Trancers (1985)
AKA Cop Tronic, Future Cop, Future Cops

Starring Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani, Art LaFleur, Telma Hopkins, Richard Herd, Anne Seymour, Biff Manard

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Very high. ’80s Sci-fi is hard to top for me.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

Police Trooper Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) hurtles back in time to 1985 to apprehend the dangerous criminal Whistler, who is seeking out the ancestors of the future society’s city council and killing them off. Whistler can turn weak minded people into zombie-like creatures called Trancers with his psychic powers and Jack Deth is the only man crazy enough for the job. Deth is a rough and tumble, no frills badass that throws his badge to the ground in the first five minutes and writes the rules as he sees fit. For instance, right before the injection that will send him back in time, the lab techs show Deth the body of Whistler in their lab. The scientists explain that they recovered the body and brought it in so that when he brings Whistler back to the future, they will already have him in custody. Instantly I thought, “Kill him now! Don’t let his body live!” Great minds think alike as Jack Deth takes me up on my offer, whipping out his pistol and shooting the body, causing it to explode! Oh yeah!

Once Deth goes back in time, he meets up with Leena (Helen Hunt in an early role) who reluctantly agrees to help him. First, she needs a ride to work though. When they arrive, Deth notices something is wrong. The department store Santa she’s working with is a Trancer! All my Santa fist-fighting fantasies are played out with glee and holiday spirit as Zombie Santa assaults Deth with a plastic candy cane. It’s a fun scene that a lot of people might think was over the top, but I enjoyed fully.

The movie’s fun all hinges on how much you enjoy the Jack Deth character. He’s a sort of hard-boiled private eye type of dude, like a zombie-hunting Philip Marlowe from the future, if you will. Coming from that type of pedigree, Jack Deth has a similar way of talking to those old pulp detectives I love so well. But don’t take it from me, Deth’s dialogue must be heard (or read) in his own words to be truly appreciated.

When Helen Hunt asks him why he’s putting pomade in his hair, he replies, “Dry hair’s for squids.”

When his boss comes through time and tells him he needs to get on the case, Jack coolly responds with, “If I catch you in L.A. again, I don’t care if you’re a kid, an old lady, or a kitty cat, I’m gonna kick your ass!”

It’s fun, laughable dialogue like this that really sells this picture more than anything else, solidifying the cult status of Jack Deth. The film almost feels like a sequel because the character is so defined and the script makes tons of allusions to events past without really explaining them. This isn’t a problem at all though, as everything is pretty basic if you’ve seen any random sci-fi/revenge/action/detective film. Thomerson’s acting is a bit wooden and questionable, but it’s perfect for the character and the supporting actors also do well to serve the film and their respective characters. Further connecting the film to the film noir private eye genre, one of these side characters is named Chris Lavery, after a character in the wonderful Raymond Chandler novel The Lady in the Lake.

The FX are good but nothing too special. They serve the story perfectly, so I can’t complain, there just isn’t too much in the way of standout quality stuff. Overall, the film was a little disappointing because my expectations were so high, but I still really enjoyed watching this. After the super-fun of Ragewar I was pumped for some more sci-fi action, but unfortunately Trancers is a little slow in spots. The story features heavy doses of Blade Runner and The Terminator mixed in with some zombies, but it still comes off a little too flat, too often. That being said, the movie has a lot going for it and is worth it just to see the pulp detective genre mixed into a science fiction story. Deth is an able addition to the pantheon of pulp detectives, successfully melding comedy and a confident swagger with the genre, similar to Kurt Russel’s Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China.  I’ll probably enjoy this a lot more on a second go ’round, now that I’m more keyed in for what to expect from the series.

In the end, it all comes down to this. How can you not have fun watching a movie that features a chase scene on mopeds?

Don’t forget to check back next Tuesday as I take a look at the sequel, Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth!