The tone of Hollywood's futuristic fantasies can be summed up: We have seen the future and it is really grungy .
From "Blade Runner" to "Total Recall" to the current "Freejack," the world view is not pretty. We're treated to a gloppy, punctured-ozone-layer universe crawling with freakoids and punkettes. As with most cautionary fables, the dangers are all rooted in urban decay. Cities are the festering souls of future rot and technology exists to promote decay.
Most of these techno-grunge-fests are triumphs of production design at the expense of all human feeling. The soullessness is total. "Freejack" (citywide) is an attempt to insert a sliver of humanity into the genre. Instead of casting a Schwarzenegger type--a performer whose bulk and musculature is already sci-fi-ish--this film stars Emilio Estevez. Skittering around the dark-lit byways of a garbagey metropolis, circa 2009, Estevez has a scaled-down humanity that makes you fear for him.
What he doesn't have is the kind of star presence that might make you root for him. It's a difficult hat trick: How do you create a "normal" character with heroic qualities? A residue of Brat Pack still clings to Estevez's outerware in this film. As a result, we're no better off than we were with other futuristic fantasias. We are once again left staring at the production design, and the design and special effects in "Freejack" are often uncomfortably cheesy.
The film's premise is promising but undeveloped. Alex Furlong (Estevez) is a racing car driver who is snatched from death moments before his speedster explodes and is transported to 2009, where his body will serve as the repository for the electronically implanted brain of another, recently deceased man.
In this brave new (polluted) world, it's possible to achieve immortality by transferring one's mind to a healthy body; but few healthy bodies exist, so scientists have devised a way to reach back into the past for their handiwork. But, of course, there's a glitch this time out. Alex escapes before the transfer occurs. On his trail is the leather-corseted biker bounty hunter Vacendak, played by Mick Jagger in full sneer.
Despite all the techno-babble rigmarole, "Freejack" (rated R for language and violence) devolves into a standard-issue chase picture. The script, by Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett (of "Total Recall") and Dan Gilroy, doesn't have the wit or the ingenuity that might give a twist to all the hardware wars. The dialogue has a very high clinker quotient, even when spoken by Anthony Hopkins, playing a purry-voiced tycoon.
What keeps you watching despite everything are the pyrotechnics of director Geoff Murphy, a New Zealander who made his Hollywood debut two years ago with "Young Guns 2." Murphy, whose 1984 epic "Utu," about a Maori revolt and one of the greatest rarely seen movies of the past 20 years, has an extraordinary feeling for pacing and movement. He also has a feeling for grand-scale drama. He's one of the few living directors who can work on a broad canvas without skimping on the brush strokes. His work in this movie is the only reason to see it, and yet his finest talents are not on view in "Freejack." With this script, and working without his usual freedoms and controls, how could they be? Murphy needs to be working on a project that extends his passions instead of freeze-drying them.
Emilio Estevez: Alex Furlong
Mick Jagger: Vacendak
Rene Russo: Julie Redlund
Anthony Hopkins: McCandless
A James G. Robinson presentation of a Morgan Creek Picture picture, released by Warner Bros. Director Geoff Murphy. Producers Ronald Shusett and Stuart Oken. Executive producers James G. Robinson and Gary Barber & David Nicksay. Screenplay Steven Pressfield & Ronald Shusett and Dan Gilroy. Cinematographer Amir Mokri. Editor Dennis Virkler. Costumes Lisa Jensen. Music Trevor Jones. Production design Joe Alves. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (language and violence).