The original Trancers is one of the best movies in the catalogue of Charles Band's Empire Pictures, the studio he founded and ran through most of the '80s prior to his Full Moon days. It was certainly derivative of a number of other sci-fi films of the period (most notably Blade Runner), but it had its own funky kind of energy and a great noir-inspired performance from stand-up comedian Tim Thomerson, tongue firmly planted in cheek. The Richard Band score is terrific and the film is a really fun document of '80s Los Angeles, mostly thanks to Helen Hunt's punk character Leena. Trancers is, as I discovered when I saw it for the first time shortly after I began writing these "Full Moon Fever" pieces, a cool fucking movie.
The only new wrinkle introduced in Trancers II is the appearance of Jack's wife Alice, but at least Charles Band was savvy enough to cast Megan Ward. Her first film role was for Full Moon -- 1990's Crash and Burn -- and she would continue to work for Band in movies like Trancers III and Arcade before going on to star in stuff like PCU and Joe's Apartment, as well as a successful run on Melrose Place. If you were the kind of boy movie geek who saw everything during the '90s, there's a good chance you had a crush on Megan Ward. She adds the spark that makes Trancers II work even when it doesn't. Helen Hunt is reduced to standing around and pouting and Thomerson's deadpan act doesn't work as well because he doesn't have the same kind of absurdity to play against. Ward, however, is adorable and actually has an arc to play, first having to convince people she's not crazy and get out of the asylum and later to learn of the fate that awaits her in the future and to let Jack Deth go. Ward is warm and likable and maybe the only person who could sell an insane line like "Jack Deth! The only man I've ever had sex with..." and make it sweet. She's the goods.
Jonathan Demme or what, but the effect is weird -- it cuts the characters off from one another completely and we rarely get to see them interact. Instead, it feels like they're interacting only with us, but the results don't draw us in or make us feel any more connected to them, probably because there's nothing that they say to which we can connect. Trancers II is almost entirely dependent on scenes of characters standing around and explaining things to one another. There's hardly any of the plot that's advanced through action or any kind of visual storytelling. It's all expositional dialogue.
There are scenes that could almost be screwball comedy if the editing were tighter. At the film's center is a love triangle between Jack, Alice and Leena -- he's trying to balance his present and future wife and reconcile both his present and future selves -- but the timing is all wrong for any of the rapid fire emotional shifts and exchanges in the screenplay by Jackson Barr (Subspecies, Robot Wars). Dialogue that should come at a fast and furious clip drags out with pauses and reverse shots, another victim of the clumsy style in which the film is shot. Occasionally a good line sneaks through and lands, most often a pseudo-hard-boiled exchange courtesy of Jack Deth like "Goddammit, McNulty -- the next time someone hands you and exploding ham I'm gonna pass the mustard!" Dialogue like that is a good indication that sluggish pacing and uninspired story aside, the people involved still understand the movie they're making.
Evil Bong movies (which doesn't make much sense, because SPOILERS he is shot and killed during the climax of Trancers II). This sequel is mostly just a placeholder between the original movie, which I really like, and Trancers III, a sequel that goes in a totally new direction and is a ton of fun. The first and third movies are titles I could recommend to any genre fan. Trancers II is really just for series completists.
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