The Philadelphia Experiment

You get sucked up into that black hole, land on the battleship, and turn it off, okay?
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
Stewart Raffill
Starring: 
Michael Pare, Nancy Allen, Eric Christmas, Louise Latham
The Setup: 
Two guys get transported forward in time, have to get back.
Discussion: 

I don't know why I avoided this movie for so long--well I do know, I kept confusing it with that one with Matthew Broderick and a chimp, or whatever. Then there's also The Philadelphia Story, confusing and... I don't know what happened. Had I known it is exactly the kind of cheesy 80s sci-fi that I ADORE, I would have watched it much sooner, but even until the moment I popped it in the machine I was expecting it to star teenage boys who maybe had a cute pet alien or talking robot or something. So imagine my pleasant surprise to learn that it does boast: NANCY ALLEN! It's also directed by Stewart Raffill, director of enduring classics such as Ice Pirates, Mac and Me, and Tammy and the T-Rex.

Okay, so we have a text telling us that in 1943 the Navy was trying to find a technology that would render their ships invisible to radar. Apparently there are some out there who believe this is true. We're now in some office and--this is the kind of movie in which you're less than one minute in before you see THIS:

So for a second you're thinking "Wow, 80s dorks to the max!" but it turns out that we're supposed to be in 1943. We're in this dancehall with soldiers and the lovely ladies they're leaving behind, only... well, the budget is LOW. And it looks like all they could really afford was the cafeteria of the local senior center, which they decorated as best they could. We have some introduction to Michael Pare as David and his pal jimmy, and their respective ladies, all trying to act "40s." The next day they're sent to this big battleship and we get a fairly good sequence in which they go over a big bridge, then see the fateful ship in the distance, go through a small town, then finally end up at the waterfront with the ship. They go out into the harbor, then start activating their high-tech thingamabob, that has a bunch of cool glass fuses or whatever those things are. So they activate the whooseywhatsit and it renders the ship invisible to radar! It also renders the ship just plain invisible, and wouldn't you know, throws it through a time tunnel. David and Jimmy decide the best thing would be to jump overboard, hurtling them through the time tunnel. I'm sure you'll be as delighted as I to discover that this movie hails from that point in history when a time tunnel looks like THIS:

in the time tunnel they come across this giant disc with buildings on one side and who knows what on the other. Then they have a few flashes where they're first on the battleship then on this small military base, and you have NO idea what is going on. When everything stabilizes, they're in a desert. For a while I thought that the thing had vaporized the entire city of Philadelphia and they were in the spot where it used to be, but no, it takes a while, but let's just cut to the chase: They're sent forward in time to 1984, when the military was conducting another experiment like theirs, and sent a whole military base back. The guys walk out of the desert, and are menaced by a helicopter, something they have never seen the likes of before. They run straight into an electric fence, which causes it to explode, shooting a transformer into the air which, as fate would have it, just happens to directly hit the helicopter, which crashes and explodes. Wow, WHAT a chain of events! I think you'll have to admit that things just happen that way sometimes. And for these guys--eventful day, huh?

Anyway, they soon come upon this gas station wher they encounter Nancy Allen, who has apparently driven out all that way only to learn that the job she expected is no longer waiting. Then Jimmy's hand starts glowing, which [for some reason] necessitates his shoving it into his crotch like he REALLY has to pee, and short-circuiting some nearby video games. The owner of the establishment immediately whips out a GUN to demand that this young whippersnapper face up to the damage he's caused! Then David whips out his gun and is going to steal the car from Alison [that's Nancy], but he demands that she go with them and drive. Then as they're going by these power lines, huge rays of lightning hit the car, and they crash. Can't these guys catch a break?

So David is thrown in jail, where we divert to a very, uh, RANDOM scene in which he and a drag queen exchange smoldering looks and flirtatious banter in UNCOMFORTABLE close-ups. Alison decides not to press charges against the two because... she kind of likes them! She's just a simple, open-hearted woman like that, you see.

So they repair to the hospital, where Jimmy is. He starts to have kind of an attack, coinciding with this massive lightning storm outside, as there's a hilarious moment as a nurse is bent over him, administering oxygen, when the window shatters and a huge thing of wooden blinds is dumped ON HER HEAD, and she just keeps on administering that oxygen without a blink! She is DEDICATED TO THE HELPING PROFESSION. That moment is so amusing it appears in the trailer. A few seconds later, Jimmy full-on vanishes in a bunch of energy. David worries--could that happen to me?

So it would seem that a massive sort of black hole-type thing has opened up in the sky and is sucking everything in. Only, it goes on for quite a while--he rest of the movie, in fact--without ever really doing much damage or causing anything more than mild inconvenience. It's just kind of an annoyance black hole. I'm sure you've dealt with those on more than one occasion--hell, we all have. Turns out the rest of the movie is filmed during really awful winter weather, causing me, every so often, so say "Oh right, the black hole."

Speaking of black holes, let's turn our attention to Nancy Allen. Now, I love Nancy--she is awesome, if only because she was Mrs. Brian De Palma for a while, and she was in some of his movies. And she has a certain zestiness. However, her acting is always sketchy at best and it is downright horrendous here. Not that it stands out among the generally wretched quality of the acting, but essentially you're just sitting there watching her think about how long she has to wait before spouting out her next line. So after David sees Ronald Reagan on TV and assumes it must be a movie because that guy is an actor--political commentary IN YOUR FACE--and then we have an awesome 80s song called "Underneath the Moonlight," and then something that stops the movie cold.

You see, they go visit Louise Latham as the older version of David's girlfriend from back in the day. I'm looking at Latham like "WHO is that?" and a little research reveals--she was Marnie's mom, in the Hitchcock film! But anyway, she throws the entire film off because suddenly on screen is someone who can ACT! It really is quite noticable, and it's quite jarring against everyone else. Anyway, also hangin' out is Jimmy, who returned back to the 40s after his zapping adventure and tried his best to forget the whole thing.

SPOILERS > > >
So Jimmy isn't keen to revisit the experience, which bums out David. Alison tells him "You didn't go back [to the 40s, like Jimmy]. What happened to him is not gonna happen to you," and it's like, Uh, how do YOU know? What, you were trying to get a job as a hostess at a used car dealership or whatever, and now suddenly you're an expert on quantum mechanics? I don't know, but frankly I'm beginning to suspect she has an AGENDA.

Then we have a fairly good car chase through a mountaintop vinyard, captured by helicopter. It's pretty cool, I have to give them that. then they're caught, then they escape, and Nancy finally makes her agenda clear: "We could go away somewhere." Ah ha, so she doesn't want him to go back to his time at all. Some friend. You know, if you love someone propelled 40 years into the future, set them free, is what I say.

Well, luckily that giant sucking black hole that's ripping the cosmos apart hasn't done more than cause a few scratches and minor property damage, affording these people time to work out their personal problems! By the way, they've shot a camera up into the giant anus in the sky as they see inside a) the army base and the land it's on, still a'spinnin' around like a big 'ol dime, and b) the battleship. Then AT LAST the moment we've been waiting for, when someone utters the phrase "Space-Time Continuum!" Which, like, I can't go a DAY without saying.

Anyway, here's the "plan:" They're going to shoot David up into the harmless black hole, he's going to AVOID the giant spinning disc the size of a military base, LAND on the battleship, and turn the big machine off, which is something he could have done in the first place if he'd really put the effort in [we saw him try and choose not to proceed, the lazy fucktard]. This might leave you with two questions: 1) How are they going to shoot him up into that hole? In some sort of space capsule? And 2) How is he going to land on the ship? Well the answers just might be dumber than you think! After an emotional goodbye to Alison [a little jarring given their total dearth of chemistry], we find that the plan is to drive a jeep under the vortex-thing, and at a certain point upen up the sunroof, at which point David [but not the driver] is sucked straight up into the black hole without any kind of protective enclosure of any kind. You know, why overcomplicate things? If he gets smashed to pulp from all the other debris flying into the black hole at the same time, well, they'll just get someone else, right? What I really wanted to see is how he's going to get on that ship, since it's just whirling around in the time tunnel. But you know how he does it? He's flying through space [no need for an oxygen tank, btw] and then, in the next edit, suddenly he's ON the ship! Oh, THAT'S how they're gonna do it!

Well which is cooler, simply flicking the "OFF" switch, or smashing the whole thing to pieces with an axe? If you guessed Axe, you're right! David smashes all the glass tubes in cool slo-mo, then jumps over the side--to be with Alison! Although leaving the 40s for the 80s... I'm not sure any of us would make that decision, although you have to admit that he'd be able to BE WITNESS to the career arcs of Kim Wilde and Kajagoogoo.

So the ship appears again in Philadelphia harbor, back in the 40s, only the guys on it have melted INTO the decks, which is kind of a cool visual, sense-making be damned. Because we know that Jimmy went back--in fact, David just SAW him on the deck when he went back--but we know Jimmy ended up fine. Best not look to this film for too much scientific verisimilitude.
< < < SPOILERS END

Well, it was fun in that 80s cheap sci-fi way. And it has Nancy Allen. And it has time travel. So it hits several sweet spots, although overall it's just not as great as one would hope. There's just too many periods that seem only tangentially-related to what you want to see, like the long attempt at emotion when David tries to connect with the now-older Jimmy, or attempts to convince us that David and Alison have some sort of relationship although they have all the chemistry of a Tiffany's bag and a pile of mud, but still, I suspect expectations are low when you're renting The Philadelphia Experiment.

The menu here shows Anchor Bay's typical fan-centered love in bringing together two of the coolest elements of the film, the animation of the title and this graphic of the ineffective vortex rendered in green early computer lines against a black grid. Fun! And fun is what you're in for if you get this! Just don't expect THAT much fun.

Should you watch it: 

If you love this kind of 80s sci-fi.