Director – Rick Jacobson, Screenplay – Alex Simon, Producer – Rob Kerchner, Photography – John Aronson, Music – Christopher Lennertz, Visual Effects Supervisor – Bob Morgenroth, Pyrotechnics – Ultimate Effects, Special Effects Supervisor – John Hartigan, Mechanical/Makeup Effects – Michael Burnett Productions, Production Design – Nava. Production Company – New Horizons/Hillwood Entertainment
C. Thomas Howell (Dan Jericho), Stacey Travis (Dr Jessica Parker), Jonathan Fuller (Dr Charles Flint), Jed Allan (Artemus Lockwood), Marcus Aurelius (Curt), Heidi Sorenson (Kristen), Jeff Allin (Dr Fred Hopkins), John Beck (CIA Director), Mark Ginther (Male Cyborg), Cinda-Lin James (Female Cyborg), Paul Eckstein (Jason Watson)
Dan Jericho, a low-level military analyst, is at work when he finds a foreign program, Suspect Device, on his computer. Upon activating it, armed SWAT teams burst in and eliminate everybody in the building except him, just the way it is in a recurring dream that Dan has. Dan is forced to go on the run, hunted by armed hitmen from the mysterious CIA black ops division Gamma Squad. On the run, he is disturbed to find that he has undiscovered abilities as a highly trained unarmed fighter. At the same time, all his friends, even his wife, no longer recognise him. Fleeing with college girlfriend Jessica Parker, he goes to see geneticist Charles Flint who offers Dan disturbing knowledge about who he really is.
Suspect Device is an interestingly deceptive film. It appears and has all the hallmarks of just another action cheapie from Roger Corman’s New Horizons outfit. It certainly doesn’t open very promisingly – a badly directed scene where a poker game is interrupted by terrorists who gun down the attendees, which is then revealed to be a dream, followed by an entirely gratuitous sex scene with a blonde who has clear silicon implants. It quickly starts out looking like a routine action film/thriller about a man with an erased identity theme, along the lines of Timebomb (1991) or the tv series Nowhere Man (1995). Rick Jacobson’s action scenes are poor and unconvincing – at one point, C. Thomas Howell takes on machine-gun armed hoods while crouched in the open in the middle of a carpark building – and Suspect Device seems like a work of little promise.
What suddenly becomes the film’s saving grace is its opening up about two-thirds of the way in with a surprise twist revelation about C. Thomas Howell’s identity. There is a superbly Philip K. Dick-ian moment where C. Thomas Howell’s wounded body suddenly spits the bullets out of their wounds and heals over. It is a wonderful moment that turns Suspect Device from a routine action thriller into something else that makes one suddenly wonder what on Earth is going on. Thereafter the film turns into a conceptual blend of Timebomb and Total Recall (1990). (Although the real influence is probably the Philip K. Dick short story The Impostor (1953), which was later filmed as Impostor (2002) – from which the film blatantly steals the basic set-up without credit). There are the odd bits that the script fails to entirely sew up – it is never clear exactly how much of the life that C. Thomas Howell assumes he has is a false memory, for instance – but it is made up for by a more than effective twist ending. If Suspect Device had been made as an A-budget film, it could have been a minor classic.
Rick Jacobson has specialised principally in low-budget action films. His other genre films include Dragon Fire (1993), Terminal Voyage (1994), The Unborn II (1994), Night Hunter (1996), Black Thunder (1998) and A Bold Affair (1998).