Movie Review: “Trancers”

   Trancers was one of the film series from Full Moon Features’ catalog that I was most excited to revisit and talk about on The ‘Bib. Granted, I had only seen the films once a piece, so they were hardly engraved in my mind, but I could remember thinking they provided charming, cheesy, low-budget fun.

   If nothing else, there was a certain novelty behind Trancers that other Full Moon movies didn’t have. There are no killer dolls in Trancers, and, if that wasn’t enough, it isn’t even a horror film. What makes Trancers so unique is that it is actually a science-fiction film involving time travel.

   Now, if we are upfront and honest about it, the first Trancers doesn’t have the most in-depth world building and certainly doesn’t have dazzling special effects to write home about, but, as a lifelong Full Moon Feature fanatic who sometimes regrets that devotion, I’m excited for anything different. The film will draw many comparisons to other, more highbrow science fiction fare like Blade Runner, but for Full Moon Features (then, Empire Pictures), this was an ambitious undertaking. Trancers was directed by the company’s head honcho Charles Band, with a script written by Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson, who would both go on to have respectable footprints in the entertainment industry, particularly with videogames.

   In Trancers, actor Tim Thomerson plays Jack Deth. When I look back, I remembered appreciating Tim Thomerson’s portrayal, even if it didn’t necessarily offer anything new to the genre. He is your standard, generic run-of-the-mill science fiction badass. Basically, if you close your eyes and imagine Han Solo, you can get yourself more than half of the way there to knowing what to expect from Jack Deth.

   Early on, man, oh, man, I did not remember how carny this film was. Jack Deth portrays a retired police trooper from the 23rd century. Meanwhile, a criminal named Martin Whistler who can manipulate minds disappears with a drug-induced time-traveling technique. Now, Whistler is alive and the council are once again asking for Jack Deth’s help. It really is a tale as old as time. Jack Deth, being a cool, rad veteran, declines, telling them to fuck off. However, once informed about Whistler’s return, in a scene that sees another character slowly follow him in a scene that feels like it lasts way too long, he comes out of retirement to stop him. Seriously, the scene sees Jack Deth swimming in the ocean and even though the council member could have told him far sooner, he decides to follow him waste deep into the ocean before announcing that news. 

   In modern cinema, it is commonplace nowadays to identify a film like Sharknado or the latest film from Asylum as a film that is so bad it is good, but I have never enjoyed that sentiment. If you have learned anything about me in the time I have spent talking about Full Moon Features over the years, I hope it is that I have a genuine appreciation for some of them. I don’t like them because they are so bad they’re good, I find the good in spite of the bad. Personally, I find that when a film is deliberately made to be a bad film, the end result is shallow and low-quality. When you make something and try to make it bad, you inevitably achieve what you set out to do. I don’t appreciate nor do I enjoy movies made in bad faith. Rather, what I enjoy is what Trancers is cooking up – backdrops that look a little too obvious, melodramatic music and awkward line delivery, they are all there as valid criticisms, and yet, the beauty buried within is the genuine effort and vision that is present as well.

   Tim Thomerson does his best Harrison Ford impression, and, for what it’s worth, I think it feels pretty natural when he does it. It isn’t a bad performance and a lot of the melodrama that the film has is more to do with the dialogue, as well as how scenes are structured and the misguided use of sound effects. Helen Hunt is in the film and is also makes a honest effort, offering a solid straight man to the Jack Deth character.

   The film is short, even by Full Moon Features standards, clocking out at 76 minutes, and, if I am honest, it feels like a lot of the scenes could have been shorter and more concise. This is a sentiment that actually feels like it applies to a lot of Full Moon Features in retrospect. Sometimes, in some ways, I feel like Full Moon Features chose the wrong medium. If I were to describe Full Moon to someone who has never watched their movies, I would probably describe them as a lot like the Goosebumps TV series. That is how I prefer to think of them, as short, wacky little adventures. Sometimes though, as short as they are, they overstay their welcome. Sometimes it feels like we would be better off if they were wrapped up in a 21 minute or 42 minute runtime, instead of feeling like they have to be padded out in-order to reach a feature length. Also, I have read some of the Puppet Master comic books and part of me feels like they work because they graphic novelize what are ultimately short stories involving the puppets.

   Nevertheless, it is a fun concept that occasionally leads to good humored scenes, both from the fish out of water predicament and the body-swapping between ancestors. If I am being a stickler, it falls apart at the seams quickly and never fully repairs itself, but it’s a serviceable, little science-fiction film and made me hopeful for the series that will follow it (I say, optimistically). 

Rating: 1.6 out of 5.0