There is this kind of insta-store of closeout DVDs down the street from me, where I was reminded of the existence of this film. As soon as I read the back of the box and saw Cheryl Ladd’s picture in her future getup, I knew I had to watch it immediately, but found to my horror that Netflix doesn’t carry it! So naturally I had to rush back to the store in the desperate hope that someone hadn’t bought the last copy in the mad rush of demand for this film that I’m sure you’ve read about in The New Yorker. Luckily, I secured a copy. This is exactly how the collection of movies I actually own ends up being filled with such stinkeroos.
We open with a 747 flying through clouds. We then dissolve to the interior, where we see that this is one of those planes with a spiral staircase. I want to fly in one of those at least once in my life, but I think that time is past. This is Transuniversal Airlines [yes, their flights span the UNIVERSE!] flight 35, which soon finds itself in the same airspace as another flight, and has a mid-air collision. I was SURE we were going to learn that the flight they hit was themselves coming back from the future, but no, it’s soon revealed there actually was another plane. The co-pilot goes out to… do something… and gapes at where the passengers should be. Only the movie doesn’t show us what he sees. He comes back in and shouts “They’re dead! They’re all dead!” and then the plane crashes. The crash is accomplished by blowing up several interiors of the plane, then blowing up a still model of a plane that is obviously resting motionless on the ground. Then the title comes right ATCHA! Which is when you know exactly what this movie is going to be all about.
Kris Kristofferson shows up as Bill Smith, tough dude who barks angrily at everyone regardless of whether they deserve it, and is in charge of investigating the crash. He soon ends up in a hangar where he spies Cheryl Ladd in a smart grey dress sifting through the wreckage. I assumed she was some rival researcher deployed by the FAA or something, which made it seem awful rude and sexist when Bill sees the only woman present and barks “Hey! How ‘bout some coffee?” But I guess she’s dressed like a stewardess. Anyway, she runs away, but returns a second later to bring coffee to the whole group upstairs, while Bill is listening to the flight recording, prompting him to bark “Dammit! I’m listening!” But he is then transfixed by her, and the meeting is very publicly interrupted for over a minute as he gapes at her while she serves coffee around the table. Then they get back to listening to the tape, hear the co-pilot say “They’re all dead, etc.” and, after hearing the sound of the crash, all close their eyes for a moment in the universal movie language for “deep sadness.”
They go down to the big gay autopsy room—they rented a college gymnasium with GIANT RAINBOW BALLOON BANNERS running across—where Bill is informed that all of the digital watches found on the plane are now—running backwards! And the best part of this is that the movie obviously just shot footage of a watch in someone’s hand, and ran it backwards. LOVE IT. Also present at the crash scene is Dr. Arnold Mayer, a physicist who takes an interest in plane crashes, and somehow gains admittance to disaster scenes? I guess. He and Bill meet, where Mayer drops all sorts of superior insinuations that not all is as it seems here. Bill also has a hunky assistant in Tom, who is sort of a Joe Piscopo type. He just hangs around but does nothing for the story.
Okay, now it is later and I am on THE most cramped flight in human history [Delta, be warned], and, much as I love writing reviews while traveling [and this is the perfect movie for the situation], today has been quite inauspicious. For one, the newsstand I grabbed a newspaper at was selling yesterday’s paper, which I only discovered at the gate. I am also squished against the window by the adult version of Russell, seriously offering me less room to move than the average coffin. And only four hours left to go!
So where were we? Bill gives a press conference where he is needled by Meyer about finding unusual phenomena but not reporting it, and later Bill attends a speech Meyer is giving where he speculates that people in the future will be traveling in time all the time, and might create problems with paradoxes.
Then Bill is going down this escalator, when Cheryl Ladd shows up right behind him. I might as well tell you right now that her name is Louise Baltimore. Yeah. You can clearly see it’s one of those names where they wanted to use the name of a city to create a “cool” name, but found most of the cool city names have already been used. Anyway, the escalator suddenly jerks to a stop, leading Louise to turn to Bill and say “Well, we could be stuck here for hours,” despite the fact that no, they could just walk off at any time, as is clearly demonstrated by the women behind them, who just walk off. That line is one of the highlights of the film—and you haven’t heard the last of it!
So Louise comes on to Bill really strong, and he falls for it, even jokingly holding his hand over her ass as though he wants to grab it on her way out. By now we have discerned that she is from the future, and has returned to get something, which makes it a bit odd that the ONLY way she seems to think to go about this is by seducing Bill. They’re stewardess sluts from the future! It’s perfectly logical. She and Bill have vigorous 80s sex, although afterward Louise’s hair remains perfectly coiffed. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, please understand that her hair is quite large—and we haven’t even seen her future ‘do yet. She also chain-smokes, which Bill tells her is too much. Apparently there is some line in here explaining that the air is so polluted in the future, they have to smoke in the past in order to make the air foul enough to breathe. Anyway, Bill has fallen for her hard, telling her, after they screw, “It’s been so long since I’ve enjoyed myself… been swept away.” When he falls asleep, she cancels his 6:30am wake-up call, and in the morning, begs him to stay telling him he works so hard he’s killing himself [she knows this after one night of nothing but fucking], and tells him, after one night, to quit his job and run away with her. He says he can’t right now, but when this case is over he WILL quit and run away with her! My life is so boring. I hardly ever plan to run away with someone I barely know and just had sex with. Anyway, when Bill says they’ll talk about it that night, Louise haughtily says “I may not be here tonight!” Well, I’m sure you can guess how much a wild spirit like Bill [who is just the common Kristofferson ‘tough guy’ persona] likes ultimatums. He walks out, then goes back a second later—and she’s GONE!
So Bill goes searching through the wreckage, and we have the old cliché of our hero finding the one crucial piece of whatever that all the hundreds of people combing through the wreckage overlooked. It’s this little thing, and he clicks it together, causing it to shoots laser beams at him and knock him out. Then this huge time portal opens up—basically a sphere of blue light—and out comes future Louise, with her posse of time-traveling stewardesses. Louise also has her FUTURE HAIR, which is shellacked up atop her head in this kind of back-to-front fan shape. Look at the pictures, they can explain it better than words can. She tells Bill something, I forget what, despite the fact that doing it might alter the past and create a “paradox,” which in turn might create a “timequake,” which sends damaging ripples forward through time. Interestingly, the idea of the timequake also shows up in the Ray Bradbury adaptation [and modern bad movie classic] A Sound of Thunder, where ripples from changed events in the past send changes rocking through the future. I suspect the story this is adapted from might have nicked the idea from the Bradbury story.
Anyway, we return with Louise to the future! There we meet Louise’s sassy robot—surely one of the distant descendants of C-3PO—here named Sherman. He is played by Robert Joy, who luckily didn’t kill himself after this film, as I would have done, as he is now more successful as an actor than ever. He looks very odd, however, and it’s a little difficult to tell why at first, but eventually you realize that he is all metallic, but has fully human, wet-looking, droopy eyes. They just pasted a bunch of metallic stuff to the actor’s face, which bends and twists as he moves his face—it’s an attempt, but it doesn’t really work, and I found the guy quite disconcerting to look at. He also seems to be coded as Louise gay friend, as he makes sassy comments and later goes on to coach her on her love life [“Go to him!”].
Anyway, Louise got back the stunner, that’s the thing that zapped Bill, but he still has the initiator, which is a part that fits inside. This causes a paradox, and they soon experience a minor timequake, which basically just causes everything to shake a lot, like an earthquake. Which, of course, is ridiculous, as is the idea that they could somehow see it coming. But whatever! I don’t think one should rely on this film for scientific information. In here we find out that Louise and her lovely ladies are “the best at what they do,” although what they do is not entirely clear to me, but we’ll get to that. First, Laura makes kissy noises at her parrot, saying “Polly want a chemical-free sterilized cracker?” See, you know I’m not making this shit up because I COULD NOT POSSIBLY MAKE SHIT LIKE THAT UP.
Ok, so what does Louise and her crack team of time-traveling stewardesses do? Apparently—and I am not at all clear on this—they go onto planes that are about to crash and pull all the people off, so they can have full and meaningful lives in the future, then, when they’re dead [but still walking, please don’t ask me] they put them back on the plane and it crashes. Apparently they do this purely out of the good of their hearts. They’re some nice folks in the future! So they open the time portal, and, surprise, the rear of a plane juts out of it. The Time-Stewardesses [or Future Flight Attendants? FFAs?] get on, and walk around doing stewardess things—which cracks me up, because we are supposed to believe that the REAL flight’s stewardesses just DON’T NOTICE when three NEW stewardesses appear mid-flight. And is it just me, or is one of them a man in drag? One hardly has time to discern before a hot terrorist [from the time in human history when terrorists would wear turtlenecks under jackets and have mustaches] gets up and holds a gun to someone’s head. One of the FFAs goes up to him and gets shot, dropping the stunner, which causes Louise to laser-zap the guy right in front of all the late-80s passengers! Then they take all the passengers off, and many of them are amazed to see their near-dead doubles getting ON as they get off. Then Louise has to go back and get the stunner, or it’ll cause a mega-paradox, but there’s no time! She’s about to get it, when a young boy starts talking to her. She tells him to chill and tranqs him. Then—the plane’s about to blow! They send it back to the past just as it explodes, and Louise and a friend jump off just in time—somehow seamlessly passing through the back hull of the plane as though it were air—and it explodes! Please don’t trouble yourself—none of it makes the slightest bit of sense to me, either.
Anyway, so Louise goes to see the council of elders [there’s always some council of elders], including this one who is supposed to have this pink skin stitched to her face—seriously, there were TEN shots I marked as possible illustrations for this review, where often I’m lucky to get four. There’s just THAT many crazy visuals here. One of the other elders is just a brain in a tube of water—you kind of have to admire how this movie tries to bring these sci-fi visions to life, despite having a budget that wouldn’t biggie size a super-value meal. Anyway, Louise now has to go back to the past, to try to get the stunner, but first she has a heart-to-heart with Sherman the big gay robot, who advises her on her chances with Bill by saying “But you’re different! You have FEELINGS!” See, I told you he was her gay best friend. We know this for sure when he advises her to “Take him to dinner. Somewhere nice.” I know there is footage somewhere of Sherman saying “Oooh Girl, that outfit is FIERCE! You’re going to have him drooling all over your black satin pumps!” Anyway, they zap her back to the moment where she serves coffee, and we get to hear Bill bark at her because he’s listening again. Then we have a repeat of the scene on the escalator—yes, the FULL scene, with NO edits—including Louise saying they’ll be “stuck there forever,” even as the other girls just walk off. Then we get to see a new scene, them having dinner, before the hotel fuck-fest we saw earlier. PLEASE NOTE [around 1:06] that Louise has one hairdo, walks into the restaurant, where she suddenly has a BRAND NEW hairdo, then reverts to the old hairdo upon leaving the restaurant. She smokes while eating, leading Bill to tell her “Louise, you gotta quit that tobacco—it’s ruining your brain!” They go back, and have the same fuck fest and morning talk we saw before—again, a repeat of the WHOLE SCENE—and this is about the time you’re starting to think “Wait a minute, so she’s prostituting herself to save the future?” So she makes her ultimatums, he walks out, and now we see what happened [despite already knowing and not needing to see it]: she said “Sherman, send the gate!” and a time portal opens up, and she jumps through it, and here comes another amazing moment in a movie full of ‘em: HER STREWN CLOTHES ARE SUCKED INTO THE TIME PORTAL BEHIND HER. Yes, they just fly off the chair and into the time portal. Un-fucking-believable. So she shows up in the future wearing just a low-buttoned men’s shirt, and everyone looks at her like she’s a TIME-TRIPPIN’ TRAMP, which, of course, is exactly what she is. Then: PARADOX! And the attendant timequake, which again just shakes things. Big deal. I should also mention that the film features all these guys at monitors made to look all cyborgy, like cheap Borg makeup [Okay fine, EVEN CHEAPER Borg makeup].
Then Louise opens up some monitor that shows Bill in the past, and it’s one of those monitors that pans, cuts to different angles, and edits it all together. At one point it even draws back through a hole in a door as a character approaches. Around now is when you start to realize that this movie is trying [or intending, because I can’t even say it’s trying] to develop the Louise-Bill romance as this tragic love story across time. So she’s watching Bill at this meeting, where he is prolonging the investigation of the crash, when everyone else knows there’s nothing more to it and he’s just wasting money. Listen to how he sounds BONKERS at the meeting, when he starts rambling about this girl and he just knows there’s more to it, etc.
Okay, Bill goes over to Meyer’s house—remember him? The professor who believes people are visiting from the future?—and here’s where I spill what’s happening in this whole movie. As best as I can discern it. It seems that the plane we saw was a crash in 1963, where they left a stunner, which ended up in Meyer’s possession. Then they left another on the plane from the beginning [dropsy fuckin’ stewardess sluts from the future, huh? I thought they were the best of the best? I’d hate to see the average ones] and if these stunners get together, hoo-boy. Paradox-o-rama. And as you may have guessed, that young boy on the plane that saw Louise back then, was BILL! Which gives the whole thing this whole creepy-mommy-incest vibe, as he has been transfixed by her since then.
Then—Louise appears! Right in their living room! She and Bill have their tragic little love scene, with Meyer right there, and to say that these two have zero chemistry would be an understatement. She tells them she’s from 1,000 years in the future, and might she kindly have her stunner back? She tells them that her race is dying, and then follows what struck me as some of the stupidest dialogue I have heard in some time. Bill: “You said you were dying. So am I.” Meyer: “Bill, the whole race is dying. All of humanity.” Bill: “We’re all gonna die. What matters is the now.” At that point, just as—well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know WHAT was going to happen, but Meyer takes the stunner from 1963 and puts the initiator from 1989 in it, and this basically fucks the future, big time. Meyer gets taken out with it, though. Louise and Bill jump into the future together, when they have the timequake to end all timequakes, causing characters I haven’t even mentioned to die. Then for some reason they’re going to wake all these people in the future and send them back into the past, so we have these huge lines of people going toward this huge pyramid we have never seen before, and Louise tells people to go into the light. Then Bill picks up and starts to help her, saying “Keep moving. Walk into the light.” Then it’s Bill’s turn, but he won’t go without Louise. They go in, there’s this face to face shot straight out of the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and then we see them both making love against this sunset [I have written in my notes: “CRAZY CHEESE”], then this time tunnel effect… and THAT’S IT! What finally happened? Got me!
< < < SPOILERS END
The most amazing thing about this movie is KRIS KRISTOFFERSON. HOW he is able to maintain his tough guy, I’m-in-charge-here attitude in the face of such absolute ridiculousness, able to continue with this I-ain’t-take-no-bullshit-boy front in the midst of such absolute inanity… you have to hand it to him! How does he do it? I would say it’s acting, but in this case it may be psychosis. Others might play this with a wink to the audience, or throw themselves into it with such ferocity that that in itself acknowledges the ludicrousness, but in his performance here, he seems to genuinely NOT KNOW. He seems to REALLY think his character, the story, all of it makes sense. And what’s more, is kind of IMPORTANT. Wow.
Then, Cheryl Ladd. I think we could count on our thumbs the amount of people who WANT to see her in a movie, or anywhere, and her very existence brings a chortle every time she appears on screen, not to mention her insane future hairdo, her failed attempt to generate sparks with Kristofferson, and general inability to act. Although I can’t imagine anyone who could make this script convincing. I tell you, what I wouldn’t give for some promotional interviews from the time of release with Kristofferson and Ladd both talking about what an important film this is, how it has so much to say, and how they were really drawn to it for the characters.
As for the story: WTF? Some say it was drawn from a novel, but the credits say it’s from a short story. In either case, it makes the mistake of trying to throw out a ton of sci-fi stuff [stunners, initiators, elders, time travel, abducting people, timequakes, paradoxes] that it doesn’t have the time or resources to explain properly, so eventually you just give up and stare at it like: WHAT!?! If it had one concrete central idea, it could throw a bunch of unexplained stuff and have them generally relate, but the central idea here is the abducting of people and replacing them later—and this is introduced halfway through [after many will have given up], and you can tell from the above how well they succeeded in getting it across. What’s more, the movie has this demented desire to go for it and throw out as many sci-fi visions as it can, despite the fact that it does NOT have the budget to adequately convey them. Many movies get around this by making the future very spare [like THX-1138], and it usually works. Not this one! They just GO FOR IT, and the effect ends up a little middle-school play.
But is it fun to watch? Well, not really! At first it is, but eventually there’s just too much weirdness and awfulness and impossibility to understand that one just kind of checks out by the midpoint. The having to see the same scenes multiple times, with no editing, adds immeasurably to the tedium. It would be one thing if the second viewing gave us more information, but we can infer everything they show. It also doesn’t help that the repeated scenes end up showing some of the most ridiculous moments twice! Man, this movie is going to crack my brain.
The trailer succeeds in making this film looks MUCH better than it is, by portraying the future people as some sort of space-age menace, which at least makes sense. The back of my DVD box promised me an alternate [usually original] ending that is nowhere to be found on the disc. A lot of people on IMDb talk about how GREAT this movie is and what BRILLIANT science-fiction it is and, well, I’m afraid I have made some harsh judgments about those people’s intelligence.
On the other hand, I am sort of glad to now own this, as wow, it REALLY is something. SOMETHING.
It depends on your tolerance for truly awful, low-budget sci-fi of the 80s.