Saturday 21 January 2012

Future Kick (1991)

Director: Clay Robeson
Stars: Don 'The Dragon' Wilson, Meg Foster, Christopher Penn, Eb Lottimer and Al Ruscio

I love scifi movies from the eighties and nineties that attempt to depict awesomely advanced technology without either a budget or a clue. Somehow they don't annoy me the way the fake tech in shows like CSI: Miami does. Maybe it's the difference in setting between the future and the present. When Horatio Caine's team enhance a dot into the front page of the New York Times so he can flip it over and read the sports scores on the back, it's deliberate misrepresentation. When Don 'The Dragon' Wilson plays a cyborg kickfighting machine in a future where the rich live on the moon and hold down conversations with AIs, I find it cute that the filmmakers forget to or couldn't afford to do anything about the size of the computer monitors or the crappy user interfaces on them. The futurism here is wildly inconsistent. New Los Angeles has no water but they still have newspapers. Local phone calls are expensive but organ replacement isn't.

Most importantly, virtual reality is apparently the new thing in this unidentified future year (it just says the good days on Earth were 'a long time ago'), just as it was in 1991 when Future Kick was made. Howard Morgan, rich computer programmer, is the sole designer of UltraDream, such a promising product that his company thinks they can sell 50,000 copies of it, even though it's still a buggy prototype. Maybe it'll be a toy for the rich and cost a fortune, I don't know. Anyway, he lives in opulence on the moon with a wife played by Meg Foster and all the rest of the 1%, so he doesn't generally have to deal with non-virtual reality. Unfortunately his senior publisher has him go to Earth, so that's it for him. New Los Angeles is a dark, rainy slum full of criminals, terrorists and clubs playing really unsophisticated electronic music. The cops are so busy they don't have much of a chance to do anything for anyone and are so corrupt they don't care.

There is one hope for the people. The corporations running the world did create 'biomechanical men' called Cyberons to fight the criminal element of society. That turned out to be a really bad idea for them because it didn't take too long for the Cyberons to realise that their corporate creators were the real criminals and so turned on them. In retaliation, they set the Corporate Police loose to kill all ten of them and now there's only one left: Walker, played by world kickboxing champion Don 'The Dragon' Wilson. This is a Roger Corman picture, made through his New Concorde company, and as much as I love Corman pictures generally, the presence of Don 'The Dragon' tends to indicate that it's going to be a stinker. It isn't really Wilson himself, though his acting only serves to show how good a kickboxer he is. I think it's just that he has the same problem John Travolta has: the inability to tell a good script from a bad one.

To be brutally honest, he isn't even the lead in this one, as much as his name is most prominent and the title refers specifically to him. He gets surprisingly few fight scenes, which mostly take place in the dark. They might even be the worst thing about the film, as the fight choreography is unsatisfyingly wooden with every move slow and telegraphed. There are cool and surprising death scenes, but they're mostly separate and when you realise that the best fight is against Chris Penn, you know you're in trouble. Really Wilson is only there to kick people and flesh out the futuristic background, while Jeff Pomerantz, who plays Howard Morgan, is there to set up the story by getting murdered. The lead is Meg Foster, Morgan's wife, who takes the shuttle down to Earth to investigate. To say that Nancy is out of her element in New Los Angeles is a powerful understatement, but Foster is the only member of the cast who even attempts to act.

She does a pretty good job too, especially when you know the twist that will be revealed at the end of the movie and which I won't spoil here. It's a cheap and unsatisfying gimmick but it's the key to everything that goes before. It's also adds a good deal of depth to Foster's performance, which makes it even more unfortunate that we don't get to know about it until it's over. What I can say is that she varies her acting considerably throughout. On the moon she's comfortable and alive but on Earth she's a fish out of water. Obviously traumatised by her husband's murder, in meaningless conversation she's utterly devoid of emotion, less a character and more a prop that floats through the film, but when emotions are called for, she comes alive. Her progression from professional victim to capable sidekick is not particularly credible but Foster does give it a fair attempt and that's more than anyone else in this film does. She also provides the narration.

Beyond Foster, the only reason to watch is for the pseudo-futuristic exploitation: not just fights but death scenes and pole dancing and odd little touches here and there. There's a competitive video game called LaserBlade that brings a whole new meaning to the term 'deathmatch'. There are clubs like the Trocadero 2000 House of Pleasure, which is presumably a really stupid name for a club in the future, but it does employ a lot of very limber half naked pole dancers. There's an assassin called Hynes, played by Eb Lottimer, who doesn't pass up any opportunity to go over the top, whether he's ripping people's hearts out of their chests or not. If you have a background in Corman movies, you won't be too surprised that a decent amount of these moments weren't even shot for this film: the dancers are all from Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls and the shuttle shots and other space footage are taken from Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World.

Anything to save a buck, huh? That's hardly new for Corman but it's more obvious than usual here. Behind Hynes, who's the psycho of the story, the real villain of the piece is the NewBody Corporation which doesn't get much of a chance to get established. Mostly we see one office, which is dimly lit and almost unfurnished, just a piece of space to house Dr Sado, who doesn't get to live up to his name. It's as obvious a cheap set as I think I've seen outside of microbudget cinema and it doesn't help the film. The bizarre thing is that nothing much does except reaching the end and discovering the final twist, which calls for a reevaluation of the whole picture. On a first viewing, it's a complex but unsatisfying film with little more than Foster to recommend it. It stands up better on a second run with foreknowledge of the twist at the heart of everything, but unfortunately it just isn't the sort of movie you're likely to watch twice.

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