Friday, September 20, 2013


Actor Mario Van Peebles plays a cyborg with a conscience in “Blue Tiger” director Norberto Barba’s“Solo” (**1/2 OUT OF ****), new science fiction thriller.  This ballistically paced testosterone thriller recycles familiar plot elements from movies such as “Universal Soldier” (1992), “Rambo: First Blood, Part II,” and the western classic “The Magnificent Seven.”  Although “Solo” appears initially as little more than a derivative African-American android opus, Barba has cleverly woven some traditional philosophical ideas about appropriate human behavior into the strands of their violent melodrama that goes beyond its cinematic pyrotechnics.

“Solo” opens aboard a U.S. spy trawler off the coast of an unidentified Latin American country.  Army General Clyde Haynes (Barry Corbin of “My Science Project”) introduces Solo, a $2-billion bionic soldier prototype designed as the ideal military killing machine.  According to Haynes, Solo has no feelings and is ultimately disposable.  Furthermore, Solo comes equipped with bullet proof skin, infrared vision, and the amazing ability to intercept radio messages during transmission.  Despite his formidable arsenal, Solo has been programmed with conflicting commands by its designer, Dr. Bill Stewart (Adrien Brody of “Splice”) has failed to tweak before the cyborg is sent into battle.

Colonel Madden (William Sadler of “Die Hard 2: Dead Harder”), a battle-seasoned adrenalin junkie, heads up a commando team dispatched to destroy an airfield that rebel guerrillas are constructing.  The Americans slip in under the cover of darkness, and Solo plants the explosives to blow up the airfield.  While he is setting up the explosives, Solo scans the area with his infrared vision and spots several noncombatants being used as slave labor.  Because these civilians may die from the blast, Solo’s command directives prevent him from following orders.  When the android decides to defuse the explosives, Madden triggers the remaining charges.  Explosions and machine-gun fire erupt, and the Americans scramble for their helicopters, deliberately abandoning their robotic warrior.  Solo receives a messianic wound low on his left side that fires his power management chip.  But that doesn’t keep our super-soldier protagonist from grabbing onto one of the choppers as it lifts off.

Back aboard the trawler, Stewart removes the damaged chip.  He explains to Solo that the android must switch over to back-up power until the chip can be replaced.  This make the super-soldier just a little less invincible.  Meanwhile, a furious Haynes and a vindictive Madden demand to know why Solo refused to obey orders.  Stewart explains that a glitch occurred when Solo tried to resolve a discrepancy in his command menu.  Madden wants to shut Solo down, but Haynes decides to salvage their expensive prototype.  Solo intercepts the outgoing transmission and learns that Haynes wants him reprogrammed.  Solo consults his menu of functions and learn that his prime directive is self-preservation.  Before “Solo” fades to black, our android hero learns that to act selfishly may be logical but is not appropriate human behavior.  Solo steals a helicopter and flies off to the mainland.  Madden chases him and watches as Solo crashes into a mountain.  When Madden sifts through the wreckage, he cannot find a trace of the wily cyborg. Solo managed to survive the crash and has vanished into the bowels of the jungle. 

A small boy from the village discovers Solo resting in an underground temple and nearly gets bitten when a snake attacks him.  Solo goes on line on the spur of the moments and grabs the snake before its venomous fangs sink into the vulnerable child.  Horrified, the lad runs back to his village, but later returns with his father and the rest of the village.  When they find the considerably run-down Solo, they believe at first that he is dead.  The little boy demands they give him a proper burial.  At the church, he bad guy rebels storm in, interrupting the burial ritual, and shoot up the church.  Solo springs into action and single-handedly wipes them out.  The villagers reveal that the rebels were forcing them under threat of death to clear an airstrip.  Solo agrees to teach the farmers how to fight if they will allow him to use parts from an old black and white, portable television to recharge himself.  At this point, Peebles emerges as “The Magnificent Seven” stacked into one.  They arrange elaborate traps around the village, and Solo shows them how to use bows and arrows to lethal effect.  When the rebels return, the villagers give them a reception that throws them off-balance.  

Back aboard the trawler, surveillance devices warn them about a battle raging in the jungle.  Haynes orders Colonel Madden to lead in an elite unit of hand-picked mercenaries to recover Solo.  Madden secretly wants to destroy the prototype.  If Solo performs well under fire, Madden fears that similar prototypes may eventually replace career soldiers like him.  He believes that his men can kill Solo because the android is not only vulnerable but heavily damaged.  Once he reaches the mainland, Madden cuts a deal with the slimy rebels to ice Solo.  First, Madden fakes evidence so it appears that Solo has gone crazy and torched the village.  The Colonel broadcasts deceptive images of a burning hut back to Haynes aboard the trawler and he swallows the lie.  As bait to lure Solo out, Madden persuades Haynes to send in Stewart, who learns too late that Madden duped him.  Solo manages to rescue his creator in a way that would make Indiana Jones envious.  But Stewart is fatally wounded during the escape.  “I should never have left college,” Stewart laments and hands Solo a rebuilt power chip before he dies.  To divulge any other details about the story would undercut the entertainment value of the movie.

“Solo” breaks no new ground for this specific type of character or adventure film, but Narba stages the action well.  Most audiences have seen everything that Solo eventually learns, especially if they’ve kept track of Mr. Spock’s progress over the years in the original “Star Trek” movies.  If you enjoy fast-moving, well-crafted actioneers, “Solo” is worth watching once.