Island City (1994) — More like Bad CGI City

“In short, they become super-human… and super-psychotic.”

Justin’s rating: I’ve got the blues so bad

Justin’s review: What do you do with a failed TV pilot that isn’t picked up to be made into a series? If you’re smart and the pilot isn’t terrible, you try to recoup some of your losses by repackaging it into a TV movie. This sort of thing’s happened plenty of times, such as in the case of 1994’s Island City.

Island City is what happens when someone can’t decide which scifi trope to flesh out into a show and thus attempts to make all of them. So we’ve got a movie about a biological agent — a “fountain of youth” drug — that goes out-of-control and mutates a majority of humanity into cavemen with shotguns. So we’ve got all of these sane doctors trying to find a cure. But we also have a dystopian city where certain social groups aren’t allowed to romantically mingle with others and are instead encouraged to take out their libidos on virtual reality. And there’s a medical rescue team that makes sorties into the wilds in bulky family vans to help people who still live out there for some reason. Oh, and since this is 2035, there are teleporters and force fields and clones and ethics about people using anti-aging drugs.

Combined, it all sounds a lot more dour than what we actually get with this brightly-lit, poorly CGI’d story. I do like the concept of scattered survivors trying to make their way to the one last bastion in the world, but the way they filmed this makes it look like everyone’s ringing the doorbell to a particularly high-tech summer camp.

In any case, during one of the rescue missions, Col. Tom Valdoon (Kevin Conroy of Batman: The Animated Series fame) and his crew lose one of their own to the neo-anderthals. While they get ready to send out a rescue mission to rescue the rescuer, we’re introduced to life in Island City (which, should be noted, is not on any sort of actual island). Dr. Sammy Helding (Desperate Housewives’ Brenda Strong) reconnects with her long-lost sister while smarty pants Greg 23 (Will & Grace’s Eric McCormack) feverishly works on finding his lost friend.

Sammy also has an interesting but incredibly brief sub-plot about her married situation, seeing as how she took the anti-aging drug and her husband didn’t. So this young actress is actually a senior citizen — and her husband looks it and resents her for it. I can see a lot of possibilities with that conflict, but the way Island City handles it is to make her husband a cranky coot and likely to be killed by a stroke in the third episode.

There’s an undeniable feel of “Star Trek” about this, which isn’t too surprising seeing as how The Next Generation was just wrapping up its run and plenty of scifi aspirants were trying to get a slice of that pie. The problem here is that there are too many high concepts at play that the cast spends half the movie uttering exposition to bring us up to speed. And every minute spent explaining why blues can’t date reds or the body temperature of recessives is a minute that’s not spent actually progressing the plot.

Eventually the team gets a half-recessive to be their hunky heavy-duty bruiser and a spunky weapons specialist, and it sets out to do the rescue mission (for something like the third time in this 90-minute movie) the right way. But they wouldn’t have a prayer if it wasn’t for blatant AT&T product placement that’s sprinkled all over this movie. That’s probably where they got the budget for the oh-so-extremely ’90s TV special effects.

Even a pile of interesting ideas is nothing more than a mess unless expertly arranged and competently executed. Island City doesn’t quite rise to that standard but remains in forgettable mediocre territory. Sometimes having too many hooks works against you, I guess.

Didja notice?

  • Shotguns are best for clubbin’ — not for shootin’
  • Their tranqilizers look like staple guns
  • Being lightly shoved around makes you faint to the point of near-death
  • Oh, the mid-90s special effects, how they glitter so
  • Island City has a huge force field for those mutants that can jump 200 feet in the air, I guess
  • Virtual Reality = a terrible green screen
  • Is Abraham Lincoln hitting on his mom in VR? Did I just type that?
  • Ah, the see-through holographic computer screen. We all have one of those today!
  • The recessives run a 123-degree fever
  • “Thank you for using AT&T”
  • Her name is General Mayday?
  • They put trackers on the recessives and release them back out to, what, track their migration patterns?
  • Their entire budget for rescue ops covers two (2) minivans
  • Haha parental block on virtual reality porn
  • The terrible split screening for the clones

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