Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Film Review: FREEJACK (1992, Geoff Murphy)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 110 minutes.
Tag-line: "Alex Furlong died today. Eighteen years from now, he'll be running for his life."
Notable Cast or Crew: From the director (Geoff Murphy) of UNDER SIEGE 2, YOUNG GUNS 2, FORTRESS 2, and DAGG DAY AFTERNOON. Wait- WHAT?! Starring Emilio Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Mick Jagger, Amanda Plummer, Grand L. Bush (WEDLOCK, DIE HARD, LETHAL WEAPON 2), Frankie Faison (MANHUNTER, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, EXTERMINATOR 2), Jonathan Banks (PIN, GREMLINS). Music by Trevor Jones (RUNAWAY TRAIN, LABYRINTH, MISSISSIPPI BURNING).
Best one-liner: "Well, first you gotta cut off the head and the tail, and then you gut it. Then it's all a matter of the sauce. You don't just plop down a rodent on a plate and say here's your river rat would you like red wine or white with 'em. Not that there's any wine around here anyway."
Side note: I really like how Anthony Hopkins has been airbrushed into oblivion on the one-sheet.

FREEJACK. What the hell is a FREEJACK? Why would you call a movie FREEJACK? And yet somehow it still tells you everything you need to know, thus, in an odd twist, making it the perfect title. FREEJACK speaks to me. It says "I am a mediocre Sci-Fi movie with a big budget, but not nearly as big as I wanted." What we've got here is a part futuristic cautionary tale, part paranoid action thriller, and part TOTAL RECALL rip-off. It's Philip K. Dick, lite. More like "Philip K. Dildo," if you will.

The plot is as follows: in 1991, while competing in some sort of NASCAR-y race, Emilio Estevez dies in a spectacular track explosion. Seconds before his fiery death, he is teleported eighteen years into the future to serve as a replacement body for ailing business magnate Anthony Hopkins. The world of 2009 is so foul, drug-addled, and polluted that there are no suitable human bodies for switching in the ('09) present, hence the need to pluck people from the past (right before their impending demises). There's little moral debate in 2009 regarding the Freejackers cause, hey, they were about to die anyway, and now they get to live on as the husk for Anthony Hopkins' consciousness, so stop complaining, Estevez, and let's get on with it.

Everything is going smoothly until Estevez escapes and leads futuristic law enforcement on a wet n' wild goose chase which involves plenty of car crashes and one-liners to go around.

Cars of the future look a lot like the cars of 1991 but with really garish paint jobs.

Oh, and did I mention that if this was TOTAL RECALL, the Ironside character has been replaced with...

Mick Jagger?! Jagger wanders about in Sci-Fi leather riot gear and acts like a total badass, by which I mean he looks extremely silly and tries to maintain his dignity while Estevez shouts one-liners at him.

Dignity: partially maintained.

His character's name is Vacendak, and I can't help but feel that he was given this name only so that Estevez could at one point jeeringly holler "Vacen-DICK!" at him. Like, what is this, a BILL AND TED film?

Correction- if this were a BILL AND TED film, there would be a forthcoming barb regarding "sitting on it and spinning."

Jagger does get a few great moments- he gets to smash some dillbomb's Fabergé egg , and, at one point, given the great mutual respect fostered by the Estevez/Jagger interactions, gives Estevez a five-minute head start. Jagger covers his eyes, and begins to count- "One, Mississippi...two, mississippi..." Bravo. You're no Ironside, but...Bravo.

There's all sorts of mind-boggling plot holes, but I suppose that's part of the charm– #1. Teleportations in this movie are described as only able to manipulate time, not space. Estevez is yanked from the 1991 race track and arrives in 2009 New York City. So there was an enormous racing arena in '91 NYC? Where was that, exactly? The Upper East Side? Tribeca? Maybe Greenwich Village? #2. Estevez's girlfriend in '91 is Rene Russo.

Russo looks great, but she happens to be pushing forty. When they show her in '2009,' she hasn't aged a day, despite having lived out the last eighteen years (unlike Estevez's character, who instantly teleported). Now going from your late 30's to your late 50's is kiiiiind of a transition, and had they addressed this, it certainly would have made the love story more compelling, or, at the very least, weirder- either of which are okay in my book.

The aesthetic is sort of a skid row Cyberpunk, influenced heavily by ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. There's even a scene where Estevez gets picked up by a whacky old-timey cab. Ernest Borgnine is not at the wheel, but you get the picture.

Amanda Plummer shows up for a minute as a shotgun-toting nun, Frankie Faison's a homeless river rat connoisseur, and Jonathan Banks gets in a nice turn as a corporate douche. Anyway, all of this leads up to a showdown with Anthony Hopkins' consciousness that culminates in a sequence I am forced to describe as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by-way-of THE LAWNMOWER MAN. Anthony Hopkins bellows, "Welcome to MY MINNNNND!"

and we're entreated to a breathtaking visual representation of consciousness transference. In my opinion, FREEJACK goes much further in realistically depicting the state of neuro-cognizant subconscious persona transplantation than, say, the "Money for Nothing" music video:



VS.
.

Ultimately, the payoffs are surprisingly satisfying, and there's some awesome closing credits music called "Hit Between the Eyes" by The Scorpions, which features lyrics like, "I'm readddddy....for a HIT BETWEEN THE EYEEEEES!!!" Three stars.

-Sean Gill


9 comments:

J.D. said...

It's films like this that give the Cyberpunk genre a bad name. Well, that, and the horrible Keanu Reeves adaptation of JOHNNY NEUMONIC. But, hey, at least he made up for it with THE MATRIX so there's that.

As for Mick Jagger, nothing will top him prancing around with David Bowie in that video for that horrible cover of "Dancing in the Streets." Compared to that, he came off pretty well in FREEKJACK.

Sean Gill said...

Cyberpunk's an odd sub-genre- even what many consider to be the first great cyberpunk novel, NEUROMANCER, is incredibly derivative of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. And though it's enjoyable, in my opinion it never even comes close to being as good as anything by Philip K. Dick. So it's kinda been downhill from there. I've managed to avoid JOHNNY MNEMONIC so far, but my love of all things Takeshi Kitano will probably erode my resolve at some point or another.

Ha, the Dancing in the Streets music video! I've actually been thinking about reviewing that (and some other Bowie vids) at some point. There is certainly less "synchronized butt undulating" in FREEJACK than in the Dancing in the Streets video, I will say that.

J.D. said...

I like Gibson's first three books - his "Sprawl" trilogy. I actually find COUNT ZERO to be a better, more interesting book than NEUROMANCER. Hell, Michael Mann even showed interest in adapting ZERO into a film for a minute or two. Too bad, it would've been right up his alley and allowed him to try his hand at sci-fi.

But you're about Philip K. Dick. It all comes from him.

HK Fanatic said...

Can I be the one who sheepishly raises his hand and admits that he likes "Snow Crash"? It's an entertaining read, if only for the 90's nostalgia factor.

Well, at least the 16 year-old me who read it really dug the hell out of it. That is, until what I remember was a very rushed climax to the narrative.

The best cyberpunk movies for me have come out of Japan. They usually don't make a lick of sense when it comes to the plot (maybe something got lost in translation?) and they lack the complexity of Phillip K. Dick's work, but they can't be topped for their ability to upload a virus into your mind through skull-searing imagery. See: TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, RUBBER'S LOVER, and BURST CITY.

I haven't seen 964 PINOCCHIO yet but I hear it's quite good.

Sean Gill said...

I've only read NEUROMANCER, and while it was full of pulpy goodness (and had a fantastic opening line!), I have to admit that my experience with it was hampered by retroactive MATRIX rip-offedness– it's almost ludicrous how much the MATRIX trilogy steals from Gibson- and, of course, due to a certain two-thirds of said trilogy being absolutely abominable, that's gonna put an unavoidably bad taste in my mouth. I mean, when they're on a space station called Zion populated by cyberpunky Rastafarians, I get a negative knee-jerk reaction regarding a certain 'rave sequence,' and that's entirely my fault for seeing/reading those two works in the wrong order.

Also, after reading Gibson admit that ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was his point of departure (with his love for the 'bomb in the bloodstream' blackmail and the line about 'flying the Gullfire over Leningrad') and thinking that his novel would be an abject failure after seeing the glory of BLADE RUNNER on the big screen...it's just not the kind of work that I could place on a pedestal. I did enjoy it enough to seek out some of his other work at a later date- many need to create derivative work before they can come into their own. I want to check out COUNT ZERO.

And I do worship at the altar of PKD- he and Yukio Mishima are probably my two favorite novelists of the 20th Century.

Sean Gill said...

HK,

I've never read SNOW CRASH, though it's been recommended to me on several occasions.

I'm a huge TETSUO fan and I'm kicking myself because I learned, two days too late, that Shinya Tsukamoto was appearing for free last week at a nearby Apple Store! DAMN! His non-TETSUO stuff is hit or miss for me, but it's never less than COMPLETELY INSANE. I really respect that a lot.

HK Fanatic said...

Damn! Shinya Tsukamoto at an Apple store? That's truly amazing. I would have loved to have seen that.

Yeah, he's probably my favorite director out of Japan. He was one of the guys I always wrote about when given the chance in film classes. You're right, his filmography is slightly uneven but I've managed to enjoy everything except for his last effort "Nightmare Detective," which was the first time it ever felt like Tsukamoto was just lazily cashing in on the J-horror craze. Eh, I suppose everybody is allowed their one stab at commerciality.

Bullet Ballet, A Snake of June, Tokyo Fist, Hiruko the Goblin, Vital...those are all fun and worth watching, IMO.

J.D. said...

HK Fanatic:

"The best cyberpunk movies for me have come out of Japan. They usually don't make a lick of sense when it comes to the plot (maybe something got lost in translation?) and they lack the complexity of Phillip K. Dick's work, but they can't be topped for their ability to upload a virus into your mind through skull-searing imagery."

Yeah, 2 Japanese Cyberpunk films that stand-out in my mind are GUNHED (which Front Line Assembly ripped off big time for their "Mind-Phazer" video) and AVALON, which has a very convoluted plot but very cool imagery.

I also think that the non-Japanese film HARDWARD is one of the better Cyberpunk films out there.


Sean Gill:

"Also, after reading Gibson admit that ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was his point of departure (with his love for the 'bomb in the bloodstream' blackmail and the line about 'flying the Gullfire over Leningrad') and thinking that his novel would be an abject failure after seeing the glory of BLADE RUNNER on the big screen...it's just not the kind of work that I could place on a pedestal."

I guess that doesn't bother me so much having read his books before I came across that quote but knowing that he's a fan of Carpenter's film kinda makes me love his books even more! Gibson also has said that all the computer world stuff in TRON is how he visualized Cyberspace in his books, which I thought was pretty cool.

Yeah, PKD is THE man and I love what Richard Linklater did with A SCANNER DARKLY.

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

The Carpenter stuff doesn't bother me on an entertainment level, it only enhances; it's just that after a serious PKD kick, I probably had impossible artistic/literary expectations for the piece. Definitely need to read some more Gibson, and agree about the visualization of Cyberspace (and the line about the sky being "the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" is goddamned excellent).

Loved A SCANNER DARKLY.

HK,

Yeah, in terms of uneven filmography, I guess I was thinking mainly about NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE as well. Many of his films (kinda like some of Guy Maddin's work, I suppose) like TETSUO, HIRUKO, & SNAKE OF JUNE are sort of meandering messes. But they're magnificent, avant-garde, riveting squirmy messes which engage in a weirdo manner that's extremely imaginative. I like many of his acting performances, too- I guess I'm thinking mainly of his furtive asshole Jijii in ICHI THE KILLER. And I fucking love his monologue as the Magician in DEAD OR ALIVE 2: BIRDS. (Dammmit! I can't believe I missed seeing him!)