Amateurish drivel, like a cut rate, joyless Battlestar Galactica knock-off.
I'm almost at a loss where to begin. This is an exceptionally shoddy affair from start to finish, despite starring Billy Dee Williams, better known to millions as Lando Calrisian of Star Wars fame. It also features Tracy Scoggins, the undisputed queen of the sub-B-movie. It has production values that make Battlestar Galactica look like 2001. It's terrifyingly awful, although it has had a bit of thought put into the ideas behind it. The execution of this however, is almost willfully poor which can occasionally lead to comedy gold, but here it's comedy lead.
For me, alarm bells started ringing on watching the (very shoddy) opening credits, when the producer is listed as Richard Pepin. He is the non-visionary anti-genius behind the appalling Cyber Tracker, the regular Oneliner whipping horse. This alone was almost enough to send me into a coma, but for the sake of future generations I persisted. This was a mistake.
The plot is initially simple, Capt. Skyler (Williams) recruits a crew of ex-navy officers serving life sentences imprisoned in New Alcatraz for a variety of misdemeanours from grand fraud, mutiny and manslaughter. The crew are offered a chance to get out of prison if they return from an eight-month space trip to find and salvage the USS Holly. Our guys are at first reluctant to go, as though they'd rather not risk this venture in favour of rotting in a cell, but Skyler's promise of allowing them access to the very latest in virtual reality worlds at the weekend, including the programs own personal ideal woman for each of the guys. This is enough to seal the deal and they agree to board the USS Presley.
The vessel is clearly a Blue Peter class ship, for the exterior shots looking astonishingly cardboardy. I dread to thing what the budget for these shots were, as they cannot even match work of the time on the TV. The same can be said of the vessel interior, and of the weapons they use, and of the costume design, and of the quality of the script, and so on. Skyler isn't a captain to engender the loyalty of the crew. keeping everything on a need to know basis. Three months into the mission, none of the crew members have a better idea what's going on. Space travel in 2022 AD doesn't seem to be as crew intensive as you may expect. Skyler aside, the crew consists of navigational officer and nominal hero of the piece Nick Mancuzo (Maxwell Caulfield), geekish computer expert D.J (Richard Cody), chief and only engineer Peter (Stephen Davies) and cigar-smoking loudmouth cowboy wannabe Lloyd (Jeff Conaway), the demolitions expert. Not sure why that's a standard part of a ship's complement. Oh and there's an android that seems to have no clear function apart from to trigger a trap later in the film and die, played by Joe Durrenberger.
The guys look forward to the weekends, which they spend inside the virtual reality programs, acting out fantasies both of lifestyle and sexual partner. D.J spends his weekends as leader of a 50's biker gang ala James Dean. Peter opts to ape Humphry Bogart's role in Casablanca down to these scenes being in black and white. Nick lives by the beach, surfing and screwing, while Lloyd is in the Wild Wild West, shootin' and a screwin', y'hear? The only one not partaking of the fantasies is Skyler who merely watches their adventures on a monitor on the bridge, through some unspecified technical means. One common strand throughout their dreams is the sudden appearance of a mysterious woman Ariel (Tracy Scoggins), whom they all seem to be rather taken with. Before much of interest can happen though, the weekend is over and they emerge from their pods.
Nick re-checks the course to find Skyler has altered it over the course of the weekend. Nick finds this terribly upsetting, as they are heading towards the dreaded Sector G! Dan-dan-dah! And when they do cross over into the horrifyingly terrible Sector G, it's not too long before things start to go pear-shaped. Klaxons sound, alerting them to damage in the engine room. A pipe is venting vapour of some kind, and the crew are forced to shut down the main reactor by a series of manual valves which look hugely dated now, let alone 2022. They get auxiliary power online, and Peter tries to convince everyone that he's tested that line and it was fine. No one is too receptive to this argument. This unpleasantness aside, things truck along nicely enough until the weekend.
Their fantasies are taking some unexpected turns. They no longer seem to be as immortal as they once were, and through a variety of contrivances their respective girls have met with sticky ends, and in each of their little worlds they are seduced by Ariel. Skyler, again watching on a monitor, seems unduly upset with these developments. At least I think it was supposed to be conveying upset, he may have has a hernia or something. There's a good reason why Williams has been seen in little apart from >Star Wars, he's not a terrific actor. (N.B. He may have been in tons of films, as a quick IMDB search confirms, but how many have you actually seen? Thought so.)
As they discuss the happening of the weekend, it seems that stress levels are raised by these events, with fisticuffs ensuing between Nick and Lloyd when Lloyd takes exception to Nick's astonishingly reasonable, although ultimately incorrect assertion that Ariel is just a fantasy. Their bout is stopped short when Skyler announces they have located the USS Holly, which is spinning out of control but only in one plane, which looks unbelievably silly. The film seems very proud of their model shots, as though they hadn't realised for awful they were. On boarding the Holly, they find the crew dead. They are understandably shocked by this, as would we be if the carnage that unfolded hadn't been used as the prologue to the film. Given the displays of unconvincing weaponry on show perhaps it would have been more effective left to the viewers imagination, if they haven't slipped into a nice relaxing coma by this point.
Back on the ship, Ariel has started appearing to the crew members in reality, distracting them until an opportunity presents itself to change the ships' course and lock them out of the controls. As D.J. works feverishly to regain access, he notices a virus in the weekend program. He tenuously suggests it's coded like DNA, but not human DNA. This is quite preposterous, but you'll have given up caring by this point. From this point the film rapidly moves to a finale, arguably too rapidly. No tension is built for these events, and the writers seem to have just wanted to rush headlong into the killing rather than perhaps spend time on anything subtle like showing how Ariel is manipulating them for her own bizarre ends.
And how bizarre they are. It's revealed that Skyler was on the Holly during the previous kerfuffle, and had jumped ship in the escape pod but has now returned for Ariel. Ariel seems to be using this as some kind of strange alien master plan to lure Earths' Navy to her and have them kill each other over her. Given that it's an eight month trip to these killing grounds, even if the Navy continue sending salvage vessels to this area once the first few die it would still be a somewhat long term plan.
With what passes for a storyline out of the way we can get down to the more serious business of the killing off of everyone at Skyler's hand. Well, nearly everyone. At the final showdown between Skyler and Nick, Ariel switches her affections to Nick allowing him to kill Skyler with his unconvincing weapon. Nick activates the self destruct mechanism on the ship and hops in an escape pod, thinking that he's destroyed the menacing Ariel for good. But wait! The camera pans left, revealing that Ariel has mysteriously appeared next to Nick! Shocking! And on that not the film ends, which would be a distinctly unsatisfactory ending to any film, but I was too gratified that the ordeal was over to worry about it.
This movie is dire, possibly more so because there are a few ideas that aren't too bad in here but the execution buries them under a huge pile of crap. The dialogue is terrible, as is the acting, effects, props and soundtrack. The sets look more like a laserquest arena than a futuristic spaceship. Please keep this film away from children and animals.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks.
Tracy Scoggins (Ariel)
Maxwell Caulfield (Nick)
Richard Cody (D.J.)
Jeff Conaway (Borman)
Stephen Davies (Peter)
Gary Roberts (Lloyd)