This review thanks to a request / dare from regular reader Dave.
What we have here is a fascinating, funny movie with a great visual style…that completely fails to answer its own central mystery. It feels like some explanation was edited out deliberately to keep us in the dark, and that particular problem will become apparent in a paragraph or so. But what it does have is one of the greatest B-movie casts ever assembled, with three ISCFC Hall of Famers (should we ever do one) gracing the screen.
It’s 2017! The lead drives a weird car with two wheels at the front and one at the back (literally all the other cars in the movie are perfectly normal, though)! Something bad has clearly happened to the world, but LA still largely functions, and Sam Treadwell (TV stalwart David Andrews) works at a huge recycling centre, where endless queues of people bring in metal, cables and suchlike in return for large boxes of something or other. Food, maybe? There’s a fun bit of world-building here, as Sam and his friends go to a bar where lawyers act as pimps for prostitutes, negotiating insanely complicated one-night contracts – the main lawyer is Larry Fishburne, before the early 90s would make him famous (also, this movie was filmed in 1985 but not released til 1988).
Anyway, Sam goes home at the end of a hard day to his beautiful and somewhat vacant wife, only for it to turn out she’s a robot, a “Cherry 2000” model. While they’re about to have sex on the kitchen floor, the water from an overflowing sink causes her to have a complete meltdown (a rather substantial design flaw, when you think about it), which leaves Sam alone and distraught, especially when he realise she can’t be fixed. He even goes to a robot mechanic, who offers him a variety of other robot women, but he’s all about the Cherry.
What he still has is her (apparently very rare and valuable) personality chip, a tiny CD-looking thing, and armed only with that and a knowledge of where replacement Cherry 2000 models can be found – the no-mans-land of Zone 7 – he sets off for the Wild West town of Glory Hole to find himself a Tracker to take him into this forbidden area. Melanie Griffith is E Johnson, the best tracker of the lot, but because Sam, along with pretty much every man in the world, is a touch on the sexist side, he tries to find a “better” one and ends up with Brion James, who just takes him into an alley and tries to jump him.
He eventually hires E to take him to Zone 7, which brings him into conflict with Lester (Tim Thomerson), a psychopath who cheers his gang up with sports-coach-cum-New-Age platitudes. Lester’s girlfriend / hostess / assistant is, coincidentally enough, Sam’s ex-girlfriend, and their whole section is funny and odd and promises much. Anyway, Sam and E have to fight their way through all sorts of problems, all sorts of people, and when they reach their goal they have to fight their way back. There are some pretty fantastic set-pieces, like when they’re caught with a giant car magnet and start shooting and throwing grenades at their captors as they’re being swung across a large canyon, and if you can’t tell the ending then I would like to show you a new game called three-card monte.
To create some very slight tension as to what that big old problem is, I’ll tell you the good stuff. It’s got an amazing visual style, with three very distinct areas – the city and its postapocalyptic, claustrophobic look; Glory Hole, like a techno-Wild West; and Lester’s place, what looks like a 1950s view of the future (along with a submerged-in-sand Las Vegas). Either they had an amazing location scout or this was a higher-budget movie than I expected. It’s also got a fantastic cast, leaving aside a not-terribly-great pair of central performances. Brion James, Tim Thomerson and Robert Z’Dar are all B-movie royalty, and have a fine time here, even if Z’Dar barely says a word and James is ditched after only a few minutes on screen. The two non-Griffith women in the movie, Pamela Gidley as Cherry and Cameron Milzer as Elaine, Sam’s ex, are excellent too.
But it’s not all amazing sets, great guest performances and an exciting, fast-paced script! That script, by the way, is the first screen credit from Michael Almereyda, who’d go on to make the amazing “Another Girl, Another Planet” in 1992 using only the Fisher Price PXL200 kids’ movie camera (it recorded onto normal audio cassettes) and is still writing and directing today. It’s got a huge great gulf at its centre, and that gulf is women.
When you discover that Sam, and lots of other people, have robot wives, the first thought that came to mind was “ah, so women have mostly died out, for some reason”. It sort of explains things, but then you see the wider world and women are everywhere! And it’s not like they’re all radiation-scarred or whatever (Griffith herself is testament to that), so one would hope there’d be a reason why so many men would choose robots without much in the way of brain power over real living women. If there is one, it was either mentioned in passing at the beginning, while I wasn’t listening, or edited out. It could have been an interesting feminist statement about the way society treats women, but it ended up just being the story of a guy who wanted a compliant, dull, sex-slave/housekeeper who finally realised by the end that he’d prefer a real woman. In fact, poor Cherry, resurrected in a new body, is just tricked and abandoned at the end because “she’s just a robot”, which seems unnecessarily cruel to someone who’s “loved” him as she has. It’s all rather confusing.
Trying not to get sucked into the rabbit hole of understanding this movie, it doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Firstly, there are no male robots, and the subject never even comes up, as if that would be the stupidest thing you could possibly imagine. Sam’s decision, after having a rather fun-seeming human girlfriend, to get married to a robot, is also never explored.
But if you don’t think about any of that, then you’ll have a really good time. The sense of humour is strong and it’s pitched at just the right level; it looks fantastic; and it races along at a fair old clip. I can see why the movie company had a tough time marketing it, as it’s a pretty odd little mix of styles, and it would have never been a hit, but we still get to enjoy it.
Rating: thumbs up