Skip to main content

And tell me, how would you feel if you'd been dead a day and a half, and somebody brought you more bad news?

Freejack

(1992)

(SPOILERS) No, I won’t be making out that Freejack is an unfairly maligned, hidden classic or that it deserves cult status. It’s a movie I’d hazard got a greenlight off the back of the promise of sci-fi action with a dash of the cerebral, à la Total Recall (right down to a co-screenplay credit for Ronald Shusett) but stumbles resoundingly in both areas. Indeed, even its premise is only one-part good, such that Netflix’s forthcoming Altered Carbon, boasting a not dissimilar mind transfer conceit, is wisely not going with the daftly depicted time-travel element. Consequently, Freejack was rightly trashed on its release. Does it have anything to recommend it, then? Well…


I recall thinking the picture might have potential at the time, principally because I knew Geoff Murphy’s The Quiet Earth (a great little movie) and because I’d enjoyed his previous picture, Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, a rare sequel that was superior to the original. And also, because Emilio Estevez was still making the occasional entertaining movie, although I’d admittedly given him perhaps too much of a free pass as a result of Repo Man. Neither comes away from Freejack with much credit (nor Anthony Hopkins, who was also a reason-to-see at that point).


Estevez tended to be at his best laughing along bemusedly with or at events that befell him, but attempting the straight action hero finds him woefully out of his depth (he gets to unpack his laugh occasionally, but it seems out of place). This needed someone who could fill the empty space Murphy leaves, rather than drawing attention to it. He also has zero chemistry with Rene Russo, or much with anyone come to that (still, Russo met co-writer Dan Gilroy on set, so she at least got something out of the experience).


Presumably Estevez and Murphy had built a rapport on Young Guns II, which might be why the former reportedly felt particularly let down by the director’s cut of the movie, which emphasised action over plot and was greeted disastrously at test screenings. This led to the reshooting of up to 40% of the picture, adding more character and humour… supervised by writer-producer Shusett, who has no bona fide directing credits at all. Once can only assume Morgan Creek (who produced Young Guns II but also got the scissors out for the likes of Nightbreed and The Exorcist III over the same period) thought it was a lost cause and hardly worth shelling out for a director with actual chops.


Freejack is cited as costing $30m, and as is invariably the case when a fix-it occurred, no one was any more interested after the Band-Aids were applied (it grossed just over half its budget). It isn’t hard to see where things went wrong on a very basic level; Murphy simply didn’t have the funds to make his future remotely convincing; it cost half as much as Total Recall, with which it wanted to compete, and lacked the kind of director who could be creative with what he had (ironic, since The Quiet Earth’s particular strain of sci-fi made a virtue of its no-budget).

 

Because Freejack looks thoroughly cheap and tacky, not so far from straight-to-video fare, the kind of budget-divested, technically hamstrung picture that led to the similarly disastrous Highlander II: The Quickening from fellow antipodean Russell Mulcahy the previous year. There are futuristic fashions (polo necks are in, as are oversized jackets and hats – although that all might just be how they hang off Estevez), but they make the ones in Predator 2 look convincing. There are futuristic cars, but mostly they comprise military vehicles painted red or are rather twee and insubstantial. There are crowd scenes featuring a poverty-stricken underclass, but they’re lacklustre and underpopulated. Jesus Jones are back in style in 2009 too, which I must have missed.


The aesthetic issues mightn’t have been such a problem if there was a meaty plot to sustain them. Whatever Shusett did with those reshoots, it definitely didn’t include beefing up the story, which is essentially all chase after the initial setup. Total Recall, despite being nominally an Arnie action vehicle, managed to balance its brawn with thornier existential dilemmas (not wholly successfully, but that was inevitable once Arnie signed on and Verhoeven’s more tactile mind re-sculpted the material; it’s really the ideal Cronenberg plot, and a shame his version didn’t come to pass). 


Freejack had the potential for its own ruminations over the nature of self and identity, finding as it does Estevez’ Alex Furlong, a Formula One driver from 1991, abducted seconds before his car fatally impacts an underpass. The ensuing ethical equation presumes that, since he ought to be dead, his body is up for grabs as a vessel for the consciousness of any rich, dying fellow in the future; unfortunately, Alex hasn’t been properly lobotomised, and aided by the convenient intervention of an armed gang, goes on the run, causing considerable problems.


The mechanics of this 2009 society are never effectively explained, leaving gaping holes in its fundament. It can only be taken as half-baked, pulpy nonsense; those who abduct Alex are known as bonejackers, mercenaries of whom Mick Jagger’s Victor Vacendak is one (more from him in a bit). And those who escape are known as freejacks – making you wonder how organised these mercenaries aren’t, that fugitives are frequent enough they merit a name. The consequences and capabilities of this time-travel tech are left completely undiscussed, because it’s a plot device getting us from point A to point B rather than having any thought put into it. How come mercenaries have the tech? And, if they have it, presumably what government there is has it too? In which case what are they or aren’t they using it for? What capabilities does time travel have in this world? What are the rules?


If you’re wondering why time travel is there at all, it’s Robert Sheckley’s fault, whose Immortality, Inc, upon which this is based, features consciousness transference for a price (courtesy of The Hereafter Corporation), it’s main character being the first such success story, brought to 2110. Freejack boils the device down to a fish-out-of-water with a contemporary reference point (works for Demolition Man) and the culture shock of a reverse Back to the Future; Estevez meets his older girlfriend, Russo’s Julie Redlund, eighteen years later and curiously, one might say positively, there’s no mention of this age gap as a negative (perhaps because they don’t even try to age Russo up/down, and she’s eight years older than Estevez – she seems much too mature for him in 1991, and I don’t mean old, let alone in 2009).


This time-travel element requires a reason for those wanting new bodies passing when it comes to picking them from unsuspecting members of the present populace, which we’re told, is because they’ve lived half their lives with no ozone layer, with drug dependencies and radiation (not really that convincing, if you have the resources to hop bodies whenever the crappy ones run out). At the abject ened, it’s the kind of society crying out for suicide booths as a source of relief, but they didn’t include this aspect from Sheckley’s novel (Futurama put them in its first episode, but I suspect Morgan Creek were squeamish, or writers Shusset, Steven Pressfield and Gilroy simply didn’t recognise the genius of idea). 


This future corporatopia has intimations of gradual takeover by the Japanese (the US lost a trade war, we are told) and needless to say, doesn’t look anything like our 2009 past; while there’s reference to the topical erosion of the middle class (“There’s people at the top. There’s people at the bottom. There’s no one in between”), there’s nothing more to tell us how this society functions, or doesn’t.


McCandless: Welcome to my mind.

Also present in this hotchpotch future is a super computer called the Spiritual Switchboard, the closest we come to anything vaguely taking in a technological revolution since (sure, there are video screens, and Big Brother bulletins for wanted persons – these bounty hunters are evidently entirely legit, as the $10m reward for Alex is flashed everywhere – and laser and electric stun guns, but that’s about it), but it’s reserved as a tool of the elite, a means to upload their consciousnesses, visualised as very creaky but kind of retro-cool now rear video projection of Anthony Hopkins promenading across different landscapes and lightshows, all a bit Dreamscape or Altered States).


We spend a long time – the movie’s under two hours but seems longer thanks to severe pacing problems – getting to the showdown with Ant’s richer-than-rich McCandless, but it is actually worth it and easily the highlight. Hopkins doesn’t need to put effort in to be good (apparently, he labelled it a “terrible film”), and he entirely lifts his scenes, almost making you swallow that McCandless, now dead and existing in a solely virtual mind state, is sorry for the imposition upon Alex, having observed his love for Julie (who works for McCandless), and that he, also loving her, cannot have her (“Of course, I was mad. I was quite mad... For these crimes, I sentence myself to death”). He is, of course, stalling, quite stalling, for Vacendak’s arrival.


Nun: Don’t sister me.

If Hopkins is relatively good value, then (this was his first movie to come out after The Silence of the Lambs, but the first role to really capitalise on his new-found box office clout would be Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula later that year), so are most of the incidental cast. David Johansen shows up as Alex’s former agent, the New York Dolls frontman’s most notable movie role since playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in Scrooged. The magnificent Jonathan Banks, when he had hair (see also Gremlins, Beverly Hills Cop and Otherworld; I’d add Wiseguy, but I only ever caught the odd episode) is McCandless’ unscrupulous subordinate Michelette, who doesn’t want his boss revived. Amanda Plummer had just gained notice for her loopy turn in The Fisher King, but her trash-talking psycho nun (“The good Lord always says to turn the other cheek. But he never had to deal with dickheads like you” she says, kicking Michelette in the nuts after he has hit her – Banks does great groin-kicked).


Alex: How the hell do you eat river rat?
Eagle Man: Well, first you gotta cut off the head and the tail…

Frankie Faison shows up as Eagle Man, sitting by the river talking about eating rats when Alex washes up. Jerry Hall cameos as a newswoman. Grand L Bush (Special Agent Johnson, no not the other one, in Die Hard) sacrifices himself for Emilio. John Shea plays Julie’s gay friend, who Estevez is clearly itching to tell a homophobic joke but somehow resists. And then there’s Mick.


Alex: How am I doing?
Vacendak: Not ba-ad.

Mick can’t act – he makes Leee John look like Olivier –  and Mick is not butch. There’s no way he remotely looks the part of a bounty hunter in that over-sized helmet, and that’s before one takes into consideration his camp delivery (“Oh no, I hate the dark!”) and complete indifference to any notion of inhabiting a role. But Mick being Mick (and this was his first movie since the back-to-back Performance and Ned Kelly 22 years earlier), he is entertainingly rubbish, whether it’s observing Alex dropping in a river (“If you drink any of that, I’m out of a job”) sportlingly offering to let him go on the run again (“I’ll give you a five-minute start”) or allowing him to win at the end (Alex has to guess McCandless private code, which he apparently does: “I lied, he wasn’t even close” announces Vacendak, the old rogue; who’d have guessed Mick would turn out to be a good guy deep down?)


Almost everyone involved went on to better things in Freejack, except for its two leading figures. Estevez was getting more of a hankering for directing anyway (the results, shall we charitably say, have been mixed), while Murphy’s directorial career seemed to crumble subsequently, scraping together a couple more sequels (Under Siege 2, Fortress 2) before submitting to second unit duties for Peter Jackson on The Lord of the Rings trilogy.


And Freejack itself would attain a certain inane glory, immortalised by True Romance when Patricia Arquette exclaims “Hey, we got cable” as she witnesses Russo’s gloriously awful crash zoomed scream of horror as Alex crash zooms his car. She wisely gives up in favour of alcohol. Brad Pitt, through his stoner haze, perseveres longer, reaching the Alex-McCandless mind transfer before James Gandolfini interrupts him. Probably the only state to successfully navigate the movie, and even then…






Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

Seems silly, doesn't it? A wedding. Given everything that's going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
(SPOILERS) What’s good in the first part of the dubiously split (of course it was done for the art) final instalment in the Harry Potter saga is very good, let down somewhat by decisions to include material that would otherwise have been rightly excised and the sometimes-meandering travelogue. Even there, aspects of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I can be quite rewarding, taking on the tone of an apocalyptic ‘70s aftermath movie or episode of Survivors (the original version), as our teenage heroes (some now twentysomethings) sleep rough, squabble, and try to salvage a plan. The main problem is that the frequently strong material requires a robust structure to get the best from it.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…