Saturday 24 January 2009

Cherry 2000 (1987)

Director: Steve De Jarnatt
Writer: Michael Almereyde, based on a story by Lloyd Fonvielle Stars: Melanie Griffith, David Andrews, Ben Johnson, Tim Thomerson and Brion James

Everything looks very romantic at the beginning of Cherry 2000, so romantic that it feels like a setup for something we might see on Skinemax *. It's all pink light and female flesh, candles and red roses, steamy make out sessions in a kitchen flooded with bubbles. However Cherry, the young blonde lady in the equation, isn't a human being. She's a robot, albeit a very realistic one, and she malfunctions right there in the bubbles. Unfortunately the hardware is fried and apparently can't be repaired, though her memory chip is intact. Because owner/boyfriend Sam Treadwell is rather attached to his Cherry, he wants her back and heads out to do whatever it takes. His only option is to find a tracker called Johnson, working out of the Glory Hole Hotel, to head out into zone seven to find a replacement Cherry 2000 from the robot graveyard there to plug his Cherry's chip into.

Yes, this is the future, and it looks awesome. This film was made in 1987 and it's all glorious retro tech, even for then, mixed with a very intriguing take on futurism: some of is is notably ahead of its time, some of it is wildly fantastic or wildly wrong (civilisation falls when gas prices hit $2.11 a gallon?). The attention to detail is superb and everything is joyously analogue with not a drop of CGI to be found. Think Star Wars Episode IV not Episode III. The look and feel of the film is the primary appeal here, with lots of new wave fashion, huge industrial installations and post apocalyptic culture run amok.

The cast is impeccable, especially to those who follow cult cinema. There's Tim Thomerson as Lester, whose gang runs zone seven, thus making him a whacked out judge, jury and executioner. There's Brion James as a sneaky thug of a tracker called Stacy. Laurence Fishburne is a lawyer at a bar back in Anaheim. Johnson's uncle, a legendary tracker called Six Finger Jake, is no less a name than Ben Johnson. Fellow western legend Harry Carey Jr plays Snappy Tom who runs Last Chance Brothel and Gas. Unfortunately all these great character actors have far too little to do and are mostly there to support Melanie Griffith and David Andrews. Griffith is the tracker, Edith Johnson, and Andrews is Sam Treadwell, who reminds very much of Emilio Estevez in Repo Man, looking far too young for the part.

There are also a lot of innovative takes on social customs that are thrown out there like scattershot. I love environments that feature people with wildly disparate looks and the only thing better is when they live in highly individual expressions of their inner selves that feel like they're built out of salvage from the greatest junk in the world. I loved Las Vegas half buried in sand, the Last Chance Brothel and Gas, and the Glory Hole Hotel, a wild place. Yep, there's plenty to look at here and it's all good, right down to Melanie Griffith's bright red hair that looks like she scalped Molly Ringwald and made a wig out of her prize.

There's been some sort of war or breakdown in authority or something. the US has split up into areas that are supposedly civilised and areas that are pure anarchy. California is civilisation and the Nevada border is the wildlands. Las Vegas is deserted (except for basements full of inactivated robots) and half buried in sand. In California everything is either illegal and obtained entirely under the counter or negotiated beforehand with lawyers and contracts, right down to sex with strangers you meet in bars. And of course, people with money like Sam get to live with robots that substitute for humans in every way. In Nevada, everything's real, utterly real from the pain to the pleasure, from the best people to the worst. As Lester points out to his men, "Remember gentlemen, life is adventure."

The general approach of course is that in travelling into the wilds, the guy from civilisation finds that civilisation isn't really that civilised and he has to go all the way to this utter anarchy to find what being human is really all about, not just in his choice of women but in himself too. The difference is most obvious when he finds his Cherry 2000 who proves utterly useless in a gun battle in the ruins of a Las Vegas casino. "Honey," she says, "I'd rather be watching this on television". She's a ditz, the epitome of Californian plastic beauty with literally no brain.

All of this is really cool, but the logistics of how we get there don't make a heck of a lot of sense. There are lot of scenes that defy logic, emotion and reality, from the slew of missiles managing to completely miss a sitting target (a car lifted up into the air by a giant magnet), Sam's sudden transition into action star, the fact that dead robots keep breathing and a whole lot more. If you're looking for plot holes you're certainly going to find them. In fact you're going to find them even if you don't want to go looking for them. As a story, this film has huge promise but completely fails to deliver. However, somehow it's still a joy to watch: I guess that makes it a definitive guilty pleasure. Maybe it's because it looks so utterly cool. Unfortunately director Steve De Jarnatt only made one more film, Miracle Mile, before switching entirely to TV.

* This is a changed sentence. The opening line originally read, "Everything looks very romantic at the beginning of Cherry 2000, so romantic that it feels like a setup for soft ****.", where the four stars represent a word that apparently became a trigger fourteen years after I posted this review. I was forced to change the text to avoid having a warning that readers have to acknowledge before getting to the post. That's not good AI. But, hey, I took the opportunity to add posters because I didn't do that this early in the blog.

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