When the first five minutes of a film contains a sweet ass hovercraft, a zombie attack in a diner that culminates in a shootout, and a cheesy 80s melodramatic detective voiceover (similar to that of Joe Friday from everyone’s beloved Dragnet), you know you’re on to something. That was the case with this week’s piece of 1985 cheese that famed B-movie director Charles Band donned TRANCERS. Its chock full of everything that movies of the period needed to be relevant not only then, but to stand the test of time and hold value through the years: a badass hero, a sexy, not-so-in-distress damsel, a nefarious villain and enough sci-fi terminology to drive a Trekkie insane.
Released in a day and age with, and majorly influenced by, both BLADE RUNNER & THE TERMINATOR, TRANCERS takes us 300 or so years into the future to a world where Los Angeles has fallen due to a massive earthquake and has been rechristened “Lost Angeles.” With only remnants of the city still above water, forming what the inhabitants call “Angel City,” trooper Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) roams the streets in search of the remaining trancers - mindless zombies who were once under the control of his arch nemesis/wife’s slayer, Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani). Under the pretense that he’d killed Whistler, Deth has lost all validation in life. It’s only when he learns that Whistler is still alive and has gone “down the line” (time travel of the consciousness into the body of an ancestor) that he gets his shit together. He decides to repurpose himself by traveling back into his many times great-grandfather’s body to pursue Whistler who intends to pre-kill the present day leaders by murdering their predecessors and create his own new world order. Along the way, he teams up with his forefather’s vixen, Lena (Helen Hunt), and together they form a dynamic duo that will stop at nothing to take down Whistler and ensure that the course of time is not altered by their menacing adversary.
Right off the bat, within a matter of minutes, you can tell that this movie isn’t trying to mask its b-movie aura. Sure its cheese at every turn, but it’s pure fun and extremely likeable from the get-go. Take for instance our hero, Jack Deth, himself. Even his name is hilariously used, as they toy with the Deth/death heterography at every opportune moment. Even the characters within the film point out how ridiculous it sounds. Beyond the name, however, Thomerson really plays the role exceptionally well, wielding both a sharp edged intensity about him but a hidden compassion beneath his gruff exterior. His sarcastic tone further layers the character, making him the badass that you can’t help but to love. In one particular scene, where he is invited to a dance club, watching him try to intermingle with the crowd is hilarious. He nails the fish out of water element of Jack Deth perfectly and creates a cop character you’ll love for ages.
Beyond our hero, in her second feature film role, a young Helen Hunt perfectly complements our main man, Deth, as the beautiful Lena. As the one night stand party girl, skeptical of Jack’s tales, she transitions into not only being a competent – and necessary – sidekick, but also the beneficiary of his heart. Their on screen chemistry is the driving force of the film and it’s the personality Hunt fuses into Lena that makes it work. On top of all that, she’s a sight for sore eyes. Spunky and sexy, Hunt commands the role and makes Lena the sweetheart with an edge that you won’t soon forget.
Winding up the trio, our villain Martin Whistler, played by Michael Stefani, isn’t much to shake a stick at, as he is sinister enough to not take away from the film, but doesn’t really add too much either. He kind of reminds me of Beverly Hills Cop III’s Ellis DeWald, in his efforts to mask his evil behind the police officer’s badge, but that might have been more in the role description itself than the actual performance. Either way, he gets the job done well enough for the show to go on.
Looking past the characters, however, the film manages to throw in just enough surprising twists and turns, all coming into play at the right moments. One of my particular favorites is the implementation of the “long-second” watch. Essentially providing a pre-Matrix take on bullet time, it gives Jack Deth the ability to briefly stop time to thwart his opposition’s attacks/ploys and save the day. His use of this device, along with several other welcome – and hilarious – surprises, fully makes for TRANCERS being such an enjoyable romp.
At the end of the day, TRANCERS exemplifies what it is to make a good film with a low budget. It starts with an interesting storyline, brings it to life with stellar characters and performances, and adds the little bits and bobs to bring the film full circle. Like I mentioned before, it’s extremely low budget looking and feeling, but being that it never takes itself too seriously – at times, directly poking fun in its own direction - it’s a certifiably fun ride. I mean, with zombies, time travel, an 80s backdrop and a sarcastic badass leading the way, how can you go wrong? Definitely worthy of taking a trip down the line, I’d suggest you give TRANCERS a go.
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