Skip to main content

Crazy bastard. He thought the wind would save him.

Slipstream
(1989)

(SPOILERS) I’d like to be more charitable to Slipstream. It’s one of those pictures that is so profoundly unloved (rather than actively reviled), that you want to find elements of worth to cite it as picture that “might have been really good if only… “ But I don’t think it would have been particularly decent even if it had turned out as Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz envisaged. And I’m not sure its small contingent of defenders is enough to qualify it as a cult movie. It’s most noteworthy quality (I’d hesitate to say best) is probably Bob Peck’s performance as an android on a journey of self-awareness, but even that element feels profoundly misjudged in places.


Kurtz blames the tonal and content shifts as being at the behest of the producers (“It was supposed to be, the script was very, very hard-edged, heavy R, rough, and gritty ...a rougher than Blade Runner kind of look at the future, basically”) but its difficult to see that the script (credit to Tony Kayden and Bill Bauer) was ever anything but derivative of other, better movies and plots. That sense extends to the cast, with actors from more memorable science fiction movies and franchises (Mark Hamill from Star Wars, Bill Paxton from Aliens; the makers had probably also seen Peck’s superlative performance In Edge of Darkness).


The story comes across as a mishmash of elements without a unifying sense of purpose and story. I can quite believe the “android who dreamt he was a man” theme of Peck’s refreshingly upbeat Byron (as in, it’s interesting to have a portrayal so fiercely unlike any android of the era; if it isn’t always quite there, it’s at least different), so called because he quotes Byron, would have been handled better in more sympathetic hands, but it’s difficult to see how Paxton’s Matt Owens, an ill-conceived Han Solo-come-doofus, could ever have been massaged successfully into the proceedings; it feels like he’s wandering around in a completely different movie to Byron.


The same could be said for Hamill’s lawman Tasker and Kitty Aldridge as his partner Belitski. Their motivations and responses appear to blow with the wind (or slipstream), such that Tasker’s wisecracking one moment and a psycho the next (Hamill is great throughout though, enjoying the chance to play bad and submerge himself beneath bleached locks), while Belitski bafflingly falls for Matt (he’s about the least charming roguish “hero” thinkable, coming across as either a complete lech or moronic twat; Paxton’s mullet is quite extraordinary, though).


Tasker and Belitski are chasing Byron, a robot who killed his master (the implication being Byron did it as an act of kindness for a dying man) and is taken prisoner by Owens (who wants the reward himself). The backdrop is a post-apocalyptic future where, after the Convergence, when earthquakes and floods and split continents, there “emerged a river of wind called the slipstream washed the planet clean”. The introductory narration strains for a very ‘80s vision of a mythic future, but the writers have little notion of what to do with their premise. 


All we see of civilisation are tattered remnants, yet presumably somewhere there are still surviving cities, such that technology is viable and law enforcement, however suspect, operates (there’s mention of “the Settlement”). This is a Mad Max 2 via Blade Runner future misguidedly repackaged for family viewing, one in which kit planes replace cars, and androids are repackaged as Christ-like miracle workers (healing cataracts) who learn to dream and search for a promised land at the end of the Slipstream, where other androids live (this element appears to have been picked up by the recent Automata, although its left more ambiguous here).


The low budget and the strange mismatches of locations (England, Ireland and Turkey), shot with dedicated torpor by Steven Lisberger (it’s a problem that infects TRON too), give this the sense of a picture stranded from another era, only emphasised by the strangely inappropriate Elmer Bernstein score (it has that family adventure movie in mind, that this could never be). Elements suggest an amalgam of Zardoz meets The Bedsitting Room (the sequence in the underground museum), but not as interesting or imaginative as that sounds.


Where Slipstream vaguely rewards is in the areas where there is suggestiveness rather than spoon-feeding, perhaps a Kurtz influence, since his contributions to Star Wars (the fist two) have that in abundance. The fractured remnants of society include those with expressly Luddite intent, worshipping the Slipstream and seeing Byron as representing “the runaway technology they blamed for the Convergence”.


The capsule of decadence in the museum, a decaying Britain attempting to preserve the past, with its references to “the good old days”, might have some bite if it didn’t reduce to a song and dance number. Byron rather goes off the rails at the end of the picture (“Help me, tell me what to do. Is this what its like to be human? I don’t think I’m up to it”) in a kind of sub-Mork way, but earlier, with his offbeat quotes (“I slipped the surly bonds of earth”) and the cult mis-divining his nature (“You have a very old soul”) there are hints at a depth the picture can only skim due to pervading ineptness.


When its not being a crashing bore, or Paxton’s not being a being an annoyance, that is. This is a picture that feels as if great chunks were missed out of it (they were; “It's very disjointed, big chunks of story that disappear completely, that were never even shot. I begged them to let us postpone shooting for six weeks so that we could restructure the thing, and they wouldn't do it”) and Lisberger is unable to inject sufficient life into it to make Slipstream an interesting failure.


Really, what energy there is, is down to Peck and Hamill (his voiceover work since has been prodigious, but you be hard pressed to find a notable studio picture between this and The Force Awakens, Village of the Damned remake aside). Paxton is horribly annoying throughout, which might work if he was supposed to be his True Lies character, but he’s meant to be loveable. Aldridge is rather wooden. There are “Isn’t that?” appearances from Robbie Coltrane, Paul Reynolds (on the cusp of Press Gang), Ben Kingsley (as Avatar) and F Murray Abraham (Paxton’s Aliens co-star Ricco Ross also turns up), so it passes the time for star watching if nothing else.


Slipstream doesn’t feel much like a movie released in 1989, aside from the egregious presence of Then Jericho’s Big Area on the soundtrack (this is a world with CDs, androids, and really crappy 1980s handheld computers). If it had appeared during the first couple of years of the decade, during the sci-fi glut that followed Kurtz’s biggest success story, it might have been better treated and realised. The idea was originally to tell the story of a boy and his android, like Huck Finn, so presumably that ended up as Paxton’s character. Ironically, it sounds more the kind of thing the producers wanted of Kurtz’s “grown-up” movie when they decreed it should be a family film, which it never feels like at all. What’s left is a slipshod and listless, but it does have a certain curiosity value (you can see it on YouTube), even though I’d hesitate to recommend anyone actually giving it a look.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…