THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Directed by Geoff Murphy
“The idea of looking into the past for the moment of someone’s death in order to steal their body is pretty interesting, especially when things go wrong.”
Its funny how things work out sometimes. Sometimes actors last and remain relevant for decades – even without talent. Sometimes actors, with or without talent, have a shelf life equivalent of a quart of milk. They’re good briefly until they expire and get tossed in the garbage, easily replaced. It’s kinda sad really. Where do those actors go? Is there a retirement home for them? Does Hollywood provide a recycling service?
Case in point: one Emilio Estevez. Here’s a man who rose to the top and provided roughly a decade worth of service. Then poof, gone. Over that time he did a little of everything from westerns, to teen comedies, to tales of humble trash men. Now Emilio’s case of disappearance isn’t as shocking as some considering his family line (Emilio directs now if you didn’t know), but something decapitated his acting. Was it the Mighty Ducks movies? Maybe, family comedies usually equal the end. However, I’d suggest it was a futuristic story about a racecar driver transported to the future so his body could serve as host to a dying Hannibal Lecter while Mick Jagger chases him around wearing a helmet. Freejack probably should be convicted as the murderer of Emilio Estevez. However, it should be released from the crime because of its intent was good.
When I watch Freejack, its clear everyone involved expected something more than what it ended up being. It’s obvious the budget wasn’t huge (around $30 million), but it’s also obvious everyone involved envisioned it the next Total Recall or Blade Runner, which in many respects is a fair comparison. Freejack has all the same elements. Good action, excellent actors, and intriguing futuristic ideas. Yeah, so it didn’t rise to the same quality as a classic, but maybe it should been considered something more than it is today.
The premise of a quality sci-fi must be complicated, which remains a requirement for good sci-fi, and thankfully Freejack possesses. The idea of looking into the past for the moment of someone’s death in order to steal their body is pretty interesting, especially when things go wrong and that body realizes they are not a body any more. That’s gotta mess with your mind a little. Likewise, good sci-fi needs a good setting. A decayed future New York is clichéd, but what isn’t? Sending Emilio’s racecar driver into the future and then unleashing him creates the classic fish out of water story, which seems to intensify the crumbling nature of this New York. And this New York a character with a clear class distinction.
If the movie has flaws, there’s two. 1) If you’re going to cast to rock stars of the flamboyant nature, the music needs some edge. Seriously, by casting Jagger and the lead singer from the New York Dolls I expect at least a rock n’ roll edge to the thing. Instead, we’re given a painfully generic classical soundtrack. It’s pretty bad. With that small change, the movie would be twice as good. 2) Emilio. There’s a reason this movie is could be found guilty of career murder. His acting is fine here. I don’t mean that he can’t act or stunk up the thing. He’s believable and effective, yet there’s a reason he never made the transition to action star. While other’s like Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, and Keanu Reeves (unaction looking guys) made the change, Emilio’s boyish looks or perhaps his lack of “toughing” up. He didn’t seem prepared for the role.
At the same time, it feels like a bit of a rip off having Anthony Hopkins in the flick and not really using him. Sure, Freejack is before we knew about Silence of the Lambs, but it was so close it felt like this could have been the movie that made him a household name. If he and Jagger’s roles had been reversed, maybe the world would view Freejack differently. Maybe. That’s not to say Jagger doesn’t work as the helmet-wearing-leather-clad bounty hunter. He’s good and villainous, but it is Jagger. As a Stone’s fan, I dig seeing the dude act, but it’s hard to get this image from my mind.
Now I’ve written several times that a movie is only as good as its villain. When you cast Jagger as the heavy, it raises an eyebrow or two. It’d be like casting Eddie Vedder as Agent Smith. Hard to imagine. Regardless, Jagger has the charisma and the charm needed for an actor, but as a true evil dude, he doesn’t really work. He’s not exactly menacing. But then again, Freejack wisely doesn’t sell him as the bad ass tough guy. He mainly rides around in a tank SUV with an earpiece and helmet strapped on while talking shit. In fact, that makes him strangely more powerful. He doesn’t have to get his hands dirty.
Action wise, no, Freejack will never be a classic like Total Recall or Time Cop, but it’s not for a lack of trying. It does have the truly memorable scenes that a quality movie needs with some good damn good sequences like the opening race crash, or the gun-totting, tough nun (played by Amanda “Honey Bunny” Plummer), or the motorcycle/champagne truck chase sequences, or Jagger’s “One Mississippi, two Mississippi” chase countdown, or even the homeless assassins (bums with guns!). All of these make Freejack a quality movie, even if it's of the B movie variety. If only the director or the action coordinator had truly worked with Emilio, then maybe the world would have another Damon, Cruise, or Reeves instead of only another Brat Pack kid.