In a titanium mining colony on Jupiter’s volcanic moon, Io, workers have been taking an illegal super-amphetamine to increase their output so they can earn overtime bonuses.
But after ten months of the stuff, they become psychotic and start to disconnect their air hoses or step out of airlocks or brandish knives – anything to get their bodies to explode and make a nice, suicidal splash.
A self-proclaimed space western, Outland is more of a blow-’em-up than a shoot-’em-up, featuring half a dozen brain or gut splatterings.
Of course, writer-director Peter Hyams intends Io to be a fantasy extension of our own drug-ridden, decadent and manic present-day Earth. He also wants Sean Connery, as space marshal William O’Neil, to function as the Last Angry Man in the universe.
He’s the only one who’s ever tried to stop the drug trade. The other marshals have all been cowed by the power of the conglomerates, represented here by the mining station’s manager, Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle).
Everyone compared Connery to Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952), but the analogy doesn’t hold.
Cooper was struggling to save his newly civilised town from the bad men who’d terrorised it in the past. But Connery should be striving to save the workers from themselves.
It would make more sense for him to start a drug education program than to immediately start mowing down the dealers. He never even tries to call in reinforcements from the nearest space station, which is only seventy hours away.
He thus seems as stupid as he is agile, nullifying the suspense.
Almost every detail of the plot is off. Even on a small moon, would the workers be sleeping in berths smaller than a roll-top desk? The pipeline workers in Alaska were more comfortably quartered.
And the “poignant” subplot about Connery’s troubled family life misfires: his wife is a cold fish and his kid looks cretinous. He’s better off without them.
Connery himself – though fitter than ever and still able to command an audience with his charisma – looks glum. Perhaps this great big bruin of a man knows that in a shoddy sideshow like this, he’s just another dancing bear.
Marshal William T. O’Niel
James B. Sikking