Space Truckers

Amiable latenight trash features name actors --- led by a game Dennis Hopper --- in a rollicking spoof of both sci-fi and "They Drive by Night" genres. The blend doesn't always work, but cast has such a blast against its low-tech futuristic backdrops, "Space Truckers" works anyway.

With:
John Canyon - Dennis Hopper Mike Pucci - Stephen Dorff Cindy - Debi Mazar Macanudo - Charles Dance Keller - George Wendt Saggs - Shane Rimmer Mr. Zesty - Bird Sweeney

Amiable latenight trash features name actors — led by a game Dennis Hopper — in a rollicking spoof of both sci-fi and “They Drive by Night” genres. The blend doesn’t always work (how many contempo viewers have ever seen a rig-haulin’ movie, anyway?), but cast has such a blast against its low-tech futuristic backdrops, “Space Truckers” works anyway. Irish-lensed production may be too campy for easy marketing (and Stephen Dorff’s public badmouthing of “Truckers” won’t help), but it stands a chance at weekend biz in the ‘burbs, followed by a prolonged vid-cult orbit.

An unusually relaxed Hopper toplines as John Canyon (the name sounds like a funny-pages nod), a veteran freight pilot who, in the year 2197, finds his independent ways increasingly cramped by corruption and dangerous new technology. His latest trouble begins while attempting to deliver a batch of “square” pigs — animals genetically bred for efficient shipping — to a faraway station. Seems the joint is run by a crooked labor boss (“Cheers” grad George Wendt), who rips off Canyon’s profits.

In protest, the rocket jockey grabs his sometime girlfriend Cindy (Debi Mazar, unflappable as usual), who pours java at the rowdy interstellar truck stop, and apprentice pilot Mike Pucci (Dorff) — eager, but wet behind the ears — for an impromptu indie run to Earth.

Problem is, Canyon and company don’t know what cargo they’re carrying for their supposedly easy dollars. Sure, they’ve been told it’s a load of sex toys, but when waylaid by evil space pirates, they find out different. The galactic buccaneers are led by Capt. Macanudo (Charles Dance), an engineering wizard who’s turned himself into some sort of low-rent Borg: part machine, part ham actor.

When the no-good captain tries to get into their cargo hold, he unleashes a torrent of murderous “biomechanical warriors,” or BMWs — actually tall women in Robocop outfits — on the crew. These deadly creations are aimed at Earth, as part of a plan by super-capitalist Saggs (Shane Rimmer) to rule the planet. You get the idea.

Obviously, the plot isn’t to be taken seriously, and many of the effects are strictly of the cheeseball midnight madness variety. Still, the mid-budget pic boasts a number of elaborate set pieces, led by the tacky coffee-shop set, a rotating cylinder that looks like “2001” with a C&W twist. “Re-Animator” helmer Stuart Gordon’s pic revels in bad taste, peaking early with Wendt’s character getting stuck in a broken portal and then sucked, ass-first, into space.

Another highlight is Macanudo’s attempt to mate with the eye-rolling Cindy, who has gallantly offered to save her friends: He tries, but keeps failing, to “start” himself like an out-of-gas lawnmower. Elsewhere, some heat is generated when our trio’s jalopy loses its air-conditioning, causing Dorff and Mazar to strip down to their skivvies — and to notice each other in a big way, much to Canyon’s dismay.

Any hints at sex or violence, however, are kept light by cartoony tone, and the tale manages to look fresh, despite its purposeful use of cliches dating back to “Flash Gordon” and beyond. Irish exteriors — when the threesome finally lands on Earth — are particularly arresting. Music score, heavy on country-rock ditties, could have been sharper, but other tech credits are good, or as good as they need to be for this kind of goofy fun.

Space Truckers

U.S.-Irish

Production: A Goldcrest presentation of a Pachyderm/Peter Newman/Interal Prods. production, in association with Mary Breen-Farrelly Prods., and with support from Investment Incentives for the Irish Film Industry. (International sales: Goldcrest Films Intl.) Produced by Peter Newman, Greg Johnson, Ted Mann, Stuart Gordon, Mary Breen-Farrelly. Executive producers, Guy Collins, Stephen Kay. Co-producer, Morgan O'Sullivan. Directed by Stuart Gordon; Screenplay, Tedd Mann, based on a story by Gordon, Mann.

Crew: Camera (color), Mac Ahlberg; editor, John Victor Smith; music, Colin Towns; production design, Simon Murton; art direction, Simon Lamont; set decoration, Malcolm Stone; costumes, John and Ann Bloomfield; sound (Dolby), Glenn Freemantle; special f/x, Brian Johnson, Paul Gentry; associate producers, Mary Louise Queally, Heidi Leavitt; assistant director, Charles Rotherham. Casting Heidi Leavitt. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Oct. 9, 1997. (Also in Sundance, Sitges film festivals.) Running time: 96 MIN.

With: John Canyon - Dennis Hopper Mike Pucci - Stephen Dorff Cindy - Debi Mazar Macanudo - Charles Dance Keller - George Wendt Saggs - Shane Rimmer Mr. Zesty - Bird SweeneyWith: Vernon Wells, Barbara Crampton, Denis Akiyama, Sandra Dickinson, Sean Lawler, Graeme Wilkinson, Dave Buffy, Billy Clark, Pat Laffan, Sylvan Baker.

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