Saturday, July 24, 2010

An Acute Case of Sequelitis: SCANNER COP II (1995)

The mid-‘90s was an odd time of transition in pop-culture. Even though countless metal bands in the ‘80s promised us that rock and roll will never die, rock was dead. Guitars were unplugged and everyone got a haircut. Dark, dark times. Similarly in the world of exploitation cinema some serious dynamic shifts were taking place beneath the surface. Horror was so ‘80s and even action movies foundered at the box office resulting in attempts at parody, such as the disastrously misunderstood THE LAST ACTION HERO (1993). Schwarzenegger actually went on to borrow many of the parodied clichés and deploy them with a straight face in the disastrously understood COLLATERAL DAMAGE (2002).

Taking a cue from the boom of the made-for-video horror films of the late ‘80s, independent producers, such as PM Entertainment, took their action flicks away from theaters and went straight to video. Often these producers would use all that saved distribution cash for incredible car stunts (back in the days when they used real cars) and action set-pieces inspired by the wave of Asian films that were making the rounds on the gray market. It makes sense in this context that Pierre David, looking for that hook on which to hang his hat, used all of the above to make a tidy bundle off of his SCANNERS license. It’s action, it’s horror, it’s made for video! The thing that David knew and used to his advantage was that he knew that while his sequels may be video features on this continent, overseas they play theatrically. This may have also been his downfall as he tries too hard to pander to the Euro mainstream instead of the teenagers (mentally or physically) that would inevitably make the film successful.

A sheriff pulls in a rather clean and well-dressed drifter (Patrick Kilpatrick) in a remote area that I’m guessing is supposed to be near Los Angeles, even though the sign (of which the first letter is cut off) says *aviston Sheriff Station. The sheriff (Clayton Moore) calls the local doctor (Allan Kolman) and together they discover that the guy is a scanner! Of course this does not bode well for them since he is a bad scanner, we know this because he is very dramatic and dressed in a black duster… oh the ‘90s! For some reason our bad scanner, named Karl Volkin (Eastern bloc names are eeeeevil!), scans the sheriff to force him to set down his gun so that Volkin could pick it up and shoot the sheriff in the leg. When the sheriff continues to come after Volkin with a shotgun, Volkin scans him causing the sheriff to fall unconscious. Ummm… ok, so scanners used to make people’s heads explode or turn guns on themselves, now they just pass out? Pierre, c'mon man, you’re killin’ me!

Meanwhile, the premise of SCANNER COP is recapped in a news broadcast for no apparent reason while our scanner cop himself, Sam Staziak (Daniel Quinn), meets with Carrie (Khrystyne Haje), a dating service rep who also locates lost relatives. In a discussion with her well-used co-worker Carrie says “he’s not coming here for a date, he’s looking for his mother!” to which her co-worker quips, “basically, they all are.” Yes, that’s it, behold SCANNER COP II: THE QUEST FOR MOM! Phew! While working a hostage situation with his scanner skillz, two beat cops discuss Staziak’s new medication, a version of ephemerol that now lets you use your scanner powers, but not go batshit looney! This is a real boon to Staziak as he not only can apprehend villains peacefully, but apparently can now use his mad mental power to burn off people’s ears, create the illusion that he is a different person, deactivate explosive devices and even, no joke, animate the dead!

Volkin, we discover is off on a path of revenge, hunting down Staziak because he was the officer who busted him during an attempted rape and robbery. Says Volkin, “I’m gonna kill you… kill you so bad!” So I’m thinking “there is no way he just said ‘kill you so bad’!” then they repeat the line in present day as he is remembering the event while sulking in a bathtub! Suffering from some sort of telepathetic penis envy, Volkin is insane with rage that someone out scanned him (and made him shoot his brother), so he runs around killing everyone he runs across with his eeeevil scanner powers. Just like those movies in which an alleged Scottish dude mumbles something about there being “only one” over a series of sequels, Volkin's scanner powers allow him to suck out the life-force out of his good scanner victims, leaving shriveled husks in his wake in sequences that seem to be cribbed straight out of 1993s “Mortal Kombat II”. The way Volkin finds these good scanners is via Carrie’s personal services agency. Vexed by the Compaq computer system's security, Volkin must scan Carrie, forcing her to access the data files for him. Wait. Why can't he just scan the computer himself and bypass the security? Volkin seems to have his limbs painted on, because he uses his scanner powers for eeeeeeverything. He can’t even check into a sleazy, skid-row hotel without using his scanner powers to get the manager to give him a room key, he scans a woman doing her laundry in a laundromat (seriously, is nothing sacred?) and he scans a guy getting him to give up the phone in a phonebooth so he can make an important call. How does this guy eat? Does he go to a restaurant and scan the waitstaff into cutting up his food and feeding him?

Granted Staziak is not a hell of a lot better as he uses his scanner powers on the hospitalized and unconscious Carrie to discover Volkin’s identity via a pad of paper and pencil! While scanning her she convulses violently and her vital sign monitor explodes. Staziak is thrown out of the room by an orderly, leaving the doctor expressing his bafflement by saying “How’d he do this?!”, to which the nurse defensively replies “I’m just a nurse!” If there is one thing Pierre David consistently shows his love for, it’s mind-liquefyingly ridiculous hospital scenes. Why? I don’t know, I’m just a writer!

Robert Forster, during his direct-to-video career revival, checks in as Staziak’s captain, Jack Bitters, delivering mildly amusing lines such as when Staziak is trying to figure out how he’s going to tackle Volkin, Bitters states “he’s your people, how do you call it?” I can’t wait for the remake which will have that scene followed by a lawsuit and protests of discrimination from the scanner community.

The final confrontation takes place with an incredible scanner battle on top of Air Force One as it is screaming over Mount Rushmore that sends a scanner ripple effect out across the capitol causing politician’s heads to explode mid-filibuster and… oh no, wait. That’s not true at all. The climactic battle takes place in the boiler room of a retirement home where Volkin has tracked down Staziak’s mother and is going to turn her against him… No, really. That’s what happens.

Ah Pierre, limited only by your imagination and budget.

For some reason Pierre, having proved his point, seemed happy to let someone else take the reigns as director this time out and resume his favorite position of power, the back seat. This entry is one of the best remembered by most people and it is well shot with great lighting and effective music, but watching it now, the terminal flaw is that it tries too hard to be a serious film eschewing gratuitous car stunts, nudity, and random noggin-nuking, while at the same time being patently absurd. You get a priceless scene in which a surprisingly rational and well spoken mental patient complains that the person in the cell next to him is being too loud, while Volkin makes noises that sound exactly like Mel Blanc doing the Tasmanian Devil (you see... he’s “crazy”). Then you get kidney-punched by bits like when Volkin kills a modern artist, slaps a big-ass shit-eatin’ grin on his mug and says “I may not know about art, but I know what I like!” Oh duuuude, party foul! Who do you think you are? Robert Englund?

Pierre David lay dormant for a long time after this, but information has surfaced that… oh come on, like you couldn’t guess… yes, apparently the time is right for another SCANNERS film! Pierre David will finally get his wish and correct the mistakes, in his mind, that the original SCANNERS made almost three decades ago. A SCANNERS remake is in production as we speak and is scheduled to hit theaters in 2011. After 15 years of waiting, I’ve got my fingers crossed for a disaster of epic proportions.

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