Cheap, lame 'Freejack' offers its 2 cents worth about the future

January 21, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Freejack"? Man, they ought to call this one "Cheapjack"!

According to "Freejack's" most arrogant conceit, it has seen the future and the future costs $3.98.

Volkswagens wearing streamlined fiberglass skirts hurtle down the busy streets of a megalopolis at nearly 14 miles per hour. Teeming crowds of nine, possibly as many as 11, murmur in sprawling alleyways that must be at least a half a block long. Cheesy matte paintings of skyscrapers and animated signs are jerry-rigged into a stock shot of the Manhattan skyline, which means the lab is as close as the movie ever got to Gotham. Near-stars who are mock versions of real stars -- Emilio Estevez, the poor man's Charlie Sheen, and Rene Russo, the poor woman's Susan Sarandon -- give the film its final imprimatur of tackiness. It's the future by Popeil.

Derived from a novel by Robert Sheckley called "Immortality, Inc.," the movie is one of those paradox-strewn fables of time travel and new identities. It's so familiar you will probably totally recall it. Briefly, 20 years or so down the road, in a time of moral bankruptcy and technological supremacy, the dying rich sometimes treat themselves to new bodies by reaching back through history and snatching a healthy husk of flesh in the seconds before it was to be incinerated or destroyed.

Thus it is that in 1991, race car hero Alex Furlong (the callow Estevez) hits a wall going 300 miles an hour and wakes up one second later in 2009 about to contribute his body but not his mind to his new sponsor. A helpful attack by generic rebels enables him to escape before his memories are lobotomized into jelly to make room for his brain's new occupant.

Now he's a "freejack," hunted through the grubby future by a squad of high-tech commandos led by no less a personage than Mick Jagger looking as if he's been suited up for a gig with Metallica. Mostly he sits in the turret of an armored car like a Helmut Newton portrait of Irwin Rommel, but if the movie had been called "Coolmick," and had stressed this sleek, ironic, ravaged-face mercenary as its centerpiece, it might have given a lot of satisfaction.

As it is, with the dreary Estevez and the mysterious Russo (inexplicably unaltered through the 18 years between time-frames) it can't give no satisfaction. Paint it black.

Anthony Hopkins is around for three or four minutes toward the end, and he livens things up considerably. More importantly, in its last few minutes, the movie ceases to be a routine crash-'n'-shoot exercise and actually becomes authentic science fiction, at which point it becomes interesting. But it feels as if it's 20 years too late.

(There is some good news from dystopia: a director's cut of Ridley Scott's original "Blade Runner," the visionary sci-fi drama that began the movement of which "Freejack" is but the palest and most recent replicant, has been screened in Los Angeles and is reportedly wending its way eastward in art house venues.)

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