You’re gonna love Space Truckers.
No, really, you are. It’s a nineties movie that looks like it should be a sixties comedy B-movie and pretty much reads the same way.
But this is no B-movie.
It’s a nineties, American version of Red Dwarf, but with its own set of influences.
It takes all the glitz and glamour of films like Star Wars and especially Star Trek, annnnnd shifts it several rungs down the socio-economic ladder, to sleazy diners, greasy truckers, and the wannabe-drivers just looking for their first load. The clue’s in the title, really – just as America has a long tradition of blue collar truckers hauling loads from place to place, so in the future, the movie imagines Earth will have a tradition of truckers hauling loads from space to space, planet to planet within the solar system.
On top of which, there’s a plan to take over the Earth with the use of some killer ninja-bots that are not – we repeat, not, sex-dolls. Everybody clear on the not-sex-dollness of the killer ninja-bots? Good, then we’ll continue.
The thing that makes Space Truckers a bit special is that while it sounds like a sixties B-movie, and it looks, with its gloriously garish colour schemes, like the cover of a classic sci-fi pulp fiction page-turner from the same era, it’s got money, and oh my stars, has it got cast.
Space Truckers has acting talent leaking out of every porthole – occasionally literally.
You want someone to play a leading, older, blue collar hero? Fine, how does Dennis Hopper sound?
Yeah. Exactly. Sitting up and taking notice now, aren’t you? That’s exactly the reaction you get if you watch Space Truckers without knowing about it in advance. Sounds like pulp fiction, looks very bright and colourful, then holy hell, that’s Dennis Hopper!
Actually, before you even get to Dennis Hopper, there’s the inventor of the killer ninja non-sex-bots. Who would you get to play a villain in a nineties blue-collar space opera, to sneer and strut and be generally English and superior?
How about Charles Dance?
Now you’re cooking – Charles Dance as evil inventor-genius Nabel. Dennis Hopper as grizzled but still hopeful space-trucker John Canyon. George Wendt – Norm from Cheers, and much else besides – startles your eyeballs within minutes of the movie opening in his role as Keller, Canyon’s nominal employer.
You want some classic talent from British sci-fi thrown into the mix? Fine, here’s Shane Rimmer, Scott Tracy from Thunderbirds, as EJ Saggs, jusssst possibly trying to become President of the Earth in a very non-sexy way. Hell, here’s Sandra Dickinson, TV’s Trillian from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, this time in a voice-only role as Bitchin’ Betty, the on board computer of John Canyon’s rig. How about some up-and-coming hot names? Stephen Dorff do anything for you? Thought so – he’s here too, as vaguely ethical young wannabe-trucker Mike Pucci, a role that these days would go almost inevitably to Chris Pratt. Dorff gives optimistic young trucker with every ounce of conviction in his body here, making him likeable but erring on the side of a lot to learn. You may not know Debi Mazar by name, but having started off in movies like Goodfellas, and recently been on more than a handful of the best known shows on TV, you’ll know you know her from somewhere when you see her as Cindy, diner waitress and throb of John Canyon’s heart, though nearer in age to Pucci, causing occasional awkwardness. When Canyon, Pucci and Cindy have to high-tail it out of Dodge in a hurry after a certain unfortunate ‘employer-sucked-through-a-porthole-into-deep-space’ misunderstanding, they sign up to take a deeply dodgy cargo of apparently-sex-dolls back to the old homeworld, far too few questions asked. Annnnd cue hijack, psycho-robo-nastiness, a touch of gratuitous skin and snogging action (including some with Charles Dance, who, with his chainsaw-action artificial wang, has seen better days), space-truck repair, and eventual attempts to save the world by some good old-fashioned trucker self-sacrifice.
It may not be the most intellectually demanding script you’ve ever followed, but it’s both goodhearted and true to the characters it establishes early, with plenty of moments of real fun along the way.
And again – it has money. Not as much money as it could have had, apparently, but money enough – several of the spacefaring shots would not disgrace the Star Trek franchise, while Canyon’s rig is very much more in the pre-CGI Red Dwarf mode, modelwork and ingenuity frequently giving it a reliably chunky, clunky feel that reinforces the clash of worlds between the space truckers’ spit and sawdust existence and the sleek spacefaring society in which they make their underbelly existence.
What all of that gets you is a genuinely funny, touching space comedy in an American Red Dwarf vein, a story of the people whose problems may not amount to a hill of beans in a big cosmos, but who do a decent job and who try to save the world anyway – but told by some almost absurdly A-List acting talent, with some above average visuals and a sense of internal reality that takes you all the way through from start to finish in a believable world, despite some of its gags bordering on the Mel Brooks level of madness.
The new Blu-Ray release from Second Sight Films is worth paying for. In the first place, feeeel the blu-ray goodness caressing your eyes with crisp visuals and feel the lurid colour-schemes pop. In case you’re wondering, yes, there’s actually a well-thought-out reason behind the colour-schemes – which you can find out on two of the informative and jolly extras here, a long but always interesting interview with Producer/Director and Co-Writer Stuart Gordon (apparently ‘the worst director Dennis Hopper ever worked with’), and a look behind the visual design, which has treats of its own, and which helps make sense of another design feature of the movie – Shane Rimmer may not have felt entirely out of place on set, as the Art Director had previously worked on another Gerry Anderson adventure, Space Precinct.
All in all, you’ll love Space Truckers for the quality of its cast, the goodness of its heart, the energy of its journey and the vibrancy of its visuals. All of which brings us back (like any conscientious trucker) to our point of embarkation – you’re gonna love Space Truckers. Buy it now. Tony Fyler