Monday, September 6, 2010

Freejack

I was eight or nine years old the first time I saw Freejack. I remembered how stupid I thought it was then and decided to see if I thought it was still as stupid now.


Emilio Estevez is a race car driver in the year 1991. He's married to Rene Russo who has a killer set of legs. An opening shot frames those killer legs against a messy bed and we get excited. This may be a good movie yet! But when the camera pans up, it's not Russo at all. It's the considerably boyish and hairless Estevez. And he's wearing a pair of whitey tidies.

So the groaning begins. The film has just launched the first in a never ending sequence of bad "artistic" decisions. Please, I beg of you: note the quotations around "artistic."

Like most mainstream genre films of its time, the story spends too much time in its opening act. We're introduced, in painstaking detail, to characters we don't care about. We have to endure the writers' attempt to establish who the characters are and how good everything was in 1991 and blah, blah, blah. But although Freejack assaults us with the obligatory first act, it doesn't spend as much time there as most movies do. Soon, Emilio is driving his pink (pink!) race car around the track and the music lets us know something bad is about to happen.

Here's what happens next:

1. A closeup reveals a race car's front tire has just rubbed Emilio's back tire. Just before the camera cuts away, we see the tail end of Emilio's car lift from the track.

2. An awkwardly inserted shot, one of pure cheese, pushes in on Russo's face and her stupid Blossom hat as she screams.

3. The camera cuts back to Emilio's car, which is inexplicably sailing through the air with its tail end low this time, which leads us to believe... well, I don't know what to believe. Obviously a shot like that is supposed to excite, but I was left scratching my head. I have a feeling the editor was sitting at her Moviola, snickering as she pieced this nonsense together. As luck would have it, the race car collides with an overpass and explodes like a fighter jet with an atomic payload.

4. Poof! Emilio falls into place on an operating table. The medical team waiting for him are wearing silvery hazmat suits which A) lets us know this is the future and B) makes them look like giant baked potatoes. Emilio groggily grumbles, which leads one of the medical personnel to call for the lobotomy gun.

5. A group of transient rebels (every future city ever depicted in a 90s movie like this has transient rebels) attack the convoy... wait, did I forget to mention the aforementioned operating table was housed inside a moving vehicle?

6. Mick Jagger acts... or reacts... kind of.

7. The rebels' missile launchers rock the vehicle Emilio's in. He seizes the opportunity to swat away the lobotomy gun, which fires green lightening. Green lightening! For long distance lobotomies! One of the nurses screams, "We've got a freejack!" This term is used several times throughout the movie. This suggests people have done what Emilio has done so much, it has become part of the future's lexicon, yet no one thought to implement any preventative measures.

8. Emilio escapes from the vehicle, which is now on its side. (I fell asleep during the part it rolled over, maybe?)

9. Mick Jagger instructs his henchmen to, and I quote, "Go get the meat." The meat!

10. Emilio, despite having nowhere to go and being the only person wearing a 90s jumpsuit, manages to evade the police of the future (until he's caught by a phone booth of all things). He's a little slow, but finally realizes he's in the future... all the way to the year 2009.

I don't make fun of science fiction which imagines the future and gets a few things "wrong." Science fiction isn't concerned with predicting the future so much as it wants to present a possible future. (Nobody would laugh at 2001: A Space Odyssey's "predictions" today. You could even say it's the space program which came up short, not Clarke's story.) The reason they set the bulk of the movie a few measly decades later is so Emilio's character could rekindle the flame with his wife, Russo. That's all fine and dandy, but the movie makes a real stinker of a mistake: there's talk of the "Ten Year Recession" which means the movie was already dated by 1999, eight measly years after it came out.

So no, I won't make fun of the dated stuff. What I will make fun of is the casting. The obvious mistake is Mick Jagger. I hoped it would be funny bad, but it's just bad bad. Rotten boiled egg bad. There's no telling whose dick he sucked to get in this picture, either.


The problem with Emilio is he already looks eighteen years younger than Russo when the film opens, when it's still 1991. I'm not saying Rene Russo looks old. Quite the contrary. I'm saying Emilio Estevez looks—and perhaps always will—like a child. Hell, I bet he still gets carded at bars despite belligerently screaming, "Don't you know who I am?! Haven't you seen Young Guns?!"

Another mistake is the lack of aging effects. Rene Russo doesn't age—the movie plays it too safe to age their leading actress—she just changes clothes. The same is true of the hotshot racing manager who betrays Emilio in a way nobody didn't see coming.

I took an awful lot of issue with this movie. One is the absurd lack of characters with color: one black man lives in Emilio's old house which is now in a slummy building, another is Russo's chaufer, and yet another one is a bum... hell of a long way equal rights will come in 2009, huh? I'm just saying, movies about the future must have a reason for only having white people in it.

In this scene, the movie manages to make us watch it all over again 
with a contrived series of flashbacks.

Oh, hey! Anthony Hopkins is in this.

You saw the trailer so I'm not giving away anything when I say he's the bad guy. There's a scene in which Hopkins appears exactly as the Emperor was introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, hooded cloak and all. So, for those keeping score: you've got Hopkins and Russo, two effortlessly good actors neutralized by Mick Jagger's ability to ham absolutely anything up.

The most watchable part of the movie comes towards the end. There's a pretty good scene taking place inside the mind of Anthony Hopkins through a somewhat interesting technology, though it's really nothing new to the genre. Unfortunately, I'd been struggling to stay awake for so much of the movie, I finally fell asleep at that point and missed most of the good stuff. When I woke up, Mick Jagger was suddenly a good guy.

My biggest complaint is the lackluster romance between Emilio and Russo. They really had something to play with here, but screwed it all up by being unwilling to explore any emotion. When Emilio and Russo are reunited the first time, the movie employs an unlikely gimmick to trick Russo into turning him in to the authorities. When they're reunited the second time, Emilio is inexplicably cruel and untrustworthy around the supposed love of his life. I don't even think they kiss in this movie. I think the most they do is hold hands and speak to each other in whispers.

This movie was destined for greatness. It seems impossible they could get it so wrong.

Note: I haven't yet read the Robert Sheckley novel Freejack was based on, but I admire Sheckley and I'm sure the book was pretty damn good. It might just be Gone With the Wind compared to its adaptation.

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