CHERRY 2000 is a quirky post-apocalyptic adventure, one with a cool sci-fi western premise and alot of underlying oddness and satirical observation about life in the ’80s. The action is slightly stilted, and I think director Steve De Jarnatt (who followed this up with the pre-apocalyptic MIRACLE MILE) is more comfortable doing funny twists on the genre than sincerely following its tropes, but I also think there is a good faith effort to deliver the goods. There are lots of machine guns and blowtorches, some explosions, some great stunts involving a car hanging from a crane. When the weinery yuppie protagonist decides to man up he does it by setting fire to a bunch of cars and rigging an explosion that knocks over Tim Thomerson and swarms him with bees. Not bad.
The whole world is not a wasteland. Sam Treadwell (David Andrews, who played Scooter Libby in FAIR GAME) lives a comfy life in upscale Anaheim. He makes a good enough living at the recycling plant that he bought himself a top of the line sex robot (Pamela Gidley, THRASHIN’), the title of the movie being her make and model. She talks sweet to him and makes him a hamburger and fries after work, but her parts cannot withstand a romantic encounter involving soapy water. After the shock of her short-circuiting beneath him he buries his head in her bosom and it fades out. I thought he’d decided to finish up anyway but no, it doesn’t seem like he’s supposed to be a robonecrophiliac scumbag, he’s a romantic who is devastated by the loss of this robot, who he loves. So he takes the mini-disc that holds her memories and personality and hires a bounty hunter, or “tracker,” and heads across the desert to the factory where he’s told he can find the one remaining robot of the same vintage model.
The tracker is E. Johnson, played by a red-haired Melanie Griffith. She says her lines kinda flat but she looks cool and has a charming sweetness. When a gauntlet of outskirts savages shower her car with bullets and flames she describes them as “real mature.” Asked if she’s okay after almost getting bucked off her car hanging from a crane over a ravine she says “I swallowed my gum.” But she can track, she can shoot, she can repair and fly a plane, she has a badass car and she doesn’t seem to be afraid of heights.
It’s one of those movies that simultaneously feels cheap and impressively resourceful. I was rooting for them and excited whenever they managed to fit in a fleet of dune buggies, a cool junk structure or an impressive stunt. The details of the world are goofy. In the town of Gloryhole everybody dresses and acts like it’s the old west. But the people of Sky Ranch, the settlement brutally led by Lester (Thomerson), dress like tourists or retirees with bucket hats and sunblock triangles on their noses.
They’re a good metaphor for the way a society can be cruel and brutal but convinced they’re the civilized ones. After Lester publicly executes a tracker with a “hole in one” arrow to the face it cuts to everybody enjoying “the Hokey Pokey.”
Another outwardly comedic scene that seems more specific to the ’80s is before he leaves the city he goes to a club where women try to pick up men by showing them their sex videos. Then they have a lawyer to help negotiate the terms of the sex.
Oh shit, that’s Morpheus! Other small parts include Brion James as a guy that gives him trouble in a saloon and Robert Z’Dar as one of Lester’s henchmen (no dialogue). And Ben Johnson plays the role of the old timer legendary retired tracker Six Fingered Jake.
You can see where the plot is going right away, but it’s such a perfect ’80s idea that it doesn’t matter. It’s a sci-fi version of THE SURE THING! Remember, that was the Rob Reiner directed teen movie where John Cusack gets a ride across the country to meet some girl that his friend tells him is “a sure thing” (i.e. willing to fuck him). And he’s traveling with this girl that’s his tutor that he thinks is uptight and they bicker and everything and as they start to get to know each other they start to get close but then she gets jealous about he’s gonna fuck some other girl but ultimately he realizes he doesn’t love that girl he loves the tutor so happy ending, etc. This is exactly the same thing but the sure thing is a sex robot and the tutor is a bounty hunter and the road trip is a dangerous journey across a lawless wasteland. And instead of (spoiler for THE SURE THING) deciding he can’t fuck her he (spoiler for CHERRY 2000) decides he doesn’t need her and tricks her into getting off the plane by asking her to get him a Pepsi. And the poor girl falls for it. At least she ends up with his ex-girlfriend who no longer has Lester to boss her around, so maybe they’ll both take this opportunity to live better lives.
I like this one better now than I did the first time I saw it years ago. I think what’s holding it back is a not-extraordinarily charismatic lead performance as a hero who’s really kind of a weiner. Every time E seems disgusted that he’s so attached to his sex robot she’s correct. But a couple characters refer to him as “a romantic,” and I thought it was gonna make an argument that Cherry has a personality, she is sentient, and he really can be in love with her, whether other people understand it or not. A HER argument, or a BLADE RUNNER. But no, when he reunites with her you see that she’s not really human, she has no understanding, just a programmed subservience to him. She can’t compare to a real woman, much less a real real woman like E.
So really this guy’s a futuristic version of one of these freakos who fall in love with anime sex pillows or My Little Pony dolls. Except it’s an elite form of that because you gotta have some dough to buy one of these. This was the ’80s and this guy is a yuppie. Most of the world is suffering and he’s living like this:
Plus he has douchey friends from work who bring him to douchey clubs. He’s an overdog who’s sad because he broke his rich person super sex toy by using it wrong. This is one of those problems that only a super rich person living a very specific rich person lifestyle would have, like most of the things Kanye West gets enraged about these days (Nike said they don’t know when they’re releasing the shoes they paid me to design for them, my wife can’t get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just because she’s not an actor, the croissants are taking too long, etc.). It’s just not a relatable character at all in my opinion so it would’ve required an actor with a really strong likable presence, or a really funny performance, to make us still like him. Unfortunately that’s not this guy.
But somehow it still works. Maybe me not liking the hero so much helps to elevate E to movie-stealer status. On the other hand, I couldn’t understand why she was pining after this dork, so that did make her a little less cool. Still, I’m glad things work out for her the way she wanted. And for all we know she’ll accidentally drown him in some dishwater and trade up for a better dude.
Unlike MIRACLE MILE, De Jarnatt didn’t write this one himself. The screenplay is credited to Michael Almereyda (his first writing credit), story by Lloyd Fonvielle (THE MUMMY, Brendan Fraser version). The score is by the great Basil Poledouris (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ROBOCOP, ON DEADLY GROUND), so it’s very legit triumphant action movie shit.
And this is pretty random, but I noticed on the credits that the first assistant camera, third unit is Dariusz Wolski, who went on to become the cinematographer of DARK CITY, the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, PROMETHEUS and EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. Man, I knew there was something special about that third unit stuff.