Saturday, May 29, 2010

An Acute Case of Sequelitis: SCANNERS III / Audience 0

Please rise for the honorable judge Video Junkie. Sir, please hold your applause.
Be seated.
Court is now in session.
Counsel for the prosecution… Counsel for the… Bailiff? Would you please wake up the council for the prosecution?
After reading the case and in light of the mitigating circumstances herein, counsel for the prosecution will not be charged in contempt for court.
The charges against the defendant are as follows:
1 count of Criminal Neglect in the Use of a Concept Carried Over from a Previous Film.
1 count of Gratuitous Use of Thai Monastery Subplot.
1 count of Over-Editing an Amazing Stunt
1 count of Attempting to Avoid Exploitation Value.
Multiple counts of Comic Criminal Conduct.
Multiple counts of Clich├ęd Evil.
Multiple counts of Lame Scanner-Related Deaths
Multiple counts of Acting Unbecoming Even of a Direct-to-Video Sequel.

Counsel for the prosecution, your opening arguments…

Have you ever told someone about how cool and underrated a movie is based purely on 20 year-old recollections? I have. The tagline of the movie is “Get ready for the ultimate display of brain power” which is ironic as I certainly didn’t see any displayed in this movie. Even funnier, the production company is proudly displayed as "MaloFilm", which is freakin' hilarious as "malo" is Spanish for "bad". Now there's an inconvenient truth!

The film opens with a Christmas party in which an ethnically diverse group is chatting about those crazy-ass “scanners” that everyone is talking about. Drunk Santa Dude swears that they are real and after a round of “nu-uhhs”, he calls over a funny-lookin’ spud in a toupee so cheap and obvious, that I swear the ghosts of Burt Reynolds and William Shater suddenly appeared next to me on my sofa laughing their asses off. Anyway, Drunk Santa Dude badgers Alex (Steve Parrish) into showing off his mad scanner skillz, as if he’s going to bust out some David Blaine card trick. Instead of doing what a real 20-something with psychic powers would do and pulling a Scott Baio, popping a girl’s blouse open, he decides to psychically push Drunk Santa Dude through the hall door towards the wide-open balcony doors. You can see where this is headed… Drunk Duchebag Dude slaps Alex on the shoulder, snapping his concentration, causing Drunk Santa Dude to fly out the balcony doors and plummet to his crimson death.

Alex, inconsolable, flees to a Thai monastery where, apparently, scanners never have any problems. Cue Asian monastic flute music and epic shot of Alex climbing a hill to the monastery.

Cut to Alex’s foster sister, Helena (Liliana Komorowska), who is also a scanner. She can’t stand taking her scanner medicine and has lost another job because of it. Lucky for her (and unlucky for everyone else), her foster father (the ubiquitous Colin Fox) is in charge of R&D of the brand new EPH-3, a patch application (subtle and inconspicuous with its brushed aluminum and flashing LEDs).
Daddy warns her that it’s not ready for use, but she just can’t stand the voices in her head, which apparently occur even when there aren’t any people around, and sneaks a patch. Hocus pocus, presto changeo, Helena is suddenly fully accessorized, sporting snappy black dresses, immaculate hair, glamour make up and ray ban sunglasses, and you know what that means! She’s now eeeeeeevil! And you know what eeeeeeevil people do… take over the world! Muahahahahahaha!! *ahem*

Top Sure Signs That a Scanner is Eeeeeeevil:
1. Wears Ray-Ban Sunglasses
2. Over-Dresses in Fashionable Black (or, on special occasions, Jezebel Red)
3. Two Words: Trendy Hairdo
4. Plays Pop-Metal Way Too Loud
5. Grins Maniacally While Crushing Fruit in Hand
6. Becomes Sexually Aggressive
7. Prone to “Wacky” Humor, Even in Death
8. Makes Birds Explode if They Poop on Their Fashionable Black Attire

In order to achieve her goal of world domination, Helena decides that she’s going to humiliate her condescending boss (by using her scanner powers to make him dance and do a public striptease in front of an important client), kill her foster father after trying to seduce him in a hot-tub (says family friend as they are wheeling out the body: “what was he doing in the hot-tub at this hour? He hated that thing!”), take over his company (aha! The title of the movie! Oh wait, that’s kinda lame), and buy the TV network that her ex-boss was after and use her scanner abilities to control the minds of everyone on the planet by providing commentary on a football game and revealing her master plan to the masses after making a football player's head explode. Phew! Got all that? Ummmm… most badguys just try to rob Fort Knox and stuff. Of course her incredibly Machiavellian scheme is unraveled by Alex, who returns to save the world from his now evil sister.

In addition to a needlessly complex and incredibly silly plot for world domination, Helena decides she is going to get revenge on the doctor who runs a clinic for scanners, that is actually a facility in which he keeps scanners as his own personal lab-rats, torturing them for his own sadistic pleasure. After confronting the doctor, the doctor admonishes her for being a rotten kid with a wag of his finger. You’d think he’d know that she is exhibiting signs of eeeeeevilness, since he’s such an expert, but no he wags his finger until Helena who has clearly had enough makes his finger… explode. Yes, if you follow the logic, if a scanner can tap into a person’s nervous system and you can make their heads explode, you can make them dance, burn themselves with cigars, and cause their fingers to combust. Fair enough.

Once Helena detonates Dr. Braumann’s finger and subsequently his cranium, she finds the patients, opens a suitcase full of EPH-3 patches and launches into a “funny” info-mercial speech in which she tells them to “act now to receive this special offer”, etc. Honestly, it's a full-on Ron Popiel schpeil that goes on so long that it actually stops being annoying and starts being unintentionally funny. Wtf were they thinking while editing this? Once the rejects are all patched up, they suddenly develop wacky personalities and look as they just got back from a try-out for a Blues Brother’s cover band. Lemme tell ya, the scenes with “funny” scanners really start pushing this movie into a realm of badness that is ruled by the mighty TROLL 2 (1990). An example of a comic highlight is when Alex is in the hospital, after sustaining a concussion from falling off of a ten-story building onto a police car, and uses his monastic training to temporarily stop his heart in an effort to get away from an evil scanner nurse (yeah, you read that right). After being taken to a morgue where the coroner is listening to opera music while performing his gristly duties (someone’s been watching RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), Alex rises from the slab and says to the terrified coroner “can I use your phone?” to which the coroner stammers “is it a local call?” Wah-wah-wah... Man, talk about a looooong walk to get to that punchline!

While in Thailand Alex is visited by the aforementioned family friend who is attacked by Thai kickboxers being manipulated by one of the bad scanners (completely inconspicuous with his black suit, ray bans and blond hair that is pulled back to reveal his aluminum, flashing EPH patch). Naturally this leads to a scanner battle in the middle of a thai market in which the family friend gives his warning of Helena’s switch to the darkside before expiring. The evil scanner steals a tuk-tuk and before crashing, flips Alex the bird because there's nothing a good, Thai monk-wannabe scanner hates more than rude gestures! This scene must have seemed like a great idea at a time when a whole mess of direct to video martial arts movies were being shot in Asia on the cheap. It's even more amusing now that we have had real Thai action movies hit these shores in recent years, making our feeble gweilo attempts at fight scenes look even more misguided and sad.

Trust me, you will get really tired of seeing this.

In the final showdown, Alex battles Helena in a TV station that she has taken control of and instead of using his scanner abilities to simply remove the patch, they slam each other around the station until the patch actually falls off by itself. Helena realizing that she has done all this awful stuff (she screwed up the football game goddamit!), removes the scrunchy from her hair in shame.

Is there anything funnier than someone being telepathically killed in a revolving door? Pierre David thinks not.

The super cheesy final shot of Helena’s evil spirit cackling with glee while going in to the picture tube of the studio camera only hints at the no-doubt uncharted depths of absurdity that the follow up was to be. Apparently Pierre David had been courting the Canadian networks with his proposal for a SCANNERS television series and this film was to be the lead-in for it. One can only imagine how the pich-meetings must have sounded with David waxing poetic on his evil “funny” scanners on the small screen. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your appreciation of crap tv shows), it failed to get off the ground.

Amazingly this was shot back-to-back with SCANNERS II (1991), but feels like it was made years later. It shares none of the cast, none of the atmosphere, none of the story line and even the special effects are completely different and much more cartoonish. It also relies heavily on comedy and runs fast and loose with the premise as created by Cronenberg’s original. Christian Duguay returns as director and B.J. Nelson again scripted, but this feels so much more like cheap AIP Video sequel that should have had Sam Firstenberg attached to it. Particularly since we have a pretty decent chase scene and a really impressive motorcycle stunt that feels like it was totally cribbed from AIPs repertoire.

In absentia, Pierre David stands as the council for the defense…

Pierre David, in a recent interview, said that he was still very proud of his SCANNERS series and feels that it’s some of the best work he’s done. He went on to say that he actually felt his continuation of the mythos laid down in the original is superior to Cronenberg’s film! As evidence of this David refers to the fact that his scanners move their heads when using their powers, where as in Cronenberg’s film they simply stared at their victims! Pierre, mon ami, the subtlety boat has gone to sea, and you were not even on the dock. If only you had taken that decision to over-do and used it to crank up the action and gore instead of trying to down-play it and crank up the comedy and goofiness. Seriously, the underwater exploding head with the left-over Carter Wong inflatable prop? Pretty lame man.

The verdict will now be read...

The Court rules in favor of the prosecution! This film is guilty as charged and while that can be a good thing if you are the kind of person that delights in horrible sequels, it is no less guilty of the crimes that it has committed. It is herefore sentaced to be shelved in my video collection until such time as it is deemed worthy to be brought forth and publicly ridiculed again before a sofa of cynical movie buffs.

Oh Pierre David, we have not heard the last of you, I know. It took you three years and a lot of heartache, but your vision returned...

NYPD Scanners... NEXT!

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