Space Truckers

The latest in my occasional series of blogs about SF movies;, good, bad, and all points in between…

Space Truckers (1996) is one of the greatest films never made…instead they made a much worse film with  the same title.  Enjoyable, yes.  Good, no.

The premise is genius – Dennis Hopper plays a trucker driving a rig through space.  His space-truck looks like a bendy bus, with its vast containers of cargo.  And when he delivers his first load, he’s ripped off by the Company, he acts wise, he gets into a bar room brawl.  What more can you ask for!

Visually it’s a tour de force with bright colours dazzling the eye, and suitably dingy space ships, and Hopper lending his own brand of creative integrity to the project; namely, you know that even it’s bad, he’s going to give a gazillion per cent to it.

The plot is that Hopper has to take a secret cargo through space. An accident causes the heating to go haywire (reminding me of a Farscape episode where this same spaceship malfunction scenario was used as an excuse to get Claudia Black and Ben Browder hot and horny together).  Sure enough, in Space Truckers it’s used as an excuse to get Stephen Dorff  and Debi Mazar  hot and horny together…hilariously, she has a green bra beneath her dayglo outfit.

Then our motley crew of truckers (Hopper, Debi who in the story is Hopper’s  fiance despite being thirty years younger than he is  - don’t ask! – and fellow trucker Stephen Dorff) are kidnapped by space pirates. At this point the plot gets clever, in ways I won’t describe, because you might actually watch this someday. But I would say that the great reveal of the film is when the cyborg villain who sounds a lot like Charles Dance turns out to be – Charles Dance! Lending his own brand of urbane dignity to the affair, even when he has to wind up his cybernetic penis.

There are a couple of great lines of dialogue. At least, there’s definitely one, and there may well be another. It comes when Dorff  rashly taunts the cyborg, and Hopper pours honey on troubled waters by arguing, ‘He respects the brave way you confront your disability.’

And the bad guys – robots with heads like plugs with lights – are impressively scary, though it’s a bit naff that they can be switched off whilst in a killing rage by a device that looks like and basically is a TV remote control.

But the story doesn’t sustain, and the narrative gaps and lurches are rather appalling really, when you consider the writer (Ted Mann) wrote 18 episodes of NYPD Blue and should surely know how to plot a story.

There are some truly terrible lines too.  The worst is when the dying Dance – his body severed at the waist, and only his cauterized arteries keeping him alive – says, ‘If I had an anus I’m probably soil myself.’ Oh Charlie! Has it really come to this!

And when the villain of the piece, Sags, is killed we’re told, ‘Somebody fragged Sags.’ Now is that great dialogue or crap dialogue? I can’t decide.

This feels like one of those films where the creative team lost faith in the script, by TV pro Mann, and starting making it up as they went along . Or maybe he was off form. As a result, a movie that ought to have been a solid piece of entertainment – an SF thriller with comic brio – falls through the floorboards into the ‘so bad it’s good’ territory.

The director, Stuart Gordon, made Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Re-Animator; so has a variable, but an impressive CV.  His mistake in Space Truckers is to settle for a screenplay that tells the story – instead of allowing a gifted writer to really enjoy the wit and quirk and character of these characters. There’s a whole world of story to be teased out of Hopper’s career as a space trucker… think of Robert Shaw’s character in Jaws as the object lesson in how to create a vivid three dimensional character by means of quiet and character revealing scenes within an action thriller narrative.

I found a cool site by the guy who made the spaceships.  Check out these models for the film…by model maker Steve Howarth.

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