Future Fear (1997)

Neither of them dress remotely like this at any point

Welcome, dear reader, to the heady far off days of 2017 as imagined in 1997, which even though it’s a dystopia is slightly less hellish than the actual 2017 we all lived through. If only you knew how badly it could get messed up, children of Blair and Clinton!

Anyway, it’s 2017 and a comet, last seen in 1997 (based on Hale-Bopp, which showed up then and was perhaps the brightest comet of the 20th century) is coming back round for another pass, and because there’s signs of alien life on it, a probe is sent out to have a look. The probe, on its way back to Earth with real genuine alien RNA on board, crashes in Africa and the plague unleashed from there wipes out almost all the human race.

The guy doing the voiceover – yes, a B-movie which needs to explain its central plot at length in the first five minutes is probably going to be tough going – is anti-establishment genetic scientist Dr John Denniel, who we meet in a helicopter, being chased by a red helicopter, piloted by his wife, who’s now his most hated enemy, Anna. Couple of gems of casting – Anna is played by Maria Ford, who’s a bit of a B-movie legend (we’ve met her before in “Deathstalker 4” and “Future Kick”); and John is the great Jeff Wincott. Because he’s a legit martial artist, he’s done a bajillion straight-to-video martial arts movies, but he’s also an actual actor and won awards for his TV work (“Night Heat”). We love him here at the ISCFC, and have covered his work in the “Universal Soldier” sequels and “Prom Night”, and it appears that while making this movie no-one ever thought to tell him to dial it down a little.

There are three things to note if you’re thinking of embarking on an evening of “Future Fear”. One is the title doesn’t really match the action – it’s being set in the future is never referenced and there’s not so much as a whisper of any cool future tech. Two – it’s 75 minutes long, and doesn’t waste a second of it, jumping between times and plots with reckless abandon. Three – it’s produced by Roger Corman, and don’t let the fact that Corman produced 17 other movies that year (!) convince you of its lack of quality.

I want to leap around a little less than the movie does. Stacy Keach, who must have owed someone some money, is the main US Army guy, until it’s revealed he’s actually a Nazi whose plan to wipe out the human race apart from the pure Aryans works perfectly (he crashes the satellite into Africa deliberately). John and Anna try to come up with a cure, fall in love, get married, then almost immediately turn to murderous rage towards each other – she gets pregnant and he suggests abortion, as bringing a baby into this world is sheer folly; then their solution to the virus is some embryos of animal-human hybrids with natural immunity, and she sees them as her children, he sees them as sources of valuable genetic information. And thus lies what might charitably be called the plot.

The first half gives us four timelines simultaneously – the early happy relationship of John and Anna; the miserable breakup time; the bit where he’s still trying to save humanity but she’s actually a secret recruit of Stacy Keach; and then the bit where Anna is trying to kill John. The second half of the movie is pretty much entirely their fight through the corridors and air ducts of their research base, with lots and lots of “hey, I caught you! No, you escaped really easily!” moments; and because “Die Hard” cast a long shadow, John has a friend who he only communicates with via radio, who’s trying to help him.

Wincott really goes all out here, enjoying the chance to do what appears to be intentional comedy. He quotes from “Alice In Wonderland” throughout, which is an interesting touch but not one which really goes anywhere, like an earlier draft made it part of the plot but they forgot that bit and left the quotes in anyway – sadly, they never quoted a very important line, “it would nice if something made sense for a change”. There’s a fight scene where John uses a toilet plunger, which is stuck to the wall – some of my fellow reviewers don’t seem to have a sense of humour and treat it like it’s intended to be serious. Come on!

What you’ll notice most obviously, though, is how disjointed it is. As well as the classic Corman touch of splicing in scenes from other movies he was making at the time, to save money, the editing is so offputting that I wondered if it was deliberate – probably not, is the answer. There are a few scenes that feature a ticking clock graphic at the bottom, but what that time is counting towards is never revealed. Good old Roger Corman!

This does break one of my most treasured movie rules, though – never directly remind someone of a more fun movie they could be watching instead. As he escapes one trap, John quips “I feel like I’m in a poor man’s version of Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, and while it’s more a very poor man’s Die Hard, just don’t draw attention to it!

I’ve been a little harsh to “Future Fear”, but – puzzling editing aside – it’s a fun little movie. OTT performance from Wincott, cheap and cheerful, rips along and is so puzzling, you’re unlikely to be bored at any time.

Rating: thumbs up

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Universal Soldier 2: Brothers In Arms (1998)

Knowing nothing about this, it becomes extremely obvious that it’s nothing more than a pilot for a proposed “Universal Soldier” TV series. The only two reasonably sized stars (who appear for more than five seconds) get killed off, but everyone else survives; there’s a “here’s what the plot of the series will be” bit of business at the end; and the main villain ends the movie completely unknown to our heroes, ready to launch many attacks on them throughout the course of a season’s worth of sexy adventures.

I’m not mentioning this to brag about how I was right – this and part 3, “Unfinished Business”, were intended to start a “Universal Soldier” TV series for Showtime – but to tell you what you ought to expect if you’re thinking of watching all the “Universal Soldier” movies in order. “Pilots that crashed” is one of our least popular, least worthwhile features here at the ISCFC, and this an unwelcome addition to that merry band.

To ease us into the UniSol world, we get the final few minutes of the original movie, reshot with new actors. Taking over the part of Luc Deveraux is Matt Battaglia, who’s one of those TV “that guy” actors – he’s briefly been in “Twin Peaks”, “JAG”, “Silk Stalkings” and more recently “True Detective” and “Hawaii Five-O”. He takes JCVD’s performance from part 1, goes “what that needed was less ability to be a human being” and really runs with it; once again, he’s effectively a passenger in the movie that’s named after him. Investigative reporter Veronica is recast with Chandra West, who’s excellent , and the new head of the UniSol program, which appears to have been semi-privatised in the intervening five minutes between the end of the first movie and beginning of this one, is a fellow named Otto Mazur. This is Gary Busey, post severe brain injury but pre becoming a sad laughing stock – he seems to be trying here, although it’s a curious performance.

Plot thread number one is that Luc has an “immediate recall to base” chip in his head, which his former employers use to get him to leave his home and go straight back to Chicago, where they’re based. Why they never used this in the first movie, where it’d have stopped pretty much all the problems that occurred from the several UniSols going off-reservation, is never mentioned (it’s different to the tracking chip which he removes during part 1).

One of the several plot threads is that Luc has a brother, who went off to war in 1960 or so (remember Luc is a Vietnam war vet who was kept on ice for 20 years), but in a coincidence so stupid and large I couldn’t even be bothered to be annoyed by it, was also taken after his death to be part of the UniSol program. Although whatever procedure it is didn’t take on him, so rather than just dump his body somewhere, they pay for nearly 40 years of cryogenic suspension – suspension so good that five seconds after his case is smashed, he’s quipping and kicking ass. I have absolutely no idea why this happens. His brother, Eric, is played by Jeff Wincott, one of the stars of 80s / 90s straight-to-video action, and far too good to be in trash like this – the scene where he’s educating Luc to be human is pretty funny.

The plot involves selling the UniSols to a Chinese terrorist group, led by the Filipino-American actor Von Flores, but not really as they just kill them and steal the diamonds they were going to use to buy them. That’s a tactic that’s only going to work once, I reckon, as other bad-guy groups will struggle to trust you in future…but what do I know? I was about to try and hide the identity of the main villain who’s manipulating all this, but the IMDB page reveals who it is immediately, so I won’t bother.

It’s the director of the CIA, played by Burt Reynolds. This movie goes above and beyond the usual “A-lister hired for a day” tricks, showing him from behind while an impersonator does his voice – they actually say at one point he’s using a voice scrambler for security reasons! Congratulations for one of the sleaziest tricks I’ve ever seen! His entire time on screen is maybe five seconds, as he pans into shot and makes some reference to his plans not being done yet.

For a movie called “Universal Soldier”, you’d really hope there’d be more action in it. Aside from the opening recap, nothing much really happens til the halfway point, and the fights are pretty small beer when they do occur. We still have no explanation what it is that makes the UniSols so strong – they don’t appear to be cybernetic, even though they have black box recorders implanted in their bodies, but it can’t be drugs as Luc suffers no withdrawal symptoms from being away from base for however long it was.

I think it’s lazy, though, and not just for the reasons I mentioned above. Jean-Claude Van Damme tends to be cast as a Louisiana boy if he’s an American in a movie, thanks to his accent. This is what happened in part 1, but by the beginning of part 2, they just drop this idea and specifically site the Deveraux family farm in Wyoming (even though the entire thing was filmed in Canada). It’s little things like this that show the big things were probably done in a similar slapdash manner. Director Jeff Woolnough and writer Peter Lenkov are both long-time TV guys, still working today, but this looks like it was not a passion project for anyone involved. Just do like JCVD wants you to do and ignore these two made-for-TV instalments completely.

Rating: thumbs down