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

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli