Throughout its 20-year run as the most adorable major-ish studio in Hollywood, Orion Pictures enjoyed two signature hits in the mid-1980s: 1984’s The Terminator and 1987’s RoboCop. Both were original science-fiction actioners about cyborg killers, and both gambled on neophyte directors—James Cameron, a Roger Corman graduate making his debut, and Paul Verhoeven, a brilliant Dutchman who had never made a film in Hollywood. Whatever magic touch Orion had in those early days, however, had dissipated by 1991, when even Oscar-winning hits like The Silence Of The Lambs and Dances With Wolves couldn’t stave off the looming threat of bankruptcy. So in true Hollywood fashion, Orion tried to take a third trip to the cyborg-killer well with Eve Of Destruction, and actually went so far as to recruit Verhoeven’s favorite blonde, Renée Soutendijk, for the star-making title role. Overheard at the pitch meeting: “So what if The Terminator was like, um… a sexy lady in a red leather get-up?” “Sold!” (History repeated itself 12 years later during the pitch meeting for Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines.)
A story of a seductive blonde doppelgänger run amok, realizing the dark fantasies of her creator, Eve Of Destruction sounds like a great Brian De Palma movie; there’s even a scene where Soutendijk slinks over to a jukebox, à la Rebecca Romijn in Femme Fatale. But this film was directed not by Brian De Palma, but by Duncan Gibbins, a music-video veteran who did a handful of Wham! and Glenn Frey shoots in the mid-1980s. Gibbins, who co-wrote the screenplay with Yale Udoff, doesn’t play his premise for exploitation or psychodrama—it’s more of a limp action vehicle for Gregory Hines. Despite casting Soutendijk as a literal walking bombshell, Gibbins puts most of the emphasis on Hines and the collection of stock military types determined to track her down. It’s perversely lacking in perversity.
After a number of failed prototypes, the demure Dr. Eve Simmons (Soutendijk) and her fellow scientists finally offer up the perfect killing machine in Eve VIII (Soutendijk with curlier hair), a military robot that doubles as a nuclear bomb in high heels. (Because in case it malfunctions, the government apparently wants to make sure the consequences are as devastating as possible.) When Eve VIII takes a bullet after stopping a bank robbery, some wires get crossed, and she starts to feed off the memories of her creator. Where Dr. Simmons might not be inclined, say, to forcefully wrest her son from her ex-husband, Eve VIII has no such moral reservations. So it’s up to Colonel Jim McQuade (Hines), a tough guy with one of those laser-pointer guns, to shut down Eve VIII before the digital time bomb in her circuitry hits zero.
Having a cyborg doppelgänger carry out its creator’s dark fantasies is one of those unrealized great ideas that begs for a remake—again, paging Mr. De Palma—because Gibbins never realizes the strength of his own premise. Simmons’ memories and wishes serve as the bread trail that leads McQuade and company to track Eve VIII down, but they don’t have much of a kick—her id slumbers more than rages. So Eve Of Destruction becomes a typical race against time, with Eve VIII spraying her sub-machine gun with un-robotic inaccuracy, and Simmons and McQuade nursing a tepid love connection as they track her down. Orion couldn’t be blamed for going back to the sources of its original success, but everyone seemed committed to doing it in the least exciting way possible. And they ruined Soutendijk’s chances at becoming an egregiously mispronounced household name.
Just the trailer, which promises the exploitation classic the film doesn’t come close to delivering.