Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (1991) — A time travel love triangle

“Next time someone hands you an exploding ham, I’m gonna pass the mustard!”

Justin’s rating: Three exploding hams out of six

Justin’s review: When you travel back in time to prevent the deaths of future leaders and fall in love and decide to stay in the body of an ancestor, I think you forfeit the right to a life free of complications. But for six years, trenchcoat-loving Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) has lived a good and peaceful life in the past with his wife Lena (Helen Hunt) and friend/protectee Hap (Biff Manard). Unfortunately, complications catch up with him in the form of trancers (weak-willed people psychically transformed into killer zombies), his former boss from 2247 A.D. (who has to go into the past through his teenage female relative’s body), and E.D. Wardo, the brother of the evil genius he killed.

That’s right: Whistler’s got a brother, somehow, who is also in the past, somehow, and he’s raising up a zombie army and growing Future Crack. To make matters even more hinky, as Deth is trying to deal with all this, he bumps into his former wife Alice (PCU’s Megan Ward), who wasn’t dead as expected but simply trapped in the past. So with a zombie threat on one side and a potential love polygamy case on the other, our grizzled future cop who certainly doesn’t look like a grumpy MacGuyver has a whole lot to sort out in 90 minutes.

Trancers II took the series into the ’90s — as well as into an R-rating (the original, believe it or not, was PG-13) and the straight-to-video market. Considering the length of time between the first and second movie, I’m genuinely surprised they got most all of the original cast (and director, Re-Animator’s Charles Band) to reprise their roles for a scifi B-movie sequel. They also roped in several cult film alumni, including Jeffrey Combs and Martine Beswick as Wardo’s henchmen.

It’s certainly not short on story developments, either, although in many ways it’s coasting as direct-to-video sequels tend to do. One of these developments — as if this film didn’t have enough — was that the 23rd century government is trying to retrieve Jack Deth to put him on the ruling council of elders. It’s certainly not explained why anyone would want an abrasive cop to be a leader, but it does present a problem as his future body (still hooked up on life support) is “calcified” and cannot be reunited with his consciousness. So the future cops work on sending a “TapBack” device to pull Jack with his current body back. Of course, nobody’s talking about how Jack Deth absolutely stole someone’s life away and kept it hostage so that he could live in his skin. It’s more than a little muddled and confusing.

Even though we’re no longer aping The Terminator, this movie has plenty of random trancer attacks, “long second” watch uses, and laconic one-liners from Jack Deth (who hopes that you stop noticing that he’s old enough to be Helen Hunt’s father). There’s a lot of fun to be had with Deth’s boss being in the body of a teenage girl (who does an admirable job of acting like an older jerk), not to mention how having a second time agent on the field escalates things wonderfully.

By and large, Trancers II retains the same scifi/action/campy mix of the first. Absolutely none of it is polished, but that’s fine, because none of this would work well if it was. After all, we’re talking zombies, wives from the future, and police chiefs that have to go through pubescent PMS all over again here. Sure, it’s a bit slow and focuses too much on interpersonal relationships at the cost of more action, but it’s still a nice follow-up with a whole lot of continuity.

Didja notice?

  • This intro is a double-pile of exposition
  • Collecting fire trucks is an interesting hobby. Random, too.
  • Zombie gardeners appearing out of nowhere
  • McNaulty’s teenage self is hilarious, especially as he doesn’t know how to ride a bike
  • Having this guy’s voice talk constantly while you’re trying to sleep would be so annoying
  • The Deth reunion is really awkward: “Is it really you?”
  • Jack really can’t seem to stop kissing his past wife in front of his current wife, can he?
  • Deth looks more upset that someone would steal his corvette than the fact his wife left him
  • Hap’s alcoholic plot is so weak and mishandled
  • This movie loves its blood squibs
  • Drunk baseball
  • Dirty polluters, they’ll say anything!
  • “It’s the crack of 200 years from now”
  • We needed a good plant torching scene, I’m glad we got it
  • That’s a very labor intensive way to burn a barn
  • Slowest. Getaway. Ever.
  • Well, thank goodness that fire engine hobby paid off
  • Death by pitchfork!

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