“Screamers” is a fun, fast-paced futuristic thriller with enough jolts per frame to keep even the most impatient action fan happy. Canadian helmer Christian Duguay, who directed the miniseries “Million Dollar Babies,” keeps the focus on the often-violent thrills ‘n’ spills throughout, and the result is an efficient sci-fi actioner with rarely a dull moment.
The pic, the most expensive production yet from Montreal’s Allegro Films, will likely do well with fans of the genre and should generate strong international interest as well. But some of the bloodier sequences, particularly the climactic firefight, may be too gory for mainstream auds.
Based on a 1952 story by legendary science-fiction scribe Philip K. Dick, the screenplay by Dan O’Bannon (“Alien”) and Miguel Tejada-Flores is built around the concept of deadly mechanical creatures called screamers, a race of automated , blade-wielding contraptions that slice and dice human bodies for fun.
Set in the year 2078 on the distant planet Sirius 6B, a place ravaged by nuclear warfare, the story kicks off with a bunch of commandos peering out from their bunker at an approaching soldier. The scene is set for the first appearance of the screamers, who come shooting along just under the ground and tear the poor soldier limb from limb and then pull him underground. The creatures live up to their moniker, making a high-pitched, screaming noise when they do their dirty work.
The commandos in the bunker are Alliance soldiers, and they’ve been in a bitter, drawn-out war with the NEBs for years now. The soldier who was chopped into pieces was carrying a message from the NEBs asking the Alliance to start peace negotiations.
Alliance commander Col. Joseph Hendricksson (Peter Weller) is contemplating this when a huge jet crash-lands outside the bunker. On board, they find a nuclear reactor set to make A-bombs and only one surviving crew member, Ace (Andy Lauer). Setting off across the desolate radiated landscape to meet with NEB leaders, Hendricksson and Ace come across a little boy and reluctantly agree to take him along for the trip.
They arrive in the NEB capital only to discover that the screamers have already wiped out most of the population. The only survivors are tough-guy soldier Becker (Roy Dupuis), his crazed, on-edge colleague Ross (Charles Powell) and Jessica (Jennifer Rubin), a sexy blackmarket entrepreneur. Becker and Ross kill the little boy, whom they know is a screamer, and everyone’s paranoia goes into overdrive, for it’s now clear the screamers can take different forms, everything from a little steel object to a reptile-like creature to human form.
Pic climaxes with a massive firefight against rows and rows of littleboy screamers who have occupied the Alliance bunker. There is a disturbing scene in which the killer kids are destroyed by a shower of heavy-weapon fire.
Weller is perfect as the deadpan, tough-as-nails commander, and he plays the part with relish. Quebec actor Dupuis, a major star in French Canada, has just the right blend of wackiness and macho posturing as Becker. The other thesps don’t have much room to do more than battle the screamers.
Duguay directs with an assured touch, making sure the film never strays from its action-packed course. The special effects are all first-rate, and production designer Perri Gorrara has created suitably eerie sets, notably the burnt-out cityscapes.