Friday, June 25, 2010

An Acute Case of Sequelitis: SCANNER COP (1994)

Much like the megalomaniacal Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Pierre David returns to prove to the world that David Cronenberg was on the wrong track with SCANNERS (1981), and that it is he who holds the true vision! This time doing it from the comfort of his very own director’s chair... possibly with a small white-furred animal on his lap that he strokes while quietly chuckling with evil glee.

Presumably due to the lukewarm reviews of his cherished SCANNERS II (1991) and SCANNERS III (1992) sequels, executive producer extraordinaire Pierre David decided to drop his beloved executive producer credit and trade it in for a producer-director credit. Typically an executive producer handles some of the financing end of the filmmaking process, often it is a screen credit simply given to investors, and rarely do they get involved in all of the creative aspects of making the movie, though they definitely can have some say in it (casting choices such as the significant other are always popular). David clearly took his executive producer title to a whole new level, notoriously butting heads with Cronenberg on the production of SCANNERS and the direction that the film should take. After obtaining the rights to SCANNERS, Pierre David decided he would do SCANNERS right and created two sequels that were successful on the video market, but ummmm... not exactly overwhelmed with praise. This just wouldn't do! As the saying goes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

A young boy, Samuel (Daniel Quinn), is living in squalor with his scanner dad in a rented room. Their ephemerol pills have run out (ummm… what happened to the patch?) and the old man is flippin’ out. Apparently now when scanners go without their pills for a couple days they lose it completely and start hallucinating that baby faces are popping out of their foreheads! Yeah, sure, what the hell? I’ll buy that. Anyway, the cops show up and after a brief display of scanner power, dad gets blown away with a shotgun by the landlord who was unhappy with the volume of noise coming from the room. Remind me not to rent there! The kid, not too terribly distraught over the death of his loony pops, is rather casually adopted by Harrigan (Richard Grove), one of the cops who responded to the scene. After seeing the sadistic experiments being performed on patients at the local nuthouse, Harrigan decides not to leave him there and simply takes the kid home and keeps him, which would seem wildly unethical, if not totally illegal. I could have sworn that cops are supposed to take kids to the local Child Welfare Service, but hey, it’s Canada, anything could happen and honestly, where’s the fun in being cop if you can't kidnap children every now and then?

Flash forward 15 years later and Samuel is sportin' his LAPD blues (inspite of the fact that the city scape looks nothing like Los Angeles) and being given his first assignment on the police force. His presumably now legal, foster father Officer Harrigan is now Chief Harrigan, or actually since this is Canada posing as Los Angeles, he is Commander Harrigan. Uh huh, you Canadians can't fool me! The celebration is short-lived as we find that the police are smack in the middle of a wave of baffling cop killings. Apparently normal schmoes with clean rap sheets are spontaneously killing cops without provocation in random locations around the city. As we find out early on, the killers are being brainwashed and hallucinating that the officers are something from their deepest, darkest fears. For a simple newspaper vendor, his deepest fear is apparently a blinged-out rapper. A hospital intern’s deepest fear manifests itself as a zombie that looks a lot like John Carl Buechler. To each his own, I suppose. Hmmm... I guess this means that if I was brainwashed I would bludgeon a cop like a baby seal because I hallucinated that he looked like Glen Beck.

It’s not giving anything away to say that the evil masterminds behind the plot are Dr. Karl Glock (Richard Lynch), a medical man who had his license revoked for conducting drug-related “brain experiments” with teenagers at his cabin in the mountains (is that what we are calling it these days?). While performing a sting operation on the cabin, Harrigan’s partner is shot dead by Glock, so now Harrigan wants to nail that son of a bitch, while Glock wants revenge for having part of his skull shot off by Harrigan! Glock’s partner in this strangely circuitous revenge scheme is a phony psychic named Zena (Hilary Shepard) who is amusingly described by Brion James during his 15-second cameo as “an odd, yet attractive, brunette”. While Glock relaxes in his leather chair, Zena runs around kidnapping people in broad daylight, inconspicuous in her sexy black pleather outfits and goth make-up, utilizing her former talents as a department store perfume girl by spraying victims in the face with some sort of knockout drug. For some reason, this spray doesn't affect her at all, as we assume that she must have built up an immunity to it.

Pierre David approaches his subject matter with such sincerity that you’d think he was making a sequel to THE MIRACLE WORKER (1962). As much as I hate self-referential films that don’t take the genre seriously, this takes itself very seriously while keeping its genre elements at arm’s length. There will be no wallowing in exploitation staples here, no, no! It's almost like he's going for a PG-13 rating. David doles out the goods in little bits and pieces and keeps the whole “scanning” thing down to a minimum with the occasional whammy being put on people but generally stopping short of causing any sort of mayhem, much less combustion. Even then he typically only uses it for positive problem solving, such as stopping a car theft or the scene where Samuel clutches a computer monitor and scans a computer police sketch program to make the composite of Glock’s mug faster, infuriating the sketch artist admin in the process. One wonders why, if this is so easy to do, when Samuel needs the elevator during a mad dash to stop a brainwashed killer, why he doesn’t just use his scanner powers to interface with the elevator and bring it rapidly down to his level? There’s nothing more snicker-inducing than watching someone with earth-shattering telekinetic powers impatiently waiting for the lift. John Carl Buechler provides the FX work, which is mainly the hallucinatory monsters (except, possibly, for the rapper). That is not to say that there is no bloodshed, but it’s basically limited to one scene near the end where in order for his spirit to escape from hell, Samuel must make someone’s spirit-head explode. Seriously, why was this never made into the greatest video game ever?

The other thing that really keeps this from being as classic as the first three wildly different films is the fact that the top names, Richard Lynch and Brion James, are not given a whole hell of a lot to do. Sadly James is in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role and Lynch pretty much just sits around in a leather executives chair in a dark room laughing menacingly at police statements about how the killings are “unconnected” and such. On the other hand, there are some amazing moments of oddness that keep this flick consistently entertaining. Some examples:
- Scanners can now “speed read”, allowing Samuel to fly through a stack of criminal files while searching for the, at that point, unknown villain.
- Getting shot in the shoulder will land you in the local ICU, in critical condition, complete with an oxygen mask.
- If you need to commandeer a car in a hurry, it’s preferable to stand there and scan the owner, forcing them to hand you the keys, rather than just grabbing them and jumping in the car.
- Police detectives gather together and smoke cigars to neutralize offensive odors while investigating a crime scene with a decaying corpse.
- While scanners can put the whammy on computers, they can’t scan someone who has a metal plate in their head, but they can cause the skin over the plate to melt!

While this never soars to the apex of absurdity reached by SCANNERS III and, of course, still doesn’t hold a freakin’ candle to the original, David’s directorial effort is still reasonably entertaining. David would give up the director’s chair for his favorite position of “backseat driver” for the next and final installment, SCANNER COP II (1995).

1 Reactions:

  1. I loved the Scanners movies!!!
    I'm surprised that there haven't been more sequels over the years or are we due for one of those dreaded remakes!???
    Great blog!!!


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