Sunday, November 06, 2016

CHERRY 2000 (1987)

I have often seen Cherry 2000 lumped in with the spate of post-apocalyptic films that sprang up like mushrooms in the shadow of The Road Warrior (1982). Now that  I've finally seen this oddity it turns out not to take place in a nuclear devastated future but one that is a simple extension of the prevailing trends of its times. That is something I can enjoy and respect when the story being told is engaging enough, so the question becomes just how well constructed is Cherry 2000. That is a complicated question.

Somehow I missed this 1980's relic in my younger years and I'm sure that if I'd seen this in my youth I would think more highly of it. It certainly is interesting to see from the vantage point of 2016 but more for the peek inside what 1980's imagined our times would grow into. The film is a time capsule of nostalgia for the future as imagined by the neon past and for that it is fascinating. It doesn't take much thought to realize that Cherry 2000 is nothing more than a western plot spit-shined and retrofitted as a science fiction tale with the requisite story building blocks simply renamed for a futuristic feel. Strangely, the oddest element of the movie is not the futuristic city design or the story's extrapolation of what human sexuality might transform into but that fact that the plot is mostly constructed from romantic comedy clichés and a bizarre man-child coming of age arc. I have to admit that I didn't see that coming.

The time is the early 21st century and as society has stratified human sexual relationships have become a very codified interaction. In this world dating and sex have been commoditized to the point that the only way people hook up for even the most casual of sexual activity is to hash out a formal contract specifying the things to be expected from both parties. If this sounds like a hellish way to meet your mate you might try the lifestyle choice of Cherry 2000's protagonist Sam Treadwell (David Andrews). Sam is a mid-level manager of an Anaheim recycling plant and he owns his very own fembot! Yep- Cherry is the name of his devoted and beautiful but decidedly artificial 'wife' and all is wedded bliss until a night of robo-humpy-pumpy ends with Cherry getting soapy water in her circuits causing her to blow fuses instead of..... Anyway, Sam is distraught in the same way a teenager is after that first breakup and even more upset when he discovers how difficult it will be to repair or replace his beloved doll. It seems that Cherry is a 2000 model and they are so very rare and expensive that there are none in Anaheim. Sam's only hope to locate a new one is to travel into the apocalyptic wastelands of Zone 7 to a place called The Graveyard in hopes of locating a fresh toy. To do that Sam needs a Tracker and he lucks into the offices of E. Johnson (Melanie Griffith) who is willing to help him find the object of his desire. Miss Johnson has all the impressive sexiness that a 1980's model Melanie Griffith is capable of but Sam only has eyes for his dream girl so no sooner has she accepted the job then they are off to Zone 7 in her awesome muscle car.

It's not hard to spot the obvious western tropes here - replace faulty robot with kidnapped wife, hot tracker with gruff frontiersman, cool car with horses and you can see the bones of the tale. Of course, as soon as Griffith is onscreen the shape of the larger story becomes obvious - boy and girl will find they love each other after much angry arguing and adventure - with the only question being how long the film will drag things out. In the case of Cherry 2000 the answer is almost too long but that is a minor complaint about a movie that willfully attempts to confuse the viewer about its aims. This film is a strange amalgam of romantic comedy meet-cute obviousness, 1980's era AIDS paranoia, chilly social satire, clumsy action set-pieces and screwball comedy villains.

Scattered along this journey are a number of great character actors doing their best to sell this tale and often enough they manage the task. Tim Thomerson is a joy to watch in anything as he chews up the script and spits out some brilliant lines that, at times, seem like in-character adlibs. Nobody does frustrated confidence better and Thomerson really shines as the man with a supply of Cherry 2000 robots but no desire to relinquish even one. Legendary gruff but lovable Ben Johnson, best known as a regular face in classic westerns, here plays a character with a connection to Griffith's that allows him to add some tender moments as the romance unfolds. Adding to the old west feel is a short performance from another western regular Harry Carey, Jr. but he is given little to do. Add in an even smaller part from the great Brion James and a blink-and-you-miss-him appearance from Laurence Fishburn (as a date broker in a bar!) and you have enough onscreen to keep a cinefile interested. Cherry 2000 isn't a great movie but it is pretty good, well paced and definitely a fun diversion for fans of science fiction cinema.

Kino Lorber's Blu-Ray looks and sounds fantastic with all the technical polish you would expect from the company. The extras included are enticing headlined by a feature length commentary track with the film's director Steve De Jarnatt who went on after the abortive release of Cherry 2000 to write and direct the cult favorite nuclear apocalypse film Miracle Mile. There is also a short making of segment produced at the time of the production that emphasizes the Nevada shooting locations and stunt work. This is interesting enough to see once but disposable. Much more interesting is the interview with Tim Thomerson in which he tells a few tales out of school about the production. He is an engaging interviewee talking about his penchant for playing villains and I just wish this segment had been longer and more in-depth. This release is a great way to become acquainted with Cherry 2000 and for longtime fans it must feel like the film is finally getting the attention it deserves. It may not be the best of its decade but it is well worth seeing.

No comments: