There's a watercooler in Lenny Nero's fleabag Los Angeles apartment. It's an insignificant detail, perhaps, but it tugs at your mind as Kathryn Bigelow's audacious, overpowering STRANGE DAYS rushes past. Is it there because water,
like time and everything else in this nightmare future, has run out?
Welcome to Dystopia on New Year's Eve, 1999. STRANGE DAYS envisions the savage millennial blowout we've all been waiting for, but its real brilliance lies elsewhere. Bigelow understands that the best sci-fi only seems to be about the future; it's really about here and now. Thus STRANGE DAYS,
written by Bigelow's ex-husband, James Cameron, with Jay Cocks, creates a credible world of five years hence by pushing current trends to their logical outcome -- a nation of heedless sensation junkies teetering on the brink of the abyss.
Here, women wear 10 cents' worth of bangles and Spandex, and they can ram your nose through your frontal lobes. Video monitors transcribe your phone calls, but nobody's listening. And the racial fault line running from Rodney King to O.J. has finally cracked wide open. The streets are in chaos. A
debased version of Black Power is back, led by rapper-revolutionary Jeriko One. The LAPD and the National Guard are on a rampage, and it's open season on anyone who wanders into the line of fire. No time for sorry.
Nero is happy to let La-La-Land burn, at least when we first meet him. A former vice cop, Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) has been thrown off the force for playing around with the new techno-tool that the LAPD wants to keep for itself -- a virtual reality system called Playback, originally designed for
surveillance but instantly co-opted as the hottest adult entertainment item on the black market. Now Nero peddles bootleg Playback clips, selling himself as the "Santa Claus of the Subconscious" and "your connection to the Switchboard of the Soul."
With those lucid, sky-blue eyes of his, he's too cool to be true. So it's no great surprise when we discover that he's an obsessive, disconsolate lover, secretly addicted to Playback mementos of his brief relationship with Faith (Juliette Lewis). Once a $10 hooker, Faith has become a mosh pit
superstar under the "protection" of her paranoid manager-lover Philo Gant (the ever-slithery Michael Wincott).
Lewis does what she can with her role, and it's sufficient: She writhes and simpers on cue. Fiennes, however, is perfect, as he seems to be in anything he touches right now. Wire-thin and animal-magnetic, he's a sleazy fallen angel of post-modern commerce, hawking forbidden fantasy states to a
world in which reality has become unbearable. When Al Goldstein lies awake at night envisioning an idealized version of himself, perhaps what he sees is something like Ralph Fiennes as Lenny Nero.
For a time, Lenny wallows in regret and cyberporn. But when the plot turns to the assassination of Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer), it's up to the reluctant Lenny to put away childish things and get real. In a noir-style quest for truth, he enlists twitchy Playback pirate Tick (Richard Edson), sometime
cop and full-time scuzzbag Max (Tom Sizemore) and the fabulous Mace (Angela Bassett), a muscle-bound limo driver trained to defend her privileged clientele on their cruises through the carnage. As played by the charismatic Bassett (WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT), Mace is lightning waiting to get
out of the bottle.
The fission that Bigelow (BLUE STEEL, POINT BREAK) lets loose in STRANGE DAYS is thrilling -- so much so that it almost convinces you to forgive a TV-movie-of-the-week plot. Sadly, all the furious, spellbinding energy is betrayed by the final half-hour, when the anticipated apocalypse fails
miserably to arrive and a train wreck of awkward exposition derails the narrative.
Maybe endings don't matter anymore in Hollywood pictures, and audiences simply disregard them, knowing that the fix is in and the fun is up front. But it hurts to see this story reach for a tidy ending, sealed with a fade-out kiss. STRANGE DAYS hurtles down the track for two hours, frantically
trying to warn us en route to the Big Switchback, only to pull up in a hiss of smoke and hot air.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1995
- Rating: R
- Review: There's a watercooler in Lenny Nero's fleabag Los Angeles apartment. It's an insignificant detail, perhaps, but it tugs at your mind as Kathryn Bigelow's audacious, overpowering STRANGE DAYS rushes past. Is it there because water, like time and everything… (more)