There are people for whom good science fiction is more than a quest or a passion. For these people, finding and watching quality sci-fi is an affliction. They wander the aisles of the video store, eyes glazing as they peruse the shelves in search of something they haven't seen before, hoping against hope that they won't be disappointed in their eventual choice. For these people, Screamers may be a blessing.
Screamers is a small budget sci-fi film which managed to open and close last year without anyone noticing. For those people really starved for good sci-fi, this film will tide you over until something really good comes out. The production values are high, the plot almost makes sense most of the time, and it has a high quotient of special effects and technology. Things that go beep are (thankfully) quite plentiful in this little movie.
Science-fiction actor extraordinaire Peter Weller graces the cast of this film as Hendricksson, the commanding officer of a small rebel base on a mining planet. When it turns out that the war is actually over (or shifted focus, at least) and no one told this particular planet, Hendricksson agrees to a peace talk at the opposition's base. Along the way, he has to look out for his own defense net, informally called screamers, which are little underground robot buzz-saws which cut people up... unless they're wearing these special wrist-bands. But somehow, either the wristbands or the screamers are malfunctioning.
Okay, you can see this coming. It's a "killer-android-on-the-loose" film, which is actually one of our favorite mini-genres, despite the fact that so many of these movies are so terrible. This k.a.o.t.l. film, however, has shades of Aliens and Tremors thrown in for good measure. The combination actually works quite well. Screamers uses the "sometimes they can see you, and sometimes they can't" plot point to great advantage. The little buggers also adapt really quickly, eventually even taking on the form of human beings. Then you get to play the "who's-human, who's-a-robot" game.
If it sounds like you've seen this all before, well, you probably have. The difference is that Screamers is actually entertaining. For instance, let's take Andrew Lauer, who plays Hendricksson's sidekick, Ace. Some of you might recognize Lauer as Charlie from NBC's Caroline in the City. The dialogue between Hendricksson and Ace becomes heated at points, providing some of the weirdest one-liners we've ever heard. And when the pair comes across a lost little boy, complete with teddy bear, Ace entertains both himself and the kid with some bizarre but funny non sequiturs.
Ace: You put a teddy bear like yours in the microwave, nothin' will happen. But you put a frog in there, especially when it's wet? Hee-hee!
In the future, they apparently still use microwave ovens, as well as ergonomic keyboards.
We were intrigued by the fact that Weller's character is named Hendricksson, because this part could have been played equally well (perhaps better) by Lance Henriksen, aka Lance Hendrickson. In fact, both Weller and Henriksen boosted their careers by playing robots (Weller as Robocop, Henriksen as Bishop in Aliens). Ah, the interconnectedness and harmony of Hollywood casting.
Our only major problem with Screamers is that it lasted about twenty minutes too long. There were three surprise endings tacked on the end that could have been eliminated altogether without hurting the story much. And of course, the inevitable opening for a sequel made itself known in the final seconds of the film.
Science fiction fans take heart: the new Star Wars films will be out soon, and with them, a new market for sci-fi films. For this Saturday night, however, you might want to pick up Screamers.
Review date: 12/31/96
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