Friday 8 April 2011

Trancers II (1991)

TRANCERS II is the first sequel to the cult favourite TRANCERS (1985).  Both were directed by US low-bduget movie mogul Charles Band and both star Tim Thomerson and Helen Hunt.  Thomerson plays Jack Deth, a 23rd century cop who, to borrow a phrase from Kurt Vonnegut, has come unstuck in time.  Hunt plays Lena, the 20th century girl who helps him.  In the original film, Deth is sent back in time to LA to stop a master criminal called Whistler, who is trying to murder the ancestors of all the governors of the future Angel City.  To do his bidding, Whistler is creating zombie drones, or 'trancers', out of weak-minded individuals.  It's a lot of fun too, mainly due to the exaggeratedly hard-boiled nature of the script and a couple of winning performances from the leads.  It's not very original but has a ramshackle charm not unlike NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) and REPO MAN (1984), both of which use the same downtown LA locations and have a punky B-picture atmosphere.

The sequel has its moments but isn't sufficiently different from the first film to be a total success.  Jack Deth, having been living a happily married life in the 20th century with Lena, learns that mad scientist, Dr E. D. Wardo is attempting to create a trancer army, to carry out his late brother Whistler's plans.  Added to the mix is Deth's 23rd century wife Alice, who has also been sent back in time to thwart the villains.  The interplay between the inadvertently bigamous Deth's two wives is fun but isn't fully developed.  Similarly, the idea of a trancer factory is intriguing but doesn't become anything more than a plot device.  There is an awful lot of exposition in order to explain the new and revised characters, so there are a staggering number of shots of actors talking straight to the camera.  It's really annoying because it slows the pace right down and you end up feeling like you're watching a presentation than a feature film.

The cast is good though.  It's impossible not to like Thomerson as Deth.  He plays him as a sort of more macho Philip Marlowe, complete with one-liners, chivalry and trenchcoat.  In fact he's a cross between Marlowe and Mike Hammer.  Hunt is good but her role is slightly underwritten compared to the original; in that Lena was a spunky ex-biker chick who mucks in and is no-one's fool, but in the sequel she is a disappointingly mundane housewife type, in an unflattering wardrobe.  The supporting cast is mental: there's Jeffrey REANIMATOR Coombs, there's Richard THE SEVEN-UPS / THE NINTH CONFIGURATION Lynch; there's Martine DR JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE Beswick; there's Megan DARK SKIES Ward; there's cult scream queen Barbara Crampton; and there's even John Davis Chandler, who was in some of Sam Peckinpah's greatest westerns.  I love casts like that: even if the film isn't any great shakes there's loads of fun to be had spotting the various cult stars and watching them strut their stuff.

So it's not a bad film exactly but it doesn't really add much to the original.  There are a couple of quotable one-liners and a couple of decent punch-ups but the lack of ambition on the part of the film-makers is lamentable.  You kind of get the suspicion that they chucked in the stellar supporting cast because they knew the film itself was a bit lacking.  There are a further four entries in the series and I'm sure I'll see them all in time but I'll be hoping for better from them.

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