A tyrant on a quest for immortality on a distant planet meets his scantily clad female match in “Heavy Metal 2000,” an R-rated animated feature that opts for snappy pacing over originality. Self-selecting audiences should warm to this trash-metal space adventure, which can be viewed as a sparer “Gladiator” set in the distant future, with a curvaceous, revenge-bent babe in the Russell Crowe part and the fate of the known universe in the balance rather than “just” Rome. Simultaneously New Agey and snide, pic will rely on whether the hybrid genre’s fan base is happy with just the soundtrack album and computer game or craves the bigscreen experience to boot.
Pic, which preemed in South Korea (in January) and France (in April) as “Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2,” is being sneaked nationwide at midnight shows in the U.S., where it is also slated to air on the Encore movie channel.
The eternally popular 1981 “Heavy Metal: The Movie” (reissued in a remastered version in 1996 by Col TriStar Home Video) was made up of 11 free-standing episodes; current venture is one coherent, if derivative, story, bracketed by narration from a character whose identity is revealed in the final reel. (For the record, what the English-speaking world knows as “Heavy Metal” actually began in France as the adult illustrated fantasy magazine Metal Hurlant — literally, Shrieking Metal. This was picked up for translation and expansion by the National Lampoon group in the U.S.)
Ordinary space crewman Tyler (voiced by Michael Ironside) is on hand when a colleague drills into a meteor and finds a glowing rectangular crystal, not unlike the shard of Kryptonite that spells bad news for Superman. Legend says it’s the key to immortality, but with the unfortunate side effect of rendering whoever touches it insane. It sure works fast: Tyler drills his colleague to bits, then blows away most of the crew, except for pilots Lambert (Brady Moffatt) and Germain St. Germain (Pierre Kohn).
The acronym F.A.K.K. — for Federation Assigned Ketogenic Killzone, “an extreme biohazard to all carbon-based life” — is meant to scare off deep-space travelers. An Eden-like planet called, uh, Eden has had itself classified F.A.K.K. to dissuade trespassers. But crazed Tyler shows up to destroy the idyllic community, leaving statuesque Julie (Julie Strain Eastman) to see her dad get creamed in an unfair battle and her schoolteacher-with-erect-nipples sister Kerrie (Sonja Ball) kidnapped for nefarious purposes.
In a permanent bad mood, Julie renames herself F.A.K.K and flies off on her own F.A.K.K.-finding mission with St. Germain’s help. A kick-ass, can-do, hard-talking major babe out to revenge her decimated planet, Julie catches up with Tyler and shoots him in animated slow motion — only to watch him drink a special liquid and heal immediately.
Gobs of action, terse amusing dialogue and giant lizard gladiators figure in the subsequent chase as Julie determines to eliminate Tyler and save the universe. Milling around in the plot is the cute Zeek (Rick Jones), a “talking rock” who looks like a cross between the Michelin tire man and the dancing mushrooms in the original “Fantasia.” He works for wise man Odin (Billy Idol) and is smitten with Julie.
Julie, voiced by and based on the real-life curves of six-foot-one-inch-tall B-movie goddess Strain (who’s apparently added “Eastman” to her name for this project), does Jessica Rabbit’s lament one better: She is bad, in addition to being “drawn that way.” For the record, Strain is also the scripter-helmer of “Lingerie Kickboxer” (1998) and “Vampire Child” (1999), as well as the real-life spouse of Kevin Eastman, co-author of the illustrated fantasy novel on which script is based. Eastman also co-created “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Power-mad and vain, with a tendency to leave carnage in his wake, Tyler makes a hissable villain in Ironside’s voice performance.
In its mostly successful mission to create distinct worlds, the animation (particularly the backgrounds) owes a debt to everything from surrealist painter Yves Tanguy to “Total Recall,” “Dune” and the Stargate sequence in “2001.” Fans of comic-book art maestro Simon Bisley (“Judge Dredd”), whose preliminary artwork for the pic proved too elaborate to animate faithfully, may find what’s left of his creations a bit too manga-fied. Genre specialists will also note that Julie and Kerrie’s mammary orbs are less pneumatic than those on display in “Heavy Metal: The Movie.”
Driving score of heavy metal tunes penned for this opus will probably please the target demographic, but sounds awfully late-20th-century for a movie set in the distant future. Direction is credited jointly to Michel Lemire, of Montreal’s Cinegroupe Animation, and Michael Coldewey, of Munich’s Trixter Studios.