One would think, from the film's title, that this movie had something to do with Tarot cards. Wrong-o.
This is the fourth film in the seemingly immortal-but-you've-never-seen-more-than-one Trancers series. Trancers, the original, was a straight Blade Runner rip-off, with factory-made zombies standing in for Replicants.
By the time we reach Trancers 4, all the old plot lines have been resolved, and Jack Deth (played by Tim Thomerson in all five Trancers movies) is given a new focus. He works for an agency that looks for anomalies in the time stream and corrects them. ("Time is fluid," he says, "And I'm the guy who makes sure the glass doesn't get knocked over.") As he heads off on a mission, his time machine is broken by a plant creature from his last mission, and our hero ends up in an alternate dimension where technology has been replaced by magic, and the countryside looks a lot like Romania. Darn those plant creatures who hide in the Time Machine!
Somehow, Jack figures out that the local vampire nobles are actually Trancers, and he spends the next hour and a half being captured, escaping, looking for the resistance (called 'tunnel rats'), speaking to esoteric prophets, having sex with alternate-dimensional versions of beautiful scientists in his world, and all those other things that a hero in a super-low-budget straight-to-video flick must do.
Terri Ivens as Shaleen
and Jeff Moldovan as a tree.
This is yet another film produced by Charles Band, and no has ever accused him of not making enough sequels. Hence Trancers 4, Puppet Master 5, Oblivion 2: Backlash, and Dollman vs the Demonic Toys. When he gets a profitable idea, he latches on to it and sucks it dry like a leech. And the fact that this movie has a completely different concept than the other Trancers movies, and the vampires are identified as Trancers apparently only to preserve the title, is a pretty good indication that this is one idea that is getting low on blood.
In order to rejuvenate the series, Band hired Peter David to write Trancers 4 and 5, which were filmed consecutively in Romania. Peter David is a fan favorite comic book writer, who has taken such classic titles as the Hulk, Supergirl, and Aquaman in startling new directions. His comic books are filled with witty dialogue, eleventh-hour revelations, new twists on old themes, and some of the funniest jokes you'll ever read. It's too bad that virtually none of that translated into Trancers 4: Jack of Swords. There is no comfortable comic-book world to make in-jokes about here. It's sink-or-swim time, and the script to Trancers 4 has a concrete block tied around its neck.
That concrete block takes the form of the principal actors. What funny dialogue there is gets mercilessly chewed by the principals, and the leftovers are tossed to the supporting cast. The supporting cast then stomps it until dead. The rest of the dialogue doesn't need to be ruined; it's pretty bad to begin with. Granted, this is par for the course with the Trancers films, but we were hoping Mr. David would give this one the old college try and come up with a winner. No such luck.
As for the cast, let's just begin by quoting Thomerson, who mentions his former Trancers co-star Helen Hunt in the "making-of" documentary on the same tape. "Helen Hunt is on a series somewhere making a million dollars an hour, and I'm in Romania, doing this MOVIE!" There's a reason for that, Tim.
Clabe "Don't Call Me
Claby-Baby" Hartley as Caliban.
The rest of the actors look up to Thomerson. (Everyone has to have a dream.) Special "worst-of" mention to Jeff Muldovan, who delivers his few lines of dialogue with all the snappy panache of a 2x4. Muldovan is actually the stunt and fight coordinator for the film, so he can be excused. Clabe Hartley, however, had no such distractions to keep him from mangling the role of the prime villain, Calaban. We'll be seeing more of Hartley in the next film, entitled "Sudden Deth" (although the video documentary advertises it as "The Return of Calaban").
Another special 'For Shame' award goes to director David Nutter, who should know better than this. If his name looks familiar, it's because Nutter directed several episodes of the X-Files, in particular the fan favorite episode 'Humbug.' He also directed the pilot of Millenium, which is the next series from the X-Files creators.
Added to the Unsung Heroes list this week: Ion Albu and Jake Roberts, who played the Solonoid (the bug-eyed plant monster who wrecks Jack's time machine). When we saw the credits, we wondered why they needed two people to play a bug-eyed monster. Then we realized that there was one guy in the suit in the U.S., and another guy in the suit when they shot on location in Romania. Hey, we thought we detected a difference in the acting styles there! One guy roared "Arrrrruuuhruhruh!" and the other guy roared "Arrrrrrororororooooh!" Romanians must roar differently than Americans.
The Bottom Line: Trancers 4 was saved from a one-lava-lamp rating by some good looking women, a few (very few) funny jokes, and the fact that it's just so fascinatingly bad we just couldn't stop watching it.