The low-budget Trancers blithely steals ideas and images from the two best science-fiction films of the previous five years – Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) – and dialogue from Dragnet (1951 – 1959).
It adds comic book casualness and parody and – amazingly – it all holds together as a B-movie pleasure.
Trancers begins in the future – 2247 to be exact. Harrison Ford-clone Tim Thomerson plays a vengeful homicide cop called Jack Deth – a snarling neanderthal with slicked-back hair who likes to scuba dive through the sunken ruins of post-earthquake Los Angeles.
His other hobby is hunting down de-personalised zombie-like death cultists called “trancers”.
Deth’s boss mutters, “He was a good cop till a trancer killed his wife”.
Utilising a “time drug”, Deth pursues the head trancer (Martin Whistler) “down the line” to LA in December 1985 to prevent him from revising the future. Complicating Deth’s mission is the fact that the diabolical Whistler (Michael Stefani) has stepped into the identity of a police lieutenant (you can only travel “down the line” through the bodies of your ancestors).
Deth’s 23rd-century boss also turns up, in the body of a snappy little girl.
Deth teams up with fetching blonde Santa’s assistant, Leena (Helen Hunt) who is mildly taken back when Deth explains his familiarity with a particular downtown corner. “I used to swim around here”, he muses.
Aided by Deth’s nifty time-stopping wristwatch, they alternately chase and flee from ‘Lieutenant Weisling’ through a gauntlet of choice Los Angeles settings: a punk bar, a tanning salon, and a skid row sing-along.
The script keeps springing oddball surprises and the film’s tongue-in-cheek toughness never falters. In its own zany, purposefully corny style, Trancers is a pleasant surprise.
Martin Whistler/Lieutenant Weisling
Art La Fleur
Mrs Santa Claus
Minnie Summers Lindsey
Drunken Wise Man
Dapper Old Man
Jerry the Punk