Category Archives: 1994

Timecop (1994, Peter Hyams)

Timecop is deceptively competent. Sort of. There’s often something off about it, but then director Hyams will do something else decent and distract. Hyams also manages to get a perfectly serviceable performance out of lead Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme’s unsure, cautious performance–he tries to understate his terrible attempts at one-liners–is a great counter to Ron Silver’s bad guy.

Silver’s all over the place, the evil senator out to use time travel to win the presidental election and go after “special interests.” Who knew Timecop would be so prescient. Anyway, Silver’s a caricature playing a caricature. He’s definitely evil; he’s just nothing more.

Some of what’s wrong is the plotting. Timecop has a full plot, it just doesn’t have any character development. It’s like someone went through and chucked it. Van Damme’s wife dies mysterious. He’s haunted. And he’s a timecop. Even though he doesn’t do much as a timecop. The movie apparently doesn’t have the budget for multiple jaunts, just a couple before Van Damme is only jumping back to 1994.

You know it’s the past because there aren’t the future cars of 2004. They’re bulky self-driving things. Their design is unfortunate, but there’s a certain dedication to the special effects and design work. It’s like Hyams refused to be dismissive of the concept and he was going to do whatever he could.

Mia Sara’s okay as Van Damme’s wife, though she’s only around to be a damsel in distress and to beg Van Damme for nookie. Screenwriter Mark Verheiden does caricature, never anything more. When he gets around to a contradictory character, someone who can’t just be a thin caricature, he dumps the character as soon as possible.

It’s what happens to Gloria Rueben. She’s not good, but she’s kind of likable. She’s not as likable as Bruce McGill, who has to pretend to give a crap about time travel exposition. He’s Van Damme’s gritty boss who’s really just a softie.

The rest of the cast is the seemingly endless group of thugs Silver sends after Van Damme. Some of the resulting fight scenes are good, but Hyams drags it out too long. The movie’s not even a hundred minutes and the last third has multiple slowdowns. There’s an action set piece on a Victorian house’s roof. First, how does Van Damme afford such a big house in the DC area. Second, it’s boring. Van Damme can’t high kick or do the splits while he’s crawling around the roof–in a rainstorm–trying to save Sara (again). Hyams’s direction of the sequence doesn’t suggest any great interest in doing an action scene on a Victorian house’s roof. Nothing about the architecture actually lends itself to the sequence. Someone must have really wanted an action scene on a house roof.

By the third act, the absence of character development and transitional scenes have caught up with Timecop. Even the time travel-related story twists get tired. The movie’s hook isn’t Van Damme’s fighting, it isn’t the time travel, it isn’t the special effects. So what’s the hook supposed to be? Ron Silver ostensibly slumming only to be revealed as a perfect B-movie villain? Sloane Peterson? Certainly not Hyam’s cinematography (he’ll compose a perfectly good shot then screw it up with the lighting). Not Mark Isham’s simultaneously derivative and generic sci-fi movie score.

Timecop’s a disappointment. Hyams appears to know better, but doesn’t do better. I mean, Sam Raimi produced Timecop. He must have know the lighting was a big problem in the dailies.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Mark Verheiden, based on a story by Mike Richardson and Verheiden and a comic book by Richardson and Verheiden; edited by Steven Kemper; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Moshe Diamant, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Max), Mia Sara (Melissa), Ron Silver (McComb), Bruce McGill (Matuzak), Gloria Reuben (Fielding), Scott Bellis (Ricky), and Jason Schombing (Atwood).


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Muriel's Wedding (1994, P.J. Hogan)

There are a lot of things going on in Muriel’s Wedding, so many writer-director Hogan’s script gets to the point he’s constantly raveling and unraveling foreground and background threads. The threads are all wrapped around the film’s center–lead Toni Collette’s complicated desire to change herself. She mostly accomplishes it through various lies, though cheque fraud plays a big part. Her lying becomes, as the film goes on, a compulsion, one the viewer can identify even when it’s unclear how Collette is processing the situation. Despite her various wrongdoings and insensitivites, Collette is a sympathetic protagonist; she’s ill-equipped for the world, which the first act explores in detail.

Collette lives in a useless Australian tourist town. She’s a high school dropout with few career prospects, unemployed, living at home. Her father (Bill Hunter) is a mildly corrupt local politician who verbally demeans Collette, her siblings, and wife Jeanie Drynan at every opportunity. He’s also a little too friendly with local beauty supply maven Gennie Nevinson. All of Collette’s friends are insipid, shallow beauty queens who mock Collette about her physical appearance.

Everything changes when Collette runs into former high school classmate Rachel Griffiths, who could care less what Collette’s faux friends think of her and thinks Collette is doing just fine. Unfortunately, quite a bit of Griffiths’s opinion is based on Collette’s lies. Many of the lies involve Collette’s desire to get married, which would–in Collette’s eyes–undoubtedly result in her becoming a new, improved person. At the same time, Collette and Griffiths build this otherwise sincere friendship, with Griffiths the booster Collette never had.

Hogan’s script has a lot of laughs in the first half, which has Collette and Griffiths meeting on a tropical vacation, as well as during their move to the big city. The present action is rather fast in Muriel’s Wedding; Hogan and editor Jill Bilcock sometimes identifying don’t slow down to identify how much time has passed between scenes. Rarely in the next subsequent scene and usually in the one after. It keeps the film, which almost two hours, sailing.

Despite some rather bleak circumstances, Muriel’s Wedding is never a black comedy. Tragedies and hardships aren’t for laughs. The characters can be funny–or just plain mocked–but not their circumstances. As funny as the film gets, Hogan always relies on the actors to bring grounding, particularly Collette, Griffiths, Drynan, and Hunter. The laughs often come from how uncomfortable moments can get, whether through Collette’s deceptions (or naiveté) or Hunter’s willful mistreatment of his family.

As the characters react to the plot’s various curveballs during the second act, Hogan narrows the film to Collette. It also changes the pace of things. Hogan has more content in summary scene exposition than in his non-summary sequences. It fits in great with the slightly fantastical characters.

Great supporting performances from Hunter and Drynan. Griffiths is wonderful, ably essaying a part bouncing between comedy and drama. But Collette is the whole show. Even when Griffiths is being hilarious, Collette commands the attention. Hogan exquisitely juggles the dynamic of their relationship, with Martin McGrath’s moody but pragmatic photography playing a big part.

The only problem is the rushed third act, where Hogan speeds a tad fast through all the right notes.

Muriel’s Wedding is magnificent.

Oh, and a big part of the film is Collette’s healthiest obsession–ABBA. So lots of great ABBA music, sometimes for comic effect, sometimes for emotional.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by P.J. Hogan; director of photography, Martin McGrath; edited by Jill Bilcock; music by Peter Best; production designer, Paddy Reardon; produced by Lynda House and Jocelyn Moorhouse; released by Roadshow Film Distributors.

Starring Toni Collette (Muriel Heslop), Rachel Griffiths (Rhonda Epinstall), Bill Hunter (Bill Heslop), Jeanie Drynan (Betty Heslop), Gennie Nevinson (Deidre Chambers), Daniel Lapaine (David Van Arkle), and Matt Day (Brice Nobes).


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Trancers 5: Sudden Deth (1994, David Nutter)

There are no good parts to Trancers 5: Sudden Deth. The best parts, however, are when you forget you’re watching an actual motion picture–or even a direct-to-video release on a name label–and think you’re instead watching some terrible fantasy movie shot by the staff of a renaissance fair. At one point there’s a magic map and it looks like an eight year-old’s treasure map to their Halloween candy (hidden under their bed). It’s ludicrous. Not in an endearing way, but definitely in a way slightly more amusing than anything else going on in Trancers 5. Because Trancers 5 is really, really bad.

Tim Thomerson escapes as unscathed as humanly possible. He doesn’t have a single good line in the entire movie, not a single good moment because Nutter’s direction is so lame and Peter David’s script is so weak; he never embarrasses himself further than the inherent embarrassment of being involved with such a production.

Almost every other performance is horrific. Clabe Hartley, Ty Miller, Terri Ivens. They’re all awful. Mark Arnold is awful in a different way; he tries and fails. No one else tries.

The story has Thomerson and Miller going to a haunted castle to get a time diamond to send Thomerson back home. It’s occasionally a lot like a tone-deaf, terrible Army of Darkness knock-off. The plotting is dumb. Just about halfway through, it gets a lot worse as Miller gets the first of his many “I’m an energy vampire but I’m okay” speeches. Bad writing, bad directing, bad acting. Thomerson gets credit for not rolling his eyes in the two shots during these deliveries.

The boringness of Trancers 5–the relentless lameness throughout–is the worst part. It opens with too long opening titles, then a seven minute recap of the previous film (poorly narrated by Arnold). Then it’s only like an hour of actual movie and every minute of it is lame.

Also lame are Adolfo Bartoli’s photography and Gary Fry’s music.

Trancers 5 is dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Nutter; screenplay by Peter David, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lisa Bromwell; music by Gary Fry; production designer, Mircea-Dudus Neagu; produced by Michael Catalano, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Ty Miller (Prospero), Terri Ivens (Shaleen), Clabe Hartley (Lord Caliban), Stacie Randall (Lyra), Mark Arnold (Lucius), Jeff Moldovan (Harson) and Stephen Macht (Harris).


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Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994, David Nutter)

I’m not sure where to start with Trancers 4 except I don’t recommend anyone else ever watch this film. Especially not if you like Trancers or even Tim Thomerson. That definite discouragement aside, for a direct-to-video sequel shot in Romania and set in a different universe like an episode of the original “Star Trek” just so they could use castles and magic and dumb shit, Trancers 4: Jack of Swords could be worse.

It’s bad. It’s a very bad film and director Nutter completely misses the chance to give it any charm whatsoever; he’s really bad. But it could be worse. Peter David’s script is quirky in its plotting. One can only imagine who he had in mind for playing the villain. Instead of anyone good, it’s Clabe Hartley, who kind of acts like a Chippendales dancer trying out to be a magician in 1984. But I’m not even sure Hartley gives the worst performance in the film. He’s energetic. He’s bad at his job but he’s trying.

But Hartley’s still bad because Trancers 4 is bad. It’s just affably simple. Once you get past all the stupidity in the production–like rebel leader Terri Ivens having on a leather bikini top–David’s script is reliably predictable. Nutter butchers whatever pacing the script’s got and doesn’t seem to direct the actors at all.

The not always bad performances are from Stacie Randall, Ty Miller, Alan Oppenheimer and Stephen Macht. Mark Arnold for some reason gets the worst direction in the film as Hartley’s sidekick and it appears to be because Nutter doesn’t understand the script. He probably should’ve asked David to explain it to him. And Arnold, who’s lost, but occasionally seems like he thinks he’s trapped in a terrible comedy.

Lochlyn Munro is bad.

Technically, it could be worse. There are no crew standouts but it’s obvious Nutter’s bad at the whole shot composition thing so there’s only so much the cinematographer and the editor can do. Gary Fry’s music is pretty lame. And the stupid thing has three minute opening titles; they’re desperately trying to pad this thing. It’s seventy-four minutes and has some boring stretches.

Maybe the worst part is the opening with Thomerson in future L.A. was terrible but not without potential. Thomerson’s lost here. The direction’s bad, he’s sharing too much of the script with the supporting cast, it’s a bad part. Thomerson does try and he’s still Thomerson, but Tracers 4 fails him worst of all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Nutter; screenplay by Peter David, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lisa Bromwell; music by Gary Fry; production designer, Mircea-Dudus Neagu; produced by Michael Catalano, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Stacie Randall (Lyra), Clabe Hartley (Caliban), Ty Miller (Prospero), Mark Arnold (Lucius), Terri Ivens (Shaleen), Lochlyn Munro (Sebastian), Alan Oppenheimer (Farr) and Stephen Macht (Harris).


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