Space Truckers

Year 1997

Dennis Hopper as  John Canyon
Stephen Dorff as Mike Pucci
Debi Mazar as Cindy
George Wendt   as Keller
Charles Dance as Macanudo
Director - Stuart Gordon  
Screenwriter - Ted Mann

What is it about the word "space" that, when you put it in front of certain blue collar words, makes the whole phrase "cool" (or at least not too uncool)? Like "Space Cowboy" or "Space Ranger" or "Space Case". Nevermind.

What about songs that begin with "space" like "Space Cadet" or "Space Cowboy" or "Space Trucking" or "Spice Ranger"? (Just checking to see if you're paying attention.)

But really, if someone writes a song entitled "Space Sponge Fishing" then someone else will make a movie called "Space Sponge Fishers". Like the Steve Miller band song "Space Cowboy" which became "Space Cowboys". Notice the clever use of a plural to avoid a copyright infringement. Or Deep Purple's "Space Trucking" which becomes "Space Truckers".

After checking the names on the DVD cover, I decided to squander $8.00 for this one. Stuart Gordon, director with tongue-in-cheek movie fame, Ted Mann, once owner of the Mann's Theater chain (no foolin') fame, and Dennis Hopper, with crazy guy movie fame, are listed.

If you don't know Stuart Gordon, then check out Re-Animator and From Beyond. If you don't know Dennis Hopper, then…that's really bad. Everyone knows Dennis Hopper. From Giant to Easy Rider to Apocalypse Now to OC and Stiggs to Blue Velvet everyone knows Dennis Hopper. The man's a freakin' icon.

Well, what about Space Truckers? The plot is not too complex. In the future, an independent outer space freight hauler gets in trouble and takes a job that's not quite above board. Bring on the requisite crew of adorable girl and testosterone guy, give them an Evil Empire/Alliance/Corporation to outwit, send them through the scum/Reaver portion of space, and let the good times roll!

Uh-oh! Did I just make a Firefly reference? Yep. Firefly ruined portions of The Wild Bunch for me because that's where Firefly stole the train robbery. I can't watch that scene now without twitching because it calls up painful memories of how Firefly lamely plagiarized it. Now after watching Space Truckers I see that Firefly lifted the majority of their premise from yet another movie.

Unlike Firefly, Space Truckers isn't a pretentious smorgasbord of drivel. Space Truckers is a self-deprecating display of chaos.

It isn't perfect. It doesn't even try to be. Any movie that starts with a space ship hauling stackable square pigs can't possibly take itself seriously.

It's filled with clichés and revels in the fact. When you see a secret entrance hidden by a robot of a crone sitting on a toilet, you know that the writers have struck gold…so to speak.

Laws of Physics? That's for people who don't like shooting bullets or detonating plastic explosives in an airless void. Although, I've been told that this could happen since explosives contain their own oxidizer, a.k.a. source of oxygen. So maybe I'm cutting the movie some slack when I don't need to.

At the beginning, at least, the movie tries to recognize some laws...or at least their codicils. Sliced and diced people have liquid inside, but it's goo instead of blood. Enough heat can melt a metal door, but flammable objects less than a foot away aren't at risk from rising temperatures. Things like that. But weightlessness is considered seriously and only dismissed when it's inconvenient.

These laspses are easy to forgive when it's all about the entertainment. The space station where John Canyon (Dennis Hopper) gets his assignment is really a fifties diner truck stop and in this movie, where a space ship is really the cab of a semi, it works. The evil genius Macanudo (Charles Dance) is really an evil genius.

To sum up the attitude of the movie when Macanudo dies, John Canyon delivers the moving eulogy, "You know, for a son-of-a-b***h, gimp, rapist, murderer, he died ok."

Even the talking computer is entertaining and not annoying. I'm not alone in thinking that talking computers are annoying. There was a time when automobile manufacturers decided that talking computers in their cars were the next big thing. For years they tried to get people to accept a voice scolding them and saying things like, "Your door is ajar." (No, you idiot! It's a door, not a jar.) Eventually, the manufacturers smartened up and replaced the voice with a sound like a bell. Now if GPS manufacturers can get a clue and think of some other way to provide directions other than say, "<deep sigh> Recalculating."

The evil soldier robots in the movie (well, they're not truly evil, they're just programmed to be killers) become less formidable as the movie progresses so that the heroes can defeat them. In the first scene one of these things wipes out most of an army. By the time our heroes have to face them, four of them, the armor can be bent with a canister of LOX.

There's one scene that does absolutely nothing to move the plot along but it was too good to delete. In exchange for passage to Earth, the heroine agrees to have sex with Macanudo, who is half-man and half-machine. He's got to get things going by pulling on a starter cord. But, he chokes in the clutch and the thing won't work no matter how hard he pulls on the starter cord. The heroine's honor is saved, the audience isn't offended, and the light tone of the movie is retained. (A successful rape would have been curtains for this send-up.)

I especially liked the hospital scene near the end for its poignant satire. The entrance is crowded with dozens of people in obvious need of medical care but they aren't allowed in. I took it as a commentary on socialized medicine.

The movie is innocuous enough and light enough to be able to be enjoyed with a date who has a sense of humor. There's sexual suggestion but no nudity or rutting. (Square pigs? Rutting? Nevermind.)

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