Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Slipstream (UK, 1989)

(Mild spoilers ahead.) Not to be confused with Slipstream (1973 / a Canadian talks), Slipstream (2005) or Slipstream (2007 / trailer).
One must admit, this movie incorporates some pretty impressive landscape. A big budget, internationally filmed science fiction production produced by Gary Kurtz (27 Jul 1940 – 23 Sept 2018), the man who helped George Lucas birth the Star Wars franchise, Slipstream promptly slipped off the radar when it was released: a flop in Australia and the UK, it never even reached the cinemas in the US of Animosity, where it was only released on home media, and was a driving force behind Kurtz's subsequent bankruptcy. The last is perhaps the reason why the film has since slipped into the public domain, and can be found easily online and as old, one-dollar DVDs at thrift stores. (Our Slipstream came as a one-dollar double feature with the trashier and funnier anti-classic Creature [1985].)
Trailer to
The to-date last directorial effort of Steven Lisberger, whose best film (in accordance to a wasted life's low brow tastes) is probably the animated comedy Animalympics (1980 / trailer), his choice as director perhaps had to do with the most famous film that he directed: Disney's "classic", Tron (1989 / trailer). His directorial style, if one goes so far as to say he has one, is unobtrusiveness, and as such he does a competent job that is easy on the eye and has no notable or excessive flourishes — other than, perhaps, soaring shots of scenery, as befits a movie in which much flying occurs — but never sinks to the visual staleness of, say, most TV movies of the time. Thus, the film does move along at a pleasant pace and never truly drags — although, in all truth, were the landscapes not sometimes so gobsmack amazing and fitting for the somewhat contrived tale, some of the flight scenes would definitely overstay their welcome.
A western road-trip buddy flick in science-fiction clothing, Slipstream trades horses or cars for airplanes while keeping the basic concept of two mismatched individuals growing closer and growing personally as they travel on down the highway (or gallop across the plains) with someone in hot pursuit. But instead of down highways or across plains, in the semi-dystopian future of Slipstream — a time after the "Harmonic Convergence" caused by catastrophic climate change, where civilization and the world as we know has been obliterated* — their road journey is mostly by flying machines and down a massive wind current, the titular "Slipstream", that now blows across the world, a world in which humanity survives as best as it can in scattered settlements.
* It surely happened during the MAGA dictatorship that lies ahead currently.
Although we never see a larger town or small city in the film, there must at least one somewhere, for as the film opens we see what looks like a businessman, who inadvertently later attains the name of Byron (Bob Peck [23 Aug 1945 – 4 Apr 1999]) while on the run through a barren but visually impressive landscape, and as we all know business needs larger conglomerates of people to exploit in order to do business. In the airplane pursuing him: Will Tasker (Mark Hamill of Corvette Summer [1978 / trailer, with Dick Miler], Jess Franco's Night of the Eagles [1989 / trailer], Black Magic Woman [1991 / trailer], Sleepwalkers [1992], Time Runner [1993 / trailer], Village of the Damned [1995], and Laserhawk [1997 / trailer]) and Belitski (Kitty Aldridge), a duo that are either bounty hunters or representatives of the law as it exists in that world — the movie is never really clear on which. They eventually catch Byron, shooting a grappling hook through his arm and pulling him off a cliff at height that would kill you or me, but despite his crashing fall he survives unscathed and quoting what appears to be poetry but is in fact a famous tombstone inscription: "I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, put out my hand and touched the Face of God." And thus we gain an inkling of what is soon stated: the pleasant, passive and acquiescent Byron is not human. He is an android, and he is wanted for murder.
God is mentioned often in Slipstream because not only has much of the world turned to blind worship, as is common when times are hard (or Republicans are in charge), but the basic idea of what it is that makes humans human is a subliminal theme of the movie. Can an android achieve "humanity"? The question is never fully answered, but definitely tends towards a specific answer.
The buddy Slipstream film kicks in soon afterwards, when Tasker & Belitski stop off at an airstrip for refueling and dinner. It is there that the paths cross with dunderhead Matt Owens (Bill Paxton [17 May 1955 – 25 Feb 2017] of Mortuary [1983 / trailer], Near Dark [1987 / trailer], A Simple Plan [1998 / trailer], Brain Dead [1990 / trailer], Predator 2 [1990 / trailer], The Dark Backward [1991 / trailer], and, of course, the music video to the song Fish Heads [video below]), a character that can best be described as Hans Doofus. (Paxton channels the fun-loving side of kick-ass Private Hudson from Aliens [1986 / trailer] with Hans Solo's wardrobe to create an annoyingly airheaded, kill-reluctant and fun-happy frat boy.) Upon learning of the big reward on Byron's head, Hans Doofus robs Tasker & Belitski of their bounty and, instead of hightailing for the city to turn his purloined bounty in, flies further down the slipstream to his home. For diverse reasons, and with the kill-happy duo Tasker & Belitski always close behind, Hans Doofus decides to travel with Byron further down the slipstream, deeper into areas unknown, always through barren but visually impressive landscapes and ancient ruins, towards an alleged refuge populated by androids — and no matter where they go, or what they do, they never seem to have to pay or barter for anything. (Amazing.)
Starring and directed by Bill Paxton —
the music video to Barnes & Barnes' Fish Heads:
As already mentioned, and as to be expected of a buddy movie, over the course of the film the dissimilar duo survive diverse near-death adventures and grow closer, and as individuals, even as Tasker & Belitski leave a body-strewn path behind themselves as they follow in close pursuit. Perhaps less genre-typical, if not extremely forced, however, is the romantic spark — based on a shared dream of a life with a white-picket fenced house — that ignites between Belitski and Hans Doofus.
Along the way, big interludes occur, including at a religious cave settlement headed by the religiously blind Avatar (Krishna Pandit Bhanji, otherwise known as Sir Ben Kingsley of Species [1995 / trailer], Sexy Beast [2000 / trailer], BloodRayne [2005 / trailer], The Last Legion [2007 / trailer], Stonehearst Asylum [2014 / trailer] and Robot Overlords [2014 / trailer]) and, later, the far more refined underground settlement in a former museum led by Cornelius (F. Murray Abraham of The Ritz [1976 / trailer], The Name of the Rose [1986 / trailer], Last Action Hero [1993 / trailer], Surviving the Game [1994 / trailer], Mimic [1997 / trailer], Thir13en Ghosts [2001 / trailer], Blood Monkey [2007 / trailer], and The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014 / trailer]).
In what are basically glorified cameos, Ben Kingsley plays hammy and F. Murray Abraham plays it down, but neither are on screen long enough to register as anything more than the name that they were hired to be. Neither can be blamed for what the film is: an interesting failure that looks all its huge budget. Likewise, no blame deserves to be cast upon either Mark Hamill or Bob Peck, who both manage to inhabit their roles completely and make them believable. As Belitski, Kitty Aldridge has a bit more difficulty making her character or her development convincing; she achieves greater verisimilitude as a kill-happy bounty hunter than as suddenly emotionally attached love interest. 
The thespian mistake of the movie, however, is without doubt the usually dependable Bill Paxton as Hans Doofus, whose fun-loving idiocy is annoying and motivations continually questionable — and as he is arguably the main identification figure of the Slipstream, he is a major blow to the movie.
But regardless of the quality of the acting, the true flaw of the movie is its story, by Bill Bauer, and its script, by TV scribe Tony Kayden, whose limited feature-film screenplay output includes such generic fair as Out of Bounds (1986 / trailer) and When Justice Fails (1999 / trailer). The narrative may touch upon numerous interesting ideas, but also resorts to too many generic and unconvincing plot developments, starting with Hans Doofus' out-of-the-blue decision to steal Byron and the ease and idiocy of his decision to travel down the slipstream instead of hightailing for the reward on Byron's head.
And if Belitski's slow rejection of Tasker's kill-for-the-lord happiness is subtly conveyed, the sudden development of romantic feelings between her and Doofus is clumsy and unconvincing, especially since it comes a few scenes after she just helped slaughter all of Doofus' male friends from his hometown of Hell's Kitchen. Byron's later romantic interlude is perhaps handled better — the whole playing-cats-in-the-museum love scene is nevertheless an embarrassment — but the focus of his attention, Ariel (Eleanor David of Topsy-Turvy [1999 / trailer] and The King's Whore [1990 / trailer]), is never anything more than an obvious deus ex machina for the character and plot development of others. 
As for the ending, it is thrilling enough and ends happily for most of those it should, but let's be honest: while it might conceivable that androids will one day be built without kill-switches, no business in any capitalist-based society — and despite the fact that no money ever changes anyone's hands throughout the movie, one must assume that at least the city whence Byron comes functions on some form of fascist capitalism — would ever build an android (a consumer product, like a washing machine or electric toothbrush) that is indestructible and lasts forever. Built-in obsolescence or contrived durability is a given. Ending fail. Like Bill Paxton's entire acting turn as Hans Doofus.
For all its obvious big budget, Slipstream never manages to become a big movie or artistic success. It is watchable and seldom truly boring, but the movie does demand that one check in one's brain a bit too much for a movie of Slipstream's intended caliber. It isn't surprising that Slipstream failed as it did; what is surprising is that anyone would, as producer Gary Kurtz did, gamble everything they have on its success.
Full film:

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