Friday, March 29, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Deth Tosses An Exploding Ham

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Cody takes a look at the second chapter in the Trancers saga.


Last December, I wrote about Full Moon Pictures head Charles Band's 1985 movie Trancers, a Christmasy sci-fi action flick in which a cop from the year 2247 named Jack Deth is sent back in time (or "down the line") to protect the ancestors of the High Council of the Western Territories from being murdered by Martin Whistler, a cult leader with the psychic ability to turn the weak minded into zombie-like beings called trancers. The only way for a person to travel into the past is via an injection that sends their consciousness into the mind of an ancestor, so Jack's mind ended up in the body of his lookalike ancestor Phillip Deth.

The sequel picks up six years after Deth thwarted Whistler. The Council has been so vigilant about protecting one member's ancestor Hap Ashby, former pro baseball player turned alcoholic homeless man, that they've ordered Deth to remain in the past, keep an eye on Ashby, keep him alive so he can procreate. Deth hasn't minded this job so much, since the events of the previous film he's gotten married to Lena, his punk rock party chick sidekick who has matured into a responsible adult with computer skills, and he spends his leisure time cruising the California coast, which he knows will end up under the sea after the Killer Quakes of 2063. The Deths live in a mansion with Ashby, who has sobered up, gotten rich through commodities speculation, and now collects fire trucks as a hobby.

Everyone's doing pretty well. But take a moment to think about poor Phillip Deth. Jack has been living in his body for six years now, which means Phil's consciousness is trapped in some kind of limbo. There's worse news for Phil, if he could hear it. Jack has been in the past for so long that his own body, lying in stasis in 2253, has calcified. He'll never be able to return to it, so he's stuck in Phil's body and Phil is gone for good. Nobody ever seems too concerned about that.

Not being able to bring Jack Deth back to their present with a simple injection is troubling for the Council, who needs his help in preparing to fight a new wave of trancers. But there has been a technological advancement in time travel since the first film, something called a TCL Chamber that plays into some complicated situations and convoluted explanations. The chamber can carry a person into the future, but not into the past. Someone has to go down the line the consciousness way, set off a tapback device, then the chamber will appear in the past and after 48 hours it will boomerang back into the future with whoever happens to be inside. The Council wants Jack Deth to catch a ride in the chamber, and to retrieve him they send his fellow Angel City Trooper McNulty.

McNulty isn't the first cop to get sent on this mission. It gets more complicated. The first Trooper to get this assignment was Alice Stillwell, Jack Deth's wife, who was killed six months before the first movie. A Council technician went back to the day before she was killed and sent her back down the line to 1991... but she didn't complete her mission, she just disappeared. That's because the ancestor Alice ended up inhabiting was locked up in a state asylum. That's been very inconvenient for her, but it's also put her in the perfect situation to get close to the film's villain.

The trancer program has been revived by Whistler's brother, who has travelled down the line to '91 and is presenting himself as a man named E.D. Wardo, head of an organization called Green World. Among Green World's many enterprises is a detox center where they gather mental patients and homeless people under the pretense of training them to work in the ecology movement. What Wardo is actually doing is getting the patients hooked on Skurb 78, the crack of the future, a designer drug more addictive than heroin that wasn't made until 2078 in the normal timeline. While the patients sleep, a tape of Wardo speaking to them in hypnotic tones is played over and over. It sort of reminds me of Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Wardo gradually takes full control of his patients through drugs and hypnosis, then it's trancer time.

During his six years of peace in the past, Jack Deth has set aside his style rule of "Dry hair's for squids." But when it's time to get back into the action, he gets out the pomade and slicks back his locks. Deth has to stop Wardo/Whistler, end this new trancer threat, decide what time period he truly wants to be in, and deal with the fact that he now has two wives in 1991, knowing that his first wife is doomed if she returns to 2247.

Charles Band returned to the director's chair for Trancers II, the last film in the series that he would direct himself. Every actor whose character was back for the sequel also returned, from Tim Thomerson reprising his role as the awesome and iconic Jack Deth to Helen Hunt as Lena, Biff Manard as Hap Ashby, Telma Hopkins as Raines the techie of the future, Art LaFleur as tough Angel City cop McNulty, and Alyson Croft as the youthful female ancestor McNulty has to unwillingly inhabit. Having aged into her teens by the time part 2 came around, Croft is given more to do this time, bantering with Deth and smoking stogies. Even the long second watch is back.

Joining the heroes is the lovely Megan Ward, a '90s favorite of mine, as Alice Stillwell. The villainous Wardo is played by late, great, burn-scarred character actor Richard Lynch, with Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs and two time Bond girl Martine Beswick (From Russia with Love and Thunderball) as his main lackeys.

In smaller roles are a couple actors I always enjoy seeing; Sonny Carl Davis as orderly Rabbit, a former mental patient himself, and Barbara Crampton in a cameo as an interviewer who Wardo informs he's on "a holy war against polluters". Hunt and Band's fathers Gordon and Albert also cameo as a couple homeless guys looking for a little more from the free hot dogs Green World workers are handing out.

While I don't enjoy part 2 as much as I do the original film, it's a decent sequel. Considering who plays the baddies I think they're underused, but Lynch does have some moments where he gets to shine and creep. The film has a humor to it that is well handled by the actors, particularly Tim Thomerson, who is also a comedian in addition to being a badass. When Alice escapes from the Green World compound and gets mixed up in Jack and Lena's life, it leads to some sitcom-esque scenes of misunderstandings.

This movie also shows that the best weapon to bring to a gun fight is a pitchfork.

The trancer attacks in the first weren't exactly played dead serious, with the trancers Deth fought including a kindly old waitress and a mall Santa, but they seem sillier this time around, mainly because of the actors playing the trancers and the way the action is shot and/or cut together. That's a negative point for me overall, but the goofiness works really well in one scene.

Deth runs into Wardo's followers several times throughout the film, but the best attempt on his life comes at about the halfway point and it's not only the standout moment of the movie, it's one of the greatest moments in the whole series. In this case, the trancer is a delivery boy from a deli who drops off an order of groceries like normal. But then McNulty notices something strange... a ham that's stuffed like a turkey. Deth immediately springs into action, grabbing the ham and throwing it through a window. The ham blows up in a large fireball. The scene ends with McNulty saying something that pisses Deth off, to which our hero responds, "The next time someone hands you an exploding ham, I'm gonna pass the mustard."

It's ridiculous. I love it.

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