Youtube Film Club: Total Reality (1997)

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David Bradley must have decided shortly after making “Total Reality” that the movie business wasn’t for him. After taking over the “American Ninja” franchise and doing a pretty good job of it, he’d turned from MARTIAL ARTS GUY into a decent, charismatic leading man who could also kick ass. Then, after a few movies in 1997, that was it. When there’s “actors” like Jalal Merhi and Ron Marchini who made w-a-y more movies than they should have, it’s a shame when a good actor makes too few.

Although perhaps he saw the finished product of this confusingly plotted movie and thought gardening was a more satisfying career. John Bridges (Michael Mendelson) has written a self-help book, which advocates selfishness to get ahead, and as you might have guessed, he’s a bit of a dick, as we see his ex-wife Cathy (Ely Pouget) storm into his rather sparsely attended book launch to demand the return of money he stole from their joint account. But we’re then whisked 200 years into the future! Humanity spread throughout the galaxy pretty quickly, but with the pretty evil-sounding Bridgist political party / philosophy dominant. There’s a rebel force and a war waged which kills billions of people, and we join the action as the Bridgists are about to storm the last remaining rebel ship. Bradley is Lieutenant Antony Rand, leading the Bridgist commandos.

 

Now, right about here, ten minutes into the movie, is where everything goes off the rails. I don’t think it’s always necessary, but when you’re making a cheapo sci-fi action movie, it’s often handy to have clearly defined heroes and villains, at least early on. It gives you an “in” to the movie, allows you to get acclimated before the twists and turns of the plot really kick in. “Total Reality” on the other hand, gives you something different – the Rebel leader, Commander Tunis (Thomas Kretschmann, who’d go on to a decent career, including “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”), shoots the assistant who suggests surrender to save the families on board; then Rand secures the ship, only to have his Bridgist superiors destroy it from a distance with their super-lasers. Rand shoots his superior officer and is sent to military prison; Tunis and his second-in-command escape on a small craft and go back in time to 1998.  By the way, the rebel ship is the USS Haldeman, no doubt a reference to the author of sci-fi classic “The Forever War”, which I wish this movie had borrowed more from him than a name.

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I could spend an entire review unpacking the plot holes and confusion in just this one tiny bit of movie, because it’s pretty special. The sole “good guy” is happily on the side of the evil Bridgists to this moment, and both sides seem like absolute scum. Then, thinking just a tiny bit deeper, if both sides have time travel technology, why haven’t they used it before this, the last possible moment of the war? Why did Tunis need to kill his assistant and potentially all the people hiding in the hold he blasted his time-travel ship out of? Why did Rand learn the truth about the Bridgists so early in the movie, leaving no big reveal for later?

 

From Rand’s new home on Ganymede Space-Prison, the movie then becomes a sort of reverse “Terminator”, crossed with “The Dirty Dozen”. Rand and three other inmates are given implants that will explode in 40 hours, and sent back in time themselves to capture the two rebels, alive or dead. One might think they’d at least give the four the most basic of preparation for life in the late 20th century, but no! Sure is lucky one of them can drive, otherwise this would be a movie about four people in body armour and rifles trying to hitch a ride. There’s also a smidge of “Back To The Future 2” as one of the convicts takes back a disc with every stock price movement for the last two hundred years on it.

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The Fearsome Foursome are tracking the chips implanted in the rebel leaders’ necks, because every Bridgist has one implanted. Never mind that the war has been raging for decades and chances are the two rebels would have been born outside the Bridgist sphere of influence! Just go with it! They find Cathy pretty much by accident as she’s gone to her former home to get some stuff, and the two rebels turn up too, looking for Bridges themselves. Thanks to this meeting, we get perhaps the primary stylistic choice of this movie – NO-ONE CAN SHOOT FOR SHIT. People stood in the same room as each other, with big powerful guns, are appalling aims, even worse when you consider they’re all trained soldiers. This carries on throughout, to the point when you’re actually surprised when someone fails to navigate the mostly harmless hail of bullets.

 

The thing about David Bradley is he’s a fantastic screen martial artist, so if you hire him for your movie you’d expect there to be some decent fights. Of course, if you’re the producers of “Total Reality” then you’dabsolyutnaya-realnost-scene-2 have him in no fights at all, apart from him punching one guy in the face. I’d understand that if it were a crash-bang-wallop action movie, with stuff happening all the time, but it’s really not. As well as all the comparisons above, it’s got a lot of “The Dead Zone” to it, just with being from the future substituting for being psychic, and also has a whole undeveloped plotline which reminds you of the episode of the Simpsons where Kang and Kodos replace Bill Clinton and Bob Dole on the election trail. Whoops, spoilers!

 

If you’ve got a clash of ideologies, like Bridgism vs. whatever the rebels stand for, then you really need at least one description of what those ideologies are. This movie goes out of its way to not tell you, to leave you in the dark about what exactly everyone is fighting for, and while we know Bridgism is bad we’ve got absolutely no idea what the rebels would replace it with. Their plan is, what we see of it anyway, confusing, and given that Rand should really be on their side from the very beginning, sort of pointless. To top all this off, it gives us a bizarre anti-climax of an ending, with the movie’s fourth banana the one to get the big dramatic closing speech, which isn’t actually all that dramatic at all. And what the hell was with the mysterious FBI agents? They clearly knew more than they were letting on, but why? And how?

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They must have filmed at 4:30 am on the streets and in an abandoned mall, because aside from the main cast there is literally no-one in this movie. I’d love it if it were a conscious choice, but I bet the filmmakers just didn’t want to pay any extras (the big book launch that will apparently change the universe is attended by maybe 10 people, for example).

 

I wanted to like this – time travel, sci-fi, David Bradley, director Philip Roth (who also did ISCFC favourite “Digital Man” and now produces SyFy Channel-esque movies) – there’s plenty of good elements for the B-movie lover. But it’s all so empty. Why not take out one of the meaningless talking scenes (or heavily trim the coda) and have a character explain their motivation with some clarity? “Oh, that’s why that guy shot his friend and then risked all the people on his ship to go back in time!”

 

Rating: thumbs down

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