SATURDAY B-MOVIE CRAPFEST: “Space Truckers” (1996)

Republibot 3.0
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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 12/05/09

“Verisome Fido-S Tech support. How can we help you?”
“My TV….uhm…stopped working.”
“We can help you with that. Can you verify the name and address on the account?”
“Republibot 3.0, out of St. Grissom”
“Very good, mister 3.0, what seems to be the trouble today?”
“Well, my TV isn’t working.”
“It what way isn’t it working?”
“Well, you know the part where you sit down and watch pictures on it, and listen to sounds?”
“Yes.”
“That aspect of it isn’t really working.”
“Ok, can you be a bit more specific?”
“No, I’m sorry, I really can’t. I’m sort of an idiot.”
“Ok…hm, yes, looking at your file I see we’ve had a number of calls with you stringently proclaiming your idiocy first thing, and then breaking down crying.”
“To my shame, yes.”
“Ok, then, first things first: is there smoke or flame coming out of your TV?”
“No.”
“Good. Good. Is it on?”
“Yes.”
“Ok, why don’t you tell me what you were trying to do when it all went wrong.”
“Great! Ok, I decided to watch ‘Space Truckers,’ staring Dennis Hopper and a scantily-clad-yet-strangely-sexless Debi Mazar, to review for my website. Unfortunately, the only copy I have is on VHS, so I had to, you know, turn the VCR on and…uhm…put the tape in and stuff, right? If this is too detailed…”
“No, no, I can follow it. Do go on.”
“Well, anyway, I haven’t used the VCR in like 18 months or more, so I’ve kind of forgotten how it works, but then it started giving me onscreen options to reset the clock and stuff that I don’t care about…and then…[voice quivers]…gimmie a minute…..”
“What did you do?”
“I hit a button on the remote - one button - and now nothing will work.”
“Huh.”
“So since then, I can’t watch the tape *OR* the TV. I’ve been running around for 35 minutes, trying to get it to run, alternately plugging and unplugging things, using various kinds of profanity, but nothing’s working. I even turned it over to my son to fix - he’s twelve - but he couldn’t figure it out either. I just don’t understand how I could have broken it so bad by simply touching one button.”
“Can you describe…”
“Tee Vee no workee.”
“Right. What channel is it on?”
“I don’t know….uhm…two?”
“Put it on three.”
“Oh, yes, there we go. Perfect picture. Debi Mazar in her purple spangly bra. Yup, yup, yup. That’s it right there. I’m an idiot. Thank you.”
“No problem.”

PLAY BY PLAY

We start out with some surprisingly nice space footage zooming in on Triton, largest moon of Neptune. On the surface, we’re in a somewhat badly lit and fake-looking lab, where everyone’s favorite Science Fiction prop, Shane Rimmer, is talking to an English dude about their new project, which is, at that moment, running amok. A bunch of space marines seal off the lab, while higgledy piggeldy breaks loose, and various fighters and tank-things outside are destroyed by the whatever-it-is. The Whatever then gets through the big, impressive door, revealing itself to be a disappointing-looking Rubbersuit Monster. It disintegrates the space marines, and kills everyone in the room. It’s just about to kill Shane Rimmer when the English guy hits a button on his car alarm fob, and the thing deactivates. Turns out it’s a new bioweapon they’ve been developing for “The Company.” Shane Rimmer compliments the English guy on his brilliance, and says that with a hundred of these dealies, his people could take over the world.
“Which world, Sir?”
“The Earth, of course. The government’s in trouble, it has been for years.”
It turns out the English Guy made ten thousand Rubbersuit monsters, all answerable to Shane Rimmer. Rather than giving the English Guy a promotion, Rimmer decides to have the Rubbersuit Monster kill him.

In another time and another place, we see a space truck - really more like a space train - driven by Dennis Hopper, hauling genetically modified “Square Pork” to a shipping hub, a huge space station evidently in the middle of nowhere. He’s an independent trucker, but he’s two days late, so the Interpork shipping manager - George Wendt - tries to stiff him by only giving him a quarter of his salary. Hopper plays tough, and refuses to release his cargo until he’s paid in full. Then he goes to the hub Bar & Grill to talk to his sweetie, Debi Mazar, a waitress. Mazar is, of course, making goo-goo eyes at Stephen Dorff. There’s some tension there, as obviously both men are interested in the same woman. While there, some of Wendt’s Interpork goons hijack Hopper’s load, leaving him with bupkus. He’s upset, but what can he do about it? He gets to talking to some friends - former independents who now work for various shipping lines - and they tell him that one of their own was killed recently in “The Scum Cluster” by Macanudo the Pirate, who shipped back his naughty bits to the station as proof. Debi Mazar exposits that her mom is real sick, and she needs to get to earth ASAP, but can’t afford it. Hopper says he’ll take her to earth if she’ll marry him, and she agrees.

Stephen Dorff, meanwhile, takes a job with Interpork, hauling Hopper’s pigs to Little Chicago, which causes some tension. George Wendt crashes the wake at the bar & grill, and a barfight ensues, with one of Wendt’s idiot goons shooting out a window, which then sucks Wendt out in to space, killing him. Hopper, Dorf, and Mazar run out just as the cops show, and hid out in the women’s bathroom, where they use a secret passage to go visit “Mister Zesty,” the local fixer/mob boss. Hopper explains that he needs to get the hell out of Dodge really fast, and as they have a history, Zesty agrees to help him, giving him an illegal shipment of sexbots to be taken to earth within two days, and left unattended in orbit, no questions asked. Hopper agrees, and the trio leave the station, having a minor run-in with the space cops on the way.

They jump the shipping lanes and head directly to Earth, which is evidently illegal for some reason. This brings them past “The Scum Cluster” where they end up getting pummeled by some inexplicably semi-invisible asteroids. This messes up their rig, and knocks the engines offline. They’ll reboot after a fiv-ehour cool down, but the coolant system isn’t working, so they’re all going to bake inside. Hopper comes up with the idea of disconnecting the trailers and using the “Parking Rockets” to move the rig behind an asteroid to get a little shade and buy time. He goes outside to do this, while Stephen Dorff hits on the idea of stripping down to his underwear, because it’s hot in there, in the hopes that it’ll prompt Debi Mazar to strip down to her underwear, because she’s hot. She does, but it’s a little disappointing. She’s fine looking and all, but let’s just say the cut of her 1950s-style granny-briefs aren’t flattering to today’s discerning B-movie patron. Anyway, the two of them alternately make out and protest that they shouldn’t be making out, what with her being engaged and all. Meanwhile, Hopper’s attempts to detach the rig are all failures. The trailer keeps re-taching itself somehow, and a little auto-defense gun keeps popping up out of the trailer and shooting at him when he gets too close.

He goes back inside to find everyone semi-naked, and after some argument, they just decided to drink beer and die. Then an “Oligarch” class space liner comes by and swallows them up. They’re amazingly excited until they realize that it’s one that was hijacked by pirates some years ago, and is now known as the “Regalia,” the ship of the dread pirate Macanudo! Yikes!

They’re separated from their ship - still in their underwear - and told the terms of their surrender: “Try to escape and we’ll kill ya’. Disobey an order, and we’ll kill ya’. Try to fight, and we’ll kill ya’. Hell, we’ll probably just kill ya’ anyway.” Surprising no one, the Dread Pirate Macanudo turns out to be The English Guy from the start of the movie, though he’s missing an arm, a leg, an eye, and, well, really, the entire left half of his body. Shane Rimmer made the mistake of trying to kill him in his own lab, and hence he was able to rebuild himself. No one will believe that Hopper doesn’t know what he’s carrying, but everyone finds Miss Mazar quite fetching, what with her stunning eyes, annoying accent, and oddly sub-par teeth. Macanudo hits on her, and ultimately she strikes a bargain with him: If he’ll let the three of them go, he can keep the cargo, and she’ll have sex with him.

Deal!

They go back to his place, but he has…eh-hem…technical difficulties with his equipment (It’s a pull-starter, just like a lawn mower), and Debi manages to incapacitate him while he’s trying to get going. She then escapes and tries to rescue Hopper and Dorff, but Macanudo shows up and foils everything. After the autodefense thing kills a lot of pirates (“Smells like someone’s cooking hamburgers.” “Oh, man, Charlie, that’s you!” “Huh?” [Dies]), they eventually get in to the cargo trailer, and discover it packed with 10,000 Rubbersuit Monsters. Macanudo is overjoyed, and contemplates using them to exact his revenge on the evil Shane Rimmer. Alas, one of them has somehow become activated, and is running around the ship killing people. In the confusion, Debi Mazar manages to free Hopper and Dorff, and they get away on the rig, just as the Regalia explodes.

En rout to earth, they hear something clanking around in the back, so they go to check it out, and find Macanudo - now legless - lying on the floor, dying. He gives them a lot of helpful information about the Rubbersuit Monsters, and gives them his car alarm fob thing, which will shut them off. He also tells them that they activate in waves - 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and so on. Then he dies, prompting a really funny line from Hopper than I can’t really reprint on a family site like this one.

The rubber suit monsters start activating, and for a while, Dorff and Hopper are able to shut ‘em down, but some of ‘em start scrambling over the hull of the rig, and in to the cabin. They’re eventually able to deactivate these, too, but they loose their car alarm fob in the process, and realize there’s 8 more that’ll be activated in the next wave.

They get to earth. The plan is to detach the trailer and have it burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. Hopper will try to land his rig, but Dorff and Mazar will take the escape pod. This they then do, but while Hopper’s rigging the trailer to detach, he gets jumped by eight of the Rubbersuit Monsters. Dorff, meanwhile, pilots the escape pod back and uses the backblast from the rocket engines on the thing to fry the rubber suit monsters, then escapes. This gives Hopper time to try out his plan, and he backs the whole rig in to the atmosphere.

Alas, now we’ve got 16 rubber suit monsters scurrying around, trying to get in and kill him and whatnot. The trailer detaches and is destroyed, but they’re still scurrying around the cab. On the ground, Mazar and Dorff watch him arcing across the sky, and then he explodes! It’s sad, but only for like 1/10th of a second, because then we realize he bailed out and is parachuting down. Everyone’s fine.

We jumpcut to a ratty looking hospital and a voiceover from a radio announcer telling us that two truck drivers and a space waitress have saved the world from alien invasion, and we meet Debi Mazar’s mom, who’s really pretty and only like 25. This confuses Hopper, but she explains that she was frozen until she could be cured of a disease when Debi was very small. Now she’s cured. The two of them instantly start making the moves on each other.

The President comes for a visit, and it’s Shane Rimmer. We’re told that The Company (Who? Interpork?) has bought out the government and privatized it, and that the whole “Rubbersuitmonster killbot” program was an overly-ambitious scheme from a while back that he doesn’t want anyone to know about. In exchange for their silence, he’s got a brand new rig for Hopper waiting on Gantry F, he’s covering all of Debi Mazar’s Mom’s hospital bills, and given them a drug lord metal suitcase full o’ cash. Hopper declares himself fully bought and paid for, and the president leaves, then everyone gets in to a pointless and rather out-of-nowhere ethical argument about what to do with the money. This culminates with Dorff throwing it out the window, which happens to be right above the presidential limo.

The suitcase lands on the limo just as President Shane Rimmer hits a little remote control button, detonating a bomb inside it. Of course the bomb destroys his car and kills him.

“Uh-oh! Somebody just fragged [The President].”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was us.”

They beat a hasty retreat to Gantry F, where all four of them liftoff in Hopper’s new rig, bound for an exciting new life in space…

The End

OBSERVATIONS

It’s nice to know they didn’t stop making crappy science fiction B-pictures when the tax laws changed in the late ‘80s, isn’t it? This is far and away the most recent of the films we’ve reviewed for The Crapfest, and actually only the second one we’ve done from the ’90s. (The other one being here http://www.republibot.com/content/saturday-morning-b-movie-crapfest-%E2%... ) Beyond all that, though, this is a weird, weird, weird, film. It’s ultimately unsatisfying on nearly every level, and yet despite its total lack of consistent appeal, it somehow manages to be not without some oddly consistent appeal. If that sounds nonsensical, well, hell yeah it is! Even so, while I’d never say this was a good film (It clearly isn’t), sometimes the pieces can add up to slightly more than the whole, and this is a case of that. It’s a complete waste of the times, talents, and monies of everyone involved (Excepting perhaps Debi Mazar), and yet somehow it manages to be…*not* quite a complete waste of time. It’s almost worth watching, almost. Well, bits of it are, anyway.

I’m rambling. Sorry. I thought I had something concise and insightful to say, but this project is just too weird to encapsulate thusly, so let’s us just ignore that and move on.

For starters, the movie is intermittently eyepopping:

and if that link doesn’t work, try here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UqSsvCynYc As you can see, they actually had a mid-sized budget here, the special effects are mostly good looking, and the set design is actually pretty freakin’ great in a lot of areas. You can get a sense of some of it in this barfight scene here

or here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sFW9edCR6w If you look closely, you’ll notice that the bar & grill is a huge Ferris wheel - they actually BUILT a huge revolving set that they rotated. It’s similar to the famous centrifuge set from “2001: A Space Odyssey” or the similar centrifuge from “Mission To Mars,” but it’s easily three or four times the size, wider, and filled with restaurant booths, a bar, a fry kitchen, juke boxes, and other stuff. You can really see it in the end, where they’re running away and the floor tapers up, away from the camera and the ground. It’s extremely clever and cool - and the way they did it was to actually rotate the whole thing, with “Down” being wherever the actors needed to stand at the time, while extras were covertly buckled in to seat and skiboot foot restraints hanging from the higher levels to make it look real. It’s brilliant, ambitious, and completely out of place in a piece-of-crap film like this, but it’s one of the neatest tricks I’ve seen in a long time. Parts of this set is chopped up and redressed to play other roles in the film - a hallway, bathrooms, an office, you name it - all with the cool sloping-upward floors and weird ceilings and suchlike. There’s a neat design aesthetic going on throughout the film, a combination of gee-gosh-wow stuff and hopelessly mundane, beat down, boring crap. Dennis Hopper drives a space ship, but it is, after all, just an 18 wheeler in space, and it even kinda’ looks like one. The control room is big and believable, but he’s got those same kinds of beaded seat cover things that trashy people use in their crappy beat down cars with bondo all over ‘em. The space suits are mostly pretty good, and there’s a neat mix of functionality and fancy going on.

The real star of the film, obviously, is the production design by Simon Murton, who gets a ton of mileage his super-cool fairly cheap sets that still look super-cool thirteen years on. How many movies can you really say that about? Mr. Murton is no stranger to genre films. He’s worked as an illustrator on Green Lantern, Matrix Revolutions, Hulk (2003), Pluto Nash, Hollow Man, Galaxy Quest, What Dreams May Come, Judge Dredd, the original Stargate movie, and Demolition Man. He’s also done production designs and robot designs in other movies, like Red Planet, that crappy Super Mario Brothers film (Which also starred Dennis Hopper), and a kerjillion other films. He’s really good at what he does, but I think the “hub” station here might be the apex of his career, at least for me. I love the fact that they tried to incorporate cool goofy space adventure-comedy action and some degree of real physics - the space rig is weightless, the space station spins to simulate gravity, and so on.

Unfortunately, we are dealing with a B-movie here, so pretty much all the budget was blown by the end of the first act, and from that point on, things look rather threadbare. The “Regalia” pirateship is - on the inside - basically just a big, empty, poorly-lit warehouse. Also, despite the low-tech nature of everything else in the film, the ship apparently has artificial gravity. What we see of earth is one or two matte shots, a desert scene, and the inside of a hospital. They spent all the money they had in the really neat stuff early on, and we’re coasting on artistic fumes from there on out.

The story, of course, is both entirely too tight and entirely too loose. We start off with a nefarious scheme that goes wrong, and then our protagonists blunder in to it, first running afoul of one bad guy, then another, both of whom are bumped off more or less by their own incompetence. The love story never gels, and the substitute love story that’s introduced seemingly at random in the last ten minutes never really makes any sense, but there it is. Ultimately we’re told that the entire plot was a fool’s errand anyway - a scheme that ended up being superfluous, and is best forgotten. The ending is jiffy pop, abrupt, and kind of out of nowhere, and yet, again, I’m going to have to say the movie isn’t without its charms.

Forget the larger plot, the duplicitous machinations of corporate overlords jockeying for position, that’s all crap, but the blue-collar stuff - wow, that’s kind of neat, and kind of unique to this film. It’s all fun, seeing them complain and grumble and try to screw each other out of their money, and hit on waitresses and get in fights. There’s nothing particularly spacey about this, nothing futuristic, but there’s something delightfully reassuring and homey about it - the notion that we’ll still have country music in space ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1I2iZEtX40 ), that we’ll still have blue-collar people, that people will still cuss and fight and drink too much and have trouble making their bills and believe in stuff. I don’t think this is to be undersold, and it’s really what makes this movie work. A problem a lot of people have with SF - a problem I, myself, have with a lot of SF - is its utopian, and occasionally messianic secular humanistic nature. Think about it: Star Trek is a maoist vision of the future. Space: 1999 is so antiseptic as to be instantly uncomfortable. Known Space is a 1970s swinger’s 24/7 sex party vision of the future with socialized medicine and cheap thrills by the score. Heinlein’s “World as Myth” series is like that, only psychotically worse. There are lots of other examples, lots and lots of other examples, far, far too many, if we’re honest.

None of these feel real, none of ‘em feel like a place, none of ‘em feel real, just clearly one person or another’s halfbaked idea of what the future would be like - should be like - if only people were as smart as the author/producer/whatever, and cast off their irritating and useless aspects like religion and culture and sexual mores and money and blah blah blah and lived a great big free existence in the manner said author prescribes. It’s irritating. A lot of people like science fiction, but once you start having people running about in velour space pajamas and being self-righteous about how capitalism is bad, and presumably country music is bad too, then you end up with a vision of the future that’s both needlessly magically utopian and also rather exclusionist. At that point, most people’s interest falls apart. It’s too silly for ‘em, you know? It’s too silly for me, most of the time, and I *like* SF.

This film’s real achievement is that it completely sidesteps all that hokey perfect world crap and replaces it with a world that’s just like now, only bigger and stranger and more complex. The plot is secondary to its gleeful celebration of the common man, to blue-collar working class people who maybe aren’t all that well educated, but are still fairly smart and scrappy as hell, people who don’t have a lot of high ideals beyond taking care of themselves and their own, and making their next mortgage payment.

I tell you, after a lifetime of watching hokey SF, it’s refreshing to see. Damn refreshing.
It’s still a stupid movie, though.

Weirdly stupid, if I’m honest. It’s got a plot that really seems to come straight out of an issue of 2000AD or maybe Heavy Metal magazine. It’s rambly and dumb, and kind of pointlessly sexy in a sexless kind of way. There’s a lot of snappy, mildly-funny dialog, such as when Stephen Dorff insults the cybernetic pirate, and Dennis Hopper immediately steps in with “What he means to say, Captain, is that it’s inspiring the way you confront your disabilities.” Hopper’s repeated attempts to come off as silver-tongued consistently come off as bronze-tongued at best, but of course that’s intentional, and it’s a nice bit of characterization. But really one has to wonder who greenlit this mess? I mean, had it come out as a Golan Globus film around 1983, perhaps as part of a double feature with “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn,” I could see it. If it came out as a straight-to-video cheapie around 1992 from Full Moon, again, I could understand, but who would make a movie like this in the mid-90s? What was the target demographic? Who did they think it would appeal to? There’s a lot of muddled thinking surrounding this project from the getgo, but, mercifully, it doesn’t matter too much in this case because the stuff that’s good about this movie really has nothing to do with the actual storytelling parts.

Acting-wise, Dennis Hopper is really, really good in this. Hopper has always seemed to have no clear means of distinguishing between a good role and a bad one, and he’ll pretty much star in anything, but he’s almost always pretty good, and here he’s way the hell better than he has any right to be. He’s perfectly believable as a crusty old sun-dried raisin of a trucker who’s been beat down by a hardscrabble life, but still retains a chewy center of decency and humor. We’ve all known people like this, but I can not reiterate enough how great it is to see this kind of blue-collar everyman in space. Neither here nor there, but I’ve always felt that Hopper is basically what James Dean would have eventually grown up into, had he survived: a surprisingly solid character actor with a somewhat unhinged career trajectory, but with some consistently great performances scattered through the weird choices of roles.

Debi Mazar is…eh. She’s just kind of there, you know? She’s the love interest, the cheesecake. She’s pretty, and obviously it’s going to be hard to find an actress who’s willing to spend a third of the movie in just her underwear, but she’s as bland as Doris Day in this one. She’s got beautiful eyes and a body that’s really good on paper, but for whatever reason, she’s utterly lacking in the va-va-voom quality that a role like this calls for. She doesn’t quite pull off the vibe of either an innocent or a trollop, nor a dish in need of rescue, nor a plucky heroine. Some of that is the Newh Yahwk accent, but I think most of it is that she just seems to be going through the motions for a paycheck in material that she probably believes is beneath her. I kept thinking how much more fun the role would have been with, say, Tawny Kitaen (Though she’d already ruined her looks with too much plastic surgery by 1996), or maybe Megan Ward (Who was making Full Moon movies around this time, and was the good girl who never took her clothes off), or someone like that.

Stephen Dorff is basically just beefcake. In the early scenes, where he’s given someone to play off of, he’s fine, but for two thirds of the film he’s just standing around in his skivies, holding Dennis Hopper’s coat. I’ve seen him elsewhere - most notably as “Stu” in “Backbeat” - and he’s a fairly consistent actor, but here he’s given nothing to do. That’s probably a shame, but since Dennis Hopper is in the film, who cares?

Charles Dance makes the best of his odd, rather embarrassing role as Macanudo, the space pirate and ex-English scientist. His dry lines are really really good, and his death scene is charmingly rakish - as they actually comment on in the movie itself (“He died pretty good!”) - but I think he oversells the goofy aspects a bit much in other scenes. Of course, given that he’s playing a cyborg with a rope-pull-start cybernetic tallywhacker, I can see how it might be difficult for an actor to really find the right balance for that sort of thing.

Shane Rimmer is, of course, the greatest SF character actor of all time. Starting with his small part in Dr. Strangelove (“Where the hell is Major Kong?”), he’s got a stupidly long list of roles in genre stuff, and a lot of it is impressive. He did 2 episodes of Dr. Who in 1966 (First Doctor), he was the voice of Scott Tracy in “Thunderbirds,” he’s got a bit part in “You Only Live Twice,” some guest staring bits in “Captain Scarlet,” and “Joe 90”. He played the recurring role of Lt. Johnson on “UFO”, and had another bit part in “Diamonds are Forever,” his second Bond film. He was in the original “Rollerball,” he did five episodes of Space: 1999, always playing different parts, he’s got a bit part in Star Wars, and plays the American Submarine Captain in “The Spy that Loved Me”, his third Bond film. He’s in Superman II, and an unrelated part in Superman III, he’s in “Morons from Outer Space” and that overblown James Michener “Space” miniseries with Michael York, he’s in “Whoops, Apocalypse!” and at least one of the Batman movies, not to mention “Alien Autopsy.” The list goes on and on. I’m sure I’m missing something, and I’m not even bothering to list the impressive Spy-Fi credits, apart from the Bond Films. The point being that Shane Rimmer is one of those people who you’ve seen a zillion times, but don’t know you know. It’s always fun to see him, particularly when he’s showcased in a small role like the one he has here.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS MOVIE?

Are you kidding me? Have you not been paying attention? Pull-start penis! Chicks floating around in their underwear for 30 minutes straight! Dennis Hopper! No, no, absolutely not! In no way will Conservatives like this movie, and that’s not even bothering to bring up Macanudo’s weird obsession with men’s naughty bits (Though he’s not even remotely gay). No, social conservatives should probably avoid this movie. Fiscal conservatives would probably be fine with it. The rest of us - well - while this is an overlooked film that’ll never develop a cult, it’s the kind of little gem stuck in a turd that gives me the strength to go on watching bad movies. Everyone (Aside from Social Conservatives) should watch it at least once.

In theory, you can check it out online here http://www.letmewatchthis.com/movie-8633-Space-Truckers though I can't get it to work. You might be better to Netflix this one.

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