY MAN II
USA, 1994, Robert & Steven Lovy
Warning! Spoilers ahead!
That is, until I came across Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II.
Upon seeing this awful cover for the first time, I knew I had to look further. A badly put together mess of effects featuring Vernon’s awkward looking face, front and centre, covered in plugs, staring into my soul. When I saw that it also starred Traci Lords in a supporting role I was completely sold. I was tempted to look up the original first, but with the cover promising some seriously cheap, straight to video, Cyber-Thriller garbage, I figured the less I understood about what was going on the more fun I was going to have. And I definitely had fun watching this one.
The brains behind Circuitry Man are the Lovy brothers, a duo who in 30 years have created so many movies you could count them on one hand. Aside from Circuitry Man 1 and 2, they released one other film. Not only did the Lovy Brothers direct the Circuitry Man series, but they also wrote, produced and edited them too. This is a truly independent team here, showcasing a singular, shared vision. A vision involving Vernon Wells at his hammiest.
The movie opens with our protagonist, Danner (played with unparalleled suave by Jim Metzler), locked in an insane asylum for trying to kill himself. He’s a bio-synthetic cyborg, built for romance and deeply depressed. The reasons why he’s suicidal are never revealed, but I guess that would be explained in the original movie.
He is approached by an FBI agent called Kyle Merchant (Deborah Shelton, notable for starring in DePalma’s Body Double) who offers to give him another shot at life if he helps her to find “The Prince of Plugs”.
Danner reacts badly to a mug-shot of Plughead so we know they’ve met before. Together they begin a strange and surreal odyssey to bring down the evil Plughead.
They begin by chasing up leads from “plug-addicts” like this guy (editor’s note: Is that Tom Kenny of Spongebob fame?!):
If these are the clubs of the future, I can’t wait.
Danner and Kyle are then transported to a barren desert where a whole bunch of strange shit starts to happen.
While Danner and Kyle are searching for Plughead, we are treated to a series of subplots. The first of which features two criminals who have recently escaped captivity. They have a bag full of chips which they intend to sell to plughead for big bucks. The criminals, Leech (Dennis Christopher, from Stephen King’s It, as well as many far better movies that aren’t worth mentioning) and Rock (Nicholas Worth, who memorably played Thug No. 1 in The Files of Police Squad) feature in the original movie and are played here mostly for comic relief. They bounce off each other quite well despite having little material to work with.
Another subplot involves two bungling policemen, Beany (Paul Willson) and Squaid (Andy Goldberg) who are also on the trail of Plughead. Their parts are also played for laughs but are so out of place with the rest of the movie that it’s almost like a separate film had been shot just for them, which was later slipped into this one. They spend the entire duration of their screen time driving an unconvincing cardboard spacecraft. They never reach their destination. They never find Plughead. They never actually achieve anything. But here they are, in the movie, doing… well, doing this…
Right about now I was starting to think I’d been duped. I mean, where the hell was Plughead? I bought this movie for Vernon Wells and Traci Lords but so far we’ve barely seen them. It becomes clear that there probably wasn’t enough money to secure them for that long, which is a shame because the movie really steps up a gear whenever they are on screen. When we finally meet Plughead, we see him dealing mind chips to a politician. Later we learn that he has devised a chip that allows him to control the mind of the user. So naturally, he’s been aiming to get all the world’s politicians addicted to “chipping” so that he can effectively control the world.
He also likes to spend his free time plugging poor souls to a torture device because he likes to feel other people’s pain. Sadly, this sub-plot regarding pain for pleasure is never really explored and exists simply to let us know that Plughead isn’t just a tyrannical bastard, but that he’s a kinky one too.
We jump back at this point to Danner and Kyle; who after torturing us with some pretty underwhelming sexual tension, treat us to one of the most shoe-horned sex scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s really bad. The only thing missing was a saxophone solo.
The climax of the movie is reached when all of the protagonists show up at Plughead’s lair. In a shock twist, Danner is betrayed by Kyle, giving him up to Plughead. She does this, she says, so that Plughead will release her mother, Traci Lords. Seriously. The lack of age difference is explained when Kyle is revealed to be a bio-synthetic cyborg, too, just like Danner. Plughead also reveals, in an incredible scene, that he created Danner himself, implanting the most powerful chip ever designed into his head from birth.
The twists just keep coming in this movie – the final of which is that Danner, not Plughead, is the Circuitry Man of the title. I mean, couldn’t they have made that clear in the beginning? I’ve invested a good 75 minutes thinking Vernon Wells was the Circuitry Man, now I find out he’s not. I don’t know how to feel about that.
Cheated, I guess. Bloody well cheated.
As the ending looms closer, the “cyber” element is played out to bizarre extremes. While Plughead is plugged up to Kyle, extracting her pain (and screaming “I LOVE TO PLUUUUUUUG!” at the same time) Danner then plugs into Plughead’s mind. After a brief cyber-virtual stand-off, Plughead then plugs into Danner’s mind. There’s so much plugging in the final ten minutes of this movie I couldn’t keep up. But it was becoming all the more bonkers and enjoyable for it.
In Danner’s mind, we were transported to a world of romance, which looked like a Roman themed sex party by way of a Fellini movie. Danner and Kyle are dancing together when Plughead enters to room to laughs at them. Do they really think they can defeat him with the power of love? Danner and Kyle seem to think they can, so when they embrace and kiss, Plughead’s plughead explodes.
Now I’ll always support an exploding head scene, but I was kind of expecting a bit more of a finale here. It sure wasn’t up there with the ending of Commando, but I’ll give it a pass for the exploding head.
Circuitry Man II is cheap, badly written, makes no sense and is half arsed in pretty much every way a straight to video movie from the 1990s can be. But there is a knowing sense in the performances that suggest this was intended to be a comedy… of sorts. It’s just bizarre enough to make it a worth-while experience. And as far as the short-lived 90s Cyber-Thriller genre goes, this is a helluva lot more enjoyable that Jonny Mnemonic.
There was a time when Circuitry Man II could be found in bargain bins all over the world. There was even a two-pack DVD of both Circuitry Man films. Now it seems both films are a little harder to come by, but you can still pick up the sequel for a couple of pounds in the UK.