Charles Band’s low-budget TRANCERS, released by his Empire Pictures in 1985, is one of the most imaginative science fiction films of a decade filled with very good and great ones. Much credit should go to debuting screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, who demonstrate a real knack for the genre and went on to write THE ROCKETEER and create THE FLASH for CBS.
Even considering the script, which manages to seem original despite being heavily influenced by THE TERMINATOR and BLADE RUNNER, the movie wouldn’t work without leading man Tim Thomerson. Known to this point as a comic actor and standup comedian, Thomerson graduated from wisecracking sidekick in Band’s METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN to tough-guy hero Jack Deth, a rebellious cop patrolling post-earthquake Los Angeles of the 23rd century. His obsession is destroying “trancers,” who are basically zombies created by nefarious cult leader Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani), since a trancer killed his wife years earlier.
The three-man council that runs “Angel City” learns that Whistler, whom Deth thought to have killed, is still alive in the L.A. of 1985 with plans to kill their ancestors, which would crumble the city’s already shaky government. Deth is sent back to 1985, where he convinces pretty punker chick Lena (future Oscar winner Helen Hunt) to help him find Whistler and stop his plot.
Bilson and DeMeo’s method of time travel is clever. Instead of Deth being physically sent back in time, he is strapped down and chemicals are used to send him “down the line” to inhabit the body of one of his ancestors—a womanizing journalist named Phil Deth. The dialogue’s frequent use of creative futuristic vocabulary, such as “singeing” trancers and the reference to the weak-willed people who are easy prey for Whistler’s brainwashing as “squids,” adds to the film’s original atmosphere.
Thomerson is really terrific as Jack Deth, playing his trenchcoat-wearing noir cop with great humor and self-awareness (watch the way he bobs and struts to fit in with the rest of the dancers at a punk rock concert). With only 76 minutes to play with, Band has little time to establish relationships among the characters, so he relies on his talented cast to fill in the blanks. Hunt (MAD ABOUT YOU) displays instant romantic chemistry with Thomerson (though Lena buys Jack’s “future cop” story rather quickly), and Art LeFleur (THE SANTA CLAUSE 2) as Deth’s rival cop acts as though he’s been bickering with him forever.
TRANCERS was also theatrically released in some markets as FUTURE COP. Surprisingly, given his fondness for sequels, it took Band several years to produce a follow-up, probably because of Empire’s money troubles.