NEW YORK — "Villainy," said Mick Jagger, in the voice that has launched hundreds of Rolling Stones concerts, "could also be called wasted life. A well-organized society would make good use of all the talents within it, rather than letting so many go to waste."
Jagger had just finished playing Vacendak, a bounty hunter of young bodies and one of the villains in the new science-fiction thriller "Freejack," filming in sectors of a futuristic New York City that the film company Morgan Creek Productions built in Atlanta.
Then Jagger came to present-day New York City on private business, and cast and crew members came to finish the film.
In the world of "Freejack," bodies are "snatched" a moment before death and transported to a "snatch lab" 19 years in the future, where the minds and spirits of rich, privileged members of society are transplanted into the young, desirable bodies.
Occasionally, however, the bodies from the past awaken before the mind-body switch occurs, and escape as "freejacks." When they do, the bounty-hunting Vacendak tracks them down.
"Freejack" was co-written and co-produced by Ron Shusett, 47, who co-wrote and co-produced "Alien" and "Total Recall," and it's being directed by New Zealander Geoff Murphy, whose anti-colonial "Utu" was a Cannes Film Festival favorite. Last year, Murphy chronicled the questions surrounding the death of Billy the Kid, one of society's favorite villains, in "Young Guns II." Emilio Estevez, who played Billy in both "Young Guns" hits, plays Alex, "the reluctant hero" of "Freejack."
Estevez's Alex is a young racing-car driver ostensibly killed in a New York car crash in 1991 who wakes up in 2009 to find that the rich dominate the city even more than they do now. In fact, the richest, McCandless, played by Anthony Hopkins, would just love to beat old age in, rather than over, Estevez's dead body. Alex evades his body-snatching captors, though, and is pursued throughout the film by Jagger's Vacendak.
Sitting in a canvas chair on Delancey Street at the entrance to the present-day Williamsburg Bridge, Shusett recalled that the premise for the story originated in a novella by Robert Sheckley called "Immortality, Inc.," which he read as a theater arts major at UCLA and never forgot. In it, the rich lengthen their lives by buying the bodies of the poor and transferring their minds into younger brains.
To Shusett, this is villainous. "Extending your life at the expense of someone else is immoral," he said. "Remember the old commercial: Don't fool with Mother Nature."
Estevez sits in his trailer beneath the bridge practicing looking dumbfounded, for his primary emotion when Alex wakes up, he says, is wonder--for example, wonder at the 200-story McCandless Building that rises from 42nd and Broadway in 2009 and dominates Manhattan. It exists, of course, only as a combination of matte paintings and partial sets, but Estevez must react as if he is seeing all 200 stories of it, lunging into the sky.
Estevez, too, thinks that villains are often people whose daring and energy of character might have made them heroes in a better-organized society.
"There was a phrase I read in a history book that I used in my interpretation of William Bonney: 'Billy the Kid was the villainous obstacle to Manifest Destiny.' In other words, Billy said: 'I don't accept your barbed wire.' "
Estevez was born in 1962 and is 17 years younger than Jagger, but he can quote "Sympathy for the Devil," the song that Jagger and Keith Richards wrote in 1968:
\o7 I shouted out, "Who killed the Kennedys?,\f7 " cries Estevez.
The song, which makes the point that we are all accomplices in villainy, that when we meet the enemy, we find that he is us, is in the 125th edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, along with such other experts on villainy as Shakespeare ("One may smile, and smile, and be a villain") and John Wesley ("That execrable sum of all villainies, commonly called the Slave Trade").
Fifth-generation New Zealander Murphy, who ascribed villainy to colonialism in "Utu," sits inside his trailer parked beside the bridge, preparing a "Freejack" scene in which Jagger's character chases Estevez's character onto the bridge in futuristic vehicles. All the vehicles, whose cost makes up $500,000 of the production's $30-million budget, are the imaginative contribution of production designer Joe Alves, who helped give "Jaws" its mechanical shark and "Close Encounters" its mother ship. He made most of them tanklike, as befits a time when none but the rich and the police get around much in cars anymore.
As a Wellington-born schoolteacher in New Zealand, Murphy found that 15-year-olds who were having trouble reading were embarrassed to learn from books written for young children. He tried to prevent their lives from being wasted by illiteracy by "making up a book about a policeman who always got his man but always by accident."