The summer that was dominated by the megabuck sequel to THE TERMINATOR also saw the considerably quieter, direct-to-video release of TRANCERS II, the follow-up to Charles Band's TRANCERS, itself a knock-off of THE TERMINATOR. The original TRANCERS, alias FUTURE COP, was no masterpiece, but it did have a spark of energy and inventiveness that has eluded...read more
The summer that was dominated by the megabuck sequel to THE TERMINATOR also saw the considerably quieter, direct-to-video release of TRANCERS II, the follow-up to Charles Band's TRANCERS, itself a knock-off of THE TERMINATOR.
The original TRANCERS, alias FUTURE COP, was no masterpiece, but it did have a spark of energy and inventiveness that has eluded most Band productions ever since. Central to both the original and the sequel is the notion of time-travel via the "genetic bridge": one can drink a serum and wind up
in the body of a distant ancestor. In the first film, a 23rd-century criminal called Whistler (Michael Stefani) had thus escaped to 1985 Los Angeles, and was using his instant army of zombie followers--the eponymous trancers--to wipe out the forebears of future leaders. Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson)
was a professional trancer-killer, pre-incarnated in the body of his great-great-grandfather, in pursuit of the villain. TRANCERS ended with Deth eliminating Whistler but unable to return to his native era.
TRANCERS II finds Deth living the quiet life, happily married to his 20th-century girlfriend Lena (Helen Hunt), and acting as informal bodyguard to Hap Ashby (Biff Manard), a Cy Young Award-winning ex-baseball pitcher and recovering homeless alcoholic-turned-millionaire-commodities-broker and
collector of vintage firetrucks whose progeny will be vital to the world of tomorrow. Suddenly a new trancer threat emerges. Whistler's brother ("When did he get a brother?" is one of the film's more sensible lines; it's never answered) surfaces in 1990 as Dr. Wardo (Richard Lynch), a radical
environmentalist guru involved with rehabilitating derelicts and the mentally ill.
In truth, he's trancerizing them in preparation for world domination or some such. The 23rd-century leaders decide that Deth can't fight this alone, and they send back the only available agent with a handy ancestor--Jack Deth's first wife, temporarily snatched from time just before her murder in
a forthcoming trancer shootout. Alas, Alice Stillwell (Megan Ward) is a mental patient already held prisoner in Wardo's compound. So Mr. Deth must cope with two bickering, imperiled wives, a backsliding Hap Ashby, renewed trancer attacks and the secret plans of the future politicos. Not to mention
a clunky, misguided script and lackluster direction.
A larkish air hangs over TRANCERS II. Nobody takes much of it very seriously, and the actors seem to be having a fun time. The sequel reunites the original cast--right down to Alyson Croft, first seen as the tough-talking child McNulty and now back as a cigar-chomping teen (she's the ancestor of
Deth's no-nonsense boss Art La Fleur)--and augments them with such Band regulars as Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. Missing is Michael Stefani, the LAPD police official possessed by Whistler in the first film and left alive in the end. Wouldn't Whistler's brother use the same influential
ancestor as a host? Maybe L.A. cops have suffered enough public-relations problems recently, but it's just another example of where TRANCERS II goes off the tracks. Thomerson is always welcome as a bigger-than-life screen personality, but his tough Jack Deth persona seems misplaced as the spouse
dilemma is pitched at sitcom level. The first TRANCERS owed as much to BLADE RUNNER as to THE TERMINATOR, especially in its neon-lit urban noir milieu. But TRANCERS II seems to draw inspiration from FIELD OF DREAMS with a strikeout of a subplot in which drunken Hap Ashby tries to stage one last
ball game using his old skid row buddies. And why is it that these characters, keystones of future generations, always consist of bums and outcasts highly unlikely to reproduce? If the trancers are just hypnotized humans, why do they get gooey-faced when angry and vaporize when mortally wounded?
Even so, they're not particularly scary, but give the filmmakers some points for placing the fiends on the fringes of the environmental movement, currently a sacred cow to Hollywood. In fact, Charles Band's preceding film CRASH AND BURN had an ecological subtext, and a shameless promo for it airs
as a TV commercial in TRANCERS II. Other inside jokes include cameo appearances by Charles Band's mother and mother-in-law, as well as his father, producer Albert Band, who shows up along with the dads of Tim Thomerson and Helen Hunt as vagrants.
According to the show-biz trade paper Variety, this was Band's second attempt at a sequel to the 1985 original; a Jack Deth segment was planned as part of a fantasy anthology feature, but the project languished with the demise of Band's earlier production company, Empire. Jack Deth and the
genetic bridge are nifty concepts, but two, possibly two-and-a-half efforts have not explored them effectively, and this round leaves the door open, unpromisingly, for TRANCERS III. The first TRANCERS had another connection to summer film fare in 1991: its original screenwriters Danny Bilson and
Paul DeMeo went on to bigger things with the script for the Disney blockbuster THE ROCKETEER. (Violence, profanity, sexual situations.)
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