11 of Richard Lynch’s “Greatest” Hits (to the Balls) – 7. TRANCERS II (THE RETURN OF JACK DETH) (1991) Review

Video cover for Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (1991).

“Oh my god, Jack, it is you. The only man I ever had sex with.” – Alice Stilwell, Trancers II (1991)

And so sums up one of most awkward moments in an otherwise already awkward film. The original Trancers was harmless fun. This sequel is harmless enough, but there’s some of the charm that’s undeniably missing. You sort of expect things to need a bit of tuning up after a six year break, especially if your story involves time travel, but some of the inconsistencies in character and logic are sort of hard to overlook.

For those that don’t know, the original Trancers was released in 1985, by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, the studio responsible for other cult classics like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dolls, Ghoulies and Creepozoids. Trancers was directed by Band, himself, and written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo. It was a film that was heavily-inspired by (IE ripped off of) more classic sci-fi films before it, especially The Terminator.

The cinematography, color, neon and noir in the opening scene of the original Trancers (1985).
Unfortunately, most of the rest of the movie ceases to take place in the future.

“Your name’s Jack Deth?” – Hap Ashby, Trancers (1985)

To put it short, Trancers is about a future-cop, Jack Deth, a role Tim Thomerson was born to play, after a powerful criminal named Whistler, who can convert people into trancers (hypnotized zombie-like creatures). Jack Deth hunts down and “singes” (read: kills) trancers for a living. When Whistler escapes to the past (our present), bent on murdering the ancestors of the high council members (thereby killing the ancestral line), Jack Deth is commissioned to follow him “down the line” and bring him back by any means necessary. Their method of time travel involves sending the consciousness down the line and uploading it into one of the traveler’s ancestors. Along the way, Deth meets up with Leena (Helen Hunt) and Hap Ashby (one of the ancestors), and sends Whistler back via serum. Unfortunately, with enough serum only for one person, Jack Deth must remain in 1985, his body in the present (our future) on permanent vacation.

This is essentially where Trancers II picks up.

And like most films involving copious and liberal amounts of time travel, Trancers has a number of anomalies and inconsistencies with the technology. And like most sequels to films involving copious and liberal amounts of time travel, Trancers II is full of plotholes. That’s to be expected though. Charles Band’s record of consistency isn’t exactly stellar. What irks me more is the inconsistency of the characters.

I thought dry hair was for squids, Jack. Married life is clearly putting a cramp in your style, Deth.

Six years after sending Whistler back up the line Jack Deth has become accustomed to living the 20th century life. Of course, with a name like Jack Deth you kind of have to wonder what he’s been biding his time doing. Oh, that’s right, he’s been doing Helen Hunt’s Leena. Hap Ashby, the drunken derelict ex-baseball player alcoholic, has sobered up and made a fortune speculating on commodities. I guess it takes a former alcoholic to beat the market. They live in some mansion somewhere in L.A. like kings.

But things are looking bleak in the future. Trancers have been slowly returning, and with Whistler dead, they come to a shudderingly-convenient conclusion: it’s his brother’s doing. Wait, he had a brother? And none of these clowns ever bothered to mention that before? Even Jack Deth, upon learning this, seems genuinely surprised. Hey, Jack, I thought you dedicated your whole life to hunting Whistler down and you didn’t even know he had a brother? Give me a break.

That future lab housing comatose patients is looking a little cheap and sparse, don’t you think?

So McNulty (Art LaFleur) must travel back to 1991 to warn Jack Deth and Hap Ashby (the target of assassination; played by Biff Manard) that the trancers are back and that Whistler’s brother must be stopped. Unfortunately, the only body they can transfer McNulty’s consciousness into is that of a teenage Alyson Croft’s. I smell a sitcom at work here, folks, in that unfunny way that only Charles Band can deliver. And I’m probably going to sound like a sickminded pervert, but I can only wonder if old-LaFleur-McNulty ever experimented with young-teenage-Croft-McNulty’s body. I wonder how you would even classify an act like that. Of course, this question is never tackled at any point, since they didn’t have a pervert like me on as a writer. It also makes me wonder how Alyson Croft’s body was the only one LaFleur could have transferred into. Was Croft’s character’s dad dead or something?

“Hi, I’m Alyson Croft. I’ll be playing your typical old white guy trapped in a young girl’s body whose career unsurprisingly nosedived after this. How do you know I’m an old guy in a girl’s body? Well, I’ll have an unlit cigar in my mouth every other scene!”

McNulty’s trip down the line ends up being kind of useless, since three trancers in 1991 attempt to take out Ashby. Fortunately, Jack Deth is there to save the motherfucking day and singes all three. Further complications are arising, however. Namely, Jack’s formerly-dead wife happens to be alive and in 1991. How’s she alive? Well, those bastards from the future went back to one day before she was supposed to be killed, and then sent her down the line to 1991. Question: with all the dumbass time-travel schemes these idiots are obviously conducting on a daily fucking basis, why hasn’t the universe imploded in on itself yet?

But fuck that, it’s time for more unfunny Charles Band-style sitcom goodness. Tim Thomerson’s living the good life with his new wife, a woman he’s known for six years, Helen Hunt. When trancers make their return, that’s conveniently not the only dilemma he’s about to face. He’s about to find out that three’s company, four’s a crowd, and five just sucks, when his boss from the future ends up in 1991 in the body of a young teenager, Hap hits the sauce again, and his dead wife who he thought was dead would end up coming back to 1991 in the young hot body of Megan Ward, and locked up in a mental institution/eco-friendly hippie cult place that’s actually a front for a trancer farm being run by the bad guy, Richard Lynch. Oh the possibilities. They’re just endless, like my run-on sentences. Except that I suppose that for Charles Band, even endlessness has to end sometime. And thank god, otherwise I’d be stuck in the eternal limbo of endless boredom.

“I’m Alice Stilwell in Megan Ward’s body, and I’m about to fuck up the space-time continuum.”

There are just so many problems with this film I don’t know where to start. It really sucks because a lot of Band’s empire shows up here in small roles. Jeffrey Combs has a role as a non-worthwhile assistant to Richard Lynch (who would also star in that same year’s Puppet Masters III). Barbara Crampton has, essentially, a B-movie version of the cameo appearance, as a talk-show host who interviews Lynch. Megan Ward, the adorable but non-acting Alice Stilwell (Deth’s death wife), was in Crash and Burn, which was somehow featured as a film-within-the-film, which should have made the film’s universe implode like a neutron star.

“I’m about to kill my five minutes of screen time with this facial hair.”
(Jeffrey Combs, Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth, 1991.)

Most disappointing, I think, are Richard Lynch and the two main leads, Tim Thomerson and Helen Hunt, and their lack of chemistry. Where Jack Deth was a badass proactive trancer-destroying motherfucker in the original film, who actually got across the whole hard-boiled-future-cop-in-a-different-time thing quite well, is not nearly as cool in this film. He almost acts like a man whose balls were cut off by a bad marriage. He spends a great majority of the time in the fucking mansion, trying to deal with four annoying people that he could just as easily have murdered. Don’t get me wrong. He does some alright shit in this movie. He has some really (and I mean really) generic fights with trancers and saves Hap’s alcoholic ass again and is the badass of the climax, but his overall characterization was a disappointment.

Here’s an admittedly cool moment. Jack Deth slows down time with a James Bond-like future-gadget in his watch. He singes all three trancers in slowmo.

Oh yeah, and this guy, who was a badass no nonsense ass-kicker, but with a moral compass, who refused to kill Whistler in 1985 in the original Trancers (because Whistler had taken over the body of an innocent man, which meant that killing Whistler would mean killing the innocent man who Whistler’s consciousness was uploaded into) and sent him back to the future instead, flat-out just kills Richard Lynch with a pitchfork because he’s EVIL. Fuck the innocent bodily vessel, man. That dude is EVIL.

Wardo (Richard Lynch): “I’m not bad. I just act that way.”

Helen Hunt was a spunky lively and optimistic sort of punk rocker who was charming and likeable in the original. Here she’s a total bitch for some reason. I mean, I know six years can change a person. It really begs the question what these two were doing (other than getting married) in the six years to make them change this radically. I can understand that maybe she’s jealous that Deth’s former wife is back alive, but I think the character needs to understand that Deth doesn’t really want this at all. There’s just no chemistry between the two of them anymore, and most of Helen Hunt’s reason for being in this film is to throw jealous fits and act like a close-minded bitch.

Helen Hunt as Leena in Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (1991).
She even looks like a bitch.

Her main line of dialogue seems to be: “You still love her, don’t you?” referring to his now-apparently-live former wife. Listen up, ladies. I’m pretty sure if I had a former wife of mine, who died in my arms, suddenly come back to life and walk around again, I’d be pretty damn conflicted, too. Of course, I ain’t ever been married, and love sucks. But, I mean, he loved her when she was alive and then was suddenly not alive. Anyone who expects anybody else to just forget their loved ones and act like nothing important happened needs to get their head checked.

Something important’s happening right fucking now. The hardboiled detective, Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson), and the femme fatale (?), Alice Stilwell (Megan Ward), in Trancers II (1991).

And the thing is, is that this could have been a real interesting setup. You have Deth’s current wife, whom he’s known six years, and his former wife, who died in his arms. It’d have been interesting to see the sort of conflict that arises from a scenario like this because it’s actually unique. Maybe see some of the chemistry between Jack and Alice, and then Jack and Leena. But, nope, Charles Band prefers to treat us with this juvenile bullshit.

As for Richard Lynch, I could not be more disappointed. For some reason, he does as little here as he does in a lot of other films, but his performance just isn’t that great. It’s not that he did a bad job. I think it had more to do with how generic he was and how terribly his character was written. He does what he can with a boring character. Which is a damn problem. If they were going to fuck up the love-triangle subplot, they could have at least given us a memorable villain. How you could mess up having Richard Lynch (not to mention, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton) in your movie, I’ll never know, Band.

So yeah, the story and writing just suck. Other than, you know, the whole underutilized and unrealized plot, there were so many things that just bothered me. For instance, I don’t even know if they really made clear that they knew Wardo (Richard Lynch) was Whistler’s brother. I’m pretty sure at one point Jack hears the name and, after thinking about it for a while like he came to some deus ex machina conclusion, says: “Yeah, Wardo is Whistler’s brother!” Oh, okay. So did you know that already and you were trying to remember or did you somehow just miraculously jump to a random conclusion that happened to be right?

“Did you hear me?! I said, I’m Whistler’s brother! Can I make it any more obvious that I, Richard Lynch, am playing the bad guy?”
(Trancers II, 1991.)

And, of course, the shitload of discrepancies than come with time travel. First of all, doesn’t changing things this radically present an inherent problem? You don’t even have to think too clearly and it’s already messed up. Like they want Jack Deth in 1991, who’s technically the consciousness and spirit of Jack Deth in his ancestor’s body, to return to the future. But since his real body in the future is now calcified, meaning the serum to upload his consciousness back into his real body won’t work, he needs to come back in a fucking time machine… in his ancestor’s body. They don’t actually do this, thank god.

Oh wait, they do… with Alice fucking Stilwell who was sent down the line before she was killed (in the future), into the body of an ancestor who was in a mental institution. At the end of the film, she steps into the time machine and ends up in the future, thereby cutting off all ancestral links to the present. Good job, assholes. And doesn’t this technically mean that the Alice Stilwell who was supposed to die in the future didn’t actually die? So there are two Stilwells running around? Or is one in stasis? Come to think of it, what about Jack’s ancestral line? Is that cut off? Are they trying to imply that Jack Deth is his ancestor? Nah… Couldn’t be.

In short: a definite step down from the original Trancers. But I’ve seen worse. Just try not to think too much, and try not to expect too much out of its premise.

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