*Disclaimer!* I wrote a handful of articles for a now defunct e-zine called BthroughZ a number of years back, and when that site went belly up, so did the reviews I wrote for it. I didn’t want to lose the articles I worked so hard to write, so over the next few months I will be reposting them here for your enjoyment.
Directed by Charles Band, 1985's Trancers takes place in 2247, a time when the city of Los Angeles is almost completely under water as a result of a devastating ice age. The film follows detective Jack Deth, a tough as nails cop who has been hunting Martin Whistler (Art La Fleur), a criminal who uses psychic abilities to transform weak willed individuals into mindless zombie-like slaves who follow his every command. Personally, I would make them shovel and do dishes.
Using some scientifically accurate time travel technology (so much irony in that line), Whistler escapes to the past - 1985 to be exact - leaving his physical being behind and taking over the body of one of his ancestors. Seeing a prime opportunity to change the future for his personal benefit, Whistler begins killing off the ancestors of governing council members, completely removing them from existence. There is only one person who can stop Whistler from continuing this completely rude killing spree, and that person is Jack Deth, who has been chosen to go back to '85 to stop his arch nemesis and send him back… to the future!
Wait, wrong movie.
While Trancers is a cheap, low-budget science fiction film, it isn't cheap when it comes to the entertainment. Trancers comes in at a scant 75 minutes, and the pacing is really tight with a full-forward momentum that lasts right up and until the final moments. Furthermore, there are a handful of cheesy ‘80s sci-fi staples like the future being drenched in neon, and the effects used to show the waterlogged Los Angeles are poor, forced perspective images mixed with matte paintings. Which I actually love. There's even a punk rock night club scene, complete with wild dancing, a skinhead, and a band doing a shitty version of an even shittier Christmas song. Oh, and of course, what future would be complete without a few lazerz (Zs replace Ss in the future, but how would I know that?)?
Outside of the sci-fi and action aspects of Trancers, the film also has a heavy Film Noir feeling to it, and this is captured with the costuming, some of the set design and even the characters themselves. It's one of the things that I really enjoy about the film, and it also carries over in a big way to the character of Jack Deth, who while being from the future, is a cop right out of the past (our past, not his) with his hard-boiled attitude and cynical demeanor. He’s definitely the cop who plays by his own rules.
Speaking of Deth, the performance by Tim Thomerson, is simply wonderful. He’s got the perfect look, and he plays the gritty cop role as convincingly as anyone else possibly could have. He brings to life a truly entertaining character, one that lights matches off of his teeth and spouts off some fantastic (but not over the top) dialogue. Trancers is the film that made Thomerson a B-Movie star, and while he did have a decent career, he is much more talented than his career would lead one to believe.
Another performance that I enjoyed, surprisingly, comes from Helen Hunt, who plays Leena, Deth's '85 love interest. She has this cute and lively personality that exudes likability, all things which I do not associate with the actress at all. Both Hunt and Thomerson also have a great chemistry together, and the contrast of the spunky and fun character of Leena compared to the jaded and often miserable character of Deth is kind of a cute mix. Like kittens in a bubble bath.
Even though the story lacks in the originality department, the film brings some smart ideas to the table and serves them up nicely for a cheaply made B-Movie. There is a healthy amount of cheese but that is certainly not a defining aspect of Trancers. The movie has great dialogue and characters, solid acting, lots of action, an enjoyable blend of genres, and most importantly, Trancers is an enjoyable, high energy rollercoaster ride through ‘80s genre cinema.