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Trancers / Future Cop (1985)

by on 2011/01/18

When the price changes, everything changes.

That’s how I happened on Trancers, also known as Future Cop.  It’s one of those B-pictures that lowers the bar for B-pictures.  Hang on to your Brylcreem, and steer clear of the squids.  You’re nearing the outer rim of the Guilty Pleasure Galaxy right now.

Inhabiting a bargain bin where five bucks gets you three flicks, this noir-soaked Terminator variant predates the similar Timecop by a decade, and the Assassin’s Creed games by two.  Amateurish in comparison, Trancers is way more fun than any of them.  It’s the best bad movie I’ve seen since Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter rekindled my faith in the indie scene.  Happily it’s got five sequels.

The place:  Angel City, just off the sunken city of Lost Angeles, taken down a notch by the Big One.  The time:  2247, nearly three hundred years down the line from what you and I call “now”.

Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) was a good cop ‘til a zombielike Trancer killed his wife.  Now he’s a badass loose cannon, tearing apart the universe to singe the Trancers’ master, a hypnotic psychotic by the name of Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani).

Trouble is, Whistler’s vanished into the distant past (Los Angeles, 1985) and he’s wreaking havoc, masquerading as an LAPD detective.  Hot on his trail, Jack jumps into the past, assuming the identity — and girlfriend (Helen Hunt) — of his own ancestor, a reporter named Phil.  Even more trouble is, Jack’s starting to go soft on the girl, and getting careful could get him dead.

In the world of Trancers, disrupting timelines has nothing on protecting family trees.  An unbroken ancestry is the key to skipping through time.  When Jack goes back, there’s no research, no careful moves, and no bleeding heart prime directive.  He carries future tech, makes no effort to fit in, and goes after his prey like a mad dog.

Less important than safeguarding history is telling the tale old school style.  A bankrupt sort of Blade RunnerTrancers aspires to film noirdom, and never lets its shortcomings get in the way of trying really, really, really hard.

While Jack Deth may look like the ungodly union of Charleton Heston and Tommy Lee Jones, he sounds like Miguel Ferrer with a few too many bad habits.  In his weary, grainy voice, he narrates his story with a hardboiled melodrama.  A wrecked trench coat hides the hardware, an ugly scar breaks up his face, and he lights old-fashioned matches on his teeth.

Still, whatever affection this future cop character has for Peter Gunn, he doesn’t attract its jazz.  Occasional tones and drones mark dramatic sequences, like a dark remixing of early Depeche Mode by John Carpenter.  Those cues are the good ones.  More often, we’re treated to the very finest in bargain basement Eighties synth pop.

Oh wait.  Did I say “finest”?  I meant “most hilarious crap”.  Action scenes are accompanied by sudden bursts of pop.  The most commonly used piece sounds like a bad instrumental cover of “Holding Out for a Hero”.

Even stranger are the carols.  Who knew that there was such a thing as sci-fi Christmas noir?  We get hobos singing “We Three Kings” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.  We get a punk band performing “Jingle Bells” over a Chinatown bar fight.  And we get a tranced mall Santa, beating Jack down with a giant candy cane.

Hey kids, don’t fool yourselves.  The Eighties were some weird old times.  Anyone who watches this video straight up will believe it.

Trancers is incredible . . . not “so bad it’s good” as much as being “so bad it’s fun”.  If it tried to sell itself as anything but a good time caught on camera, it’d only be worth two stars.  The thing is, it’s definitely worth seeing, so that’s a third.

In fact, if I could jump back and review it in time for Christmas, it might even get a fourth star.  But I can’t.  So it gets three.  Tough break, citizen.

* * *

Rated PG13 for adult situations, language, and mild violence

76 minutes

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