Tuesday, October 16, 2018
FUTURE WORLD (2018)
My guess is that James Franco saw The Bad Batch one day last year and said, "Psssh! I can do better than that." For all I know, he'd seen Mad Max:Fury Road some time before and had the same reaction. If you really want to speculate on his influences, you might find Future World reminiscent of the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Cyborg. On the DVD, Franco drily explains that he wanted to experiment with the postapocalypse genre, as if it were his ambition -- it might well be -- to direct in every genre known to man. He shares the directorial credit here with his frequent cinematographer Bruce Thierry Cheung, and while Cheung is also one of the credited writers Franco makes it clear on the disc that he was involved in putting the story together. Not that that took much effort, as Future World is more a collection of tropes and an exercise in style than anything else. There's been an apocalypse, and while bullets have become extremely rare there's fuel enough to keep motorcycling marauders on the road, massacring most everyone they find and partying at Big Daddy Love Lord's (Snoop Dogg) poontang oasis. There's a real oasis somewhere nearby that the marauders, led by a horned-helmeted Franco, somehow have never stumbled upon, but it's benevolent ruler (a supine Lucy Liu) is ill with the dreaded Red Fever, the cure for which reportedly can be had at the legendary Paradise Beach. It's there that Prince -- it seems to be both his title and his name (Jeffrey Wahlberg) -- is bound with a precious handful of bullets that are promptly taken from him by Franco's gang after the naive hero makes the mistake of stopping at the big whorehouse. A more impressive acquisition of Franco's is the android Ash (Suki Waterhouse, late of The Bad Batch), a killing machine of the bad old days who apparently shut herself down in an act of protest against mankind's wars. Unfortunately for her -- and she's not only very female but also, as a matter of cliche by now, lesbian -- once she's awakened Franco can control her by yelling into a little control box. Collaborating with Big Daddy, he sends Ash to roll the hapless Prince. The poor youth is allowed to live only because Franco needs someone to lead him to the oasis, but in the course of an escape attempt Ash ends up out of range of the remote control gizmo and becomes Prince's staunch ally.
Alas, since the days of postcards Paradise Beach has become Drug Town, presided over by a coked-up Milla Jovovich, and while she does have a cure for the Red Fever, it has a high price. First, she intends to take custody of Ash, intending her either as a sex toy or an object of worship, or both. Then, she insists that Prince shoot up some heavy drugs and battle her champion in a gladiatorial combat which our questionably experienced hero, malnourished, injured and drug-addled, somehow wins when Ash tosses him a machete. That spoils Jovovich's fun a little, but what really ticks her off is that her captive techie Lei (Margarita Levieva) scores with Ash before she gets a chance. Worse yet, the Franco gang, having little sense of direction, mistakes Drug Town for the oasis and attacks. There's a great goofy moment here when Jovovich shoots herself up with two syringes of something to inspire a battle frenzy befitting the impending clash of titans, but however you rate the relative prowess of action movie stars, Franco puts himself over in the fateful encounter. In the end, though, Ash rebels against his control when he orders her to execute Prince and Lei and, as women everywhere presumably cheer, she puts the fiend down once and for all. After delivering the chaste Prince back home in time to save his mom, Ash and Lei ride off, theoretically in search of other androids and further adventures, as if this were a pilot for some series. Given its ghost of a release and its atrocious score on Rotten Tomatoes, it's safe to say we won't see more of these heroines. But while I concede every failing of this project, especially its absolute lack of originality, I couldn't help liking it for its earnestness, its impressive outdoor cinematography by Werner Herzog's latter-day cameraman, Pieter Zeitlinger, and the very throwback spirit that most likely provoked others' contempt. I still enjoy a bit of postapocalyptic cheese every so often, and if you can't have a Mad Max every couple of years a James Franco pastiche will do for a little while.