' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Slipstream (1989)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday's Old Fashioned: Slipstream (1989)

Bad movies can be entertaining, even ennobling, shooting the moon and missing completely. Alas, director Steven Lisberger’s would-be sci-fi opus “Slipstream” is simply a nigh unwatchable fiasco, blindly edited with seemingly huge swaths of story missing and an overall look to the picture that suggests it was recorded on a camcorder pilfered overnight from the high school audiovisual room. Perhaps this was inevitable. Producer Gary Kurtz, famous for overseeing the “Star Wars” saga, said the budget fell apart just prior to filming and the studio refused to let them film sequences that would necessarily fleshed out the story. Maybe this after the fact covering, maybe not, but the fact remains that the finished product leaves a solid cast and crew hung out to dry, like composer Elmer Bernstein, for instance, whose score seems to take cues from his own “The Magnificent Seven” theme, unintentionally evoking parody. The lead performance by the late Bill Paxton, meanwhile, much too inane for a part that needed gravity, might well seem to be in, as they say, “a different movie”, but that’s just because I suspect he yearned to be in any movie other than the one in which he was starring.


The “slipstream” is a “river of wind” that has been engendered at some point in Earth’s future on account of “the convergence”, an event described in the voiceover as has having imperiled the planet’s weather systems, marking it as something of a pre-climate change disaster pic. Yet the film has more on its mind than simply existing as a cautionary tale, seeking to build off this admittedly interesting idea to illustrate how an environmental re-ordering of Earth nevertheless brings about the same sort of class distinctions. This is glommed onto something like a road movie by air, “Mad Max” with planes, in which Paxton’s Matt Owens, a vagrant catch-all, absconds with Byron (Bob Peck), an android wanted for murder and being hauled to justice by lawman Will Tasker (Mark Hammill), to collect a hefty reward.

The chase consists of several in-flight sequences, though these, like so many others, are jerkily edited, with movements of the craft in aerial footage not necessarily matching up to how the craft is moving when seen from inside, which elicits the odd impression of Owens or Tasker, who are typically at the controls, playing an arcade game. This amateur sensation is only amplified by the shoddy sound design, where the wind, this all-encompassing wind, which strangely only seems to become relevant when necessary for the action, rarely comes across as ferocious as intended, undermining the film’s most crucial element.

The emotional foundation of the film is meant to be Byron’s human urges, a la “Blade Runner”, which is not so much built to as just sort of suddenly dropped in, as the script’s multitude of stops and starts to make way for various on the ground vignettes render any momentum for the android’s arc non-existent. These in-between episodes make room for heavy-hitting guest stars, like Ben Kingsley as the leader of some cave-dwelling sect that worships the wind, and F. Murray Abraham ruling a group of hedonists hiding out in an underground museum. The third act revolves almost entirely around this latter pleasure-seeking cabal, deliberately indifferent to everyone else digging in the dirt, evoking 2015’s “High Rise.”


It’s more than a little funny, however, that the shoddy costumes and sets fail to underscore this group’s affluence, putting them more in line with the cave-dwellers, an accidental rendering that would be funny if the movie knew it was funny. What’s worse, the script never really condemns these hedonists, employing their lifestyle as a means for for Owens to acquire a Wait, How Did This Happen? love interest and for Byron to get a hold on how he feels, which is less philosophical than physical, demonstrated in a song and dance that no one will confuse for Broadway. It’s more than a little ironic, I suppose, that a movie which seemingly fell apart because it didn’t have any money ultimately sides with with the moneyed class. To paraphrase Reggie and Vincent from the same year of “Slipstream’s” release, don’t we all just wanna be rich?

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