Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:57 - Released 5/12/00

You know, I can't blame John Travolta. It would seem a safe bet, producing and starring in a major science fiction epic with all the high-tech hullabaloo that was afforded to The Phantom Menace, The Matrix, and all those other major science fiction epics. And the novel was even written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Travolta's Church of Scientology. What he didn't count on, however, was the ineptness of the screen writer (Corey Mandell) and director (Roger Christian) in bringing it to the screen. Once again, we learn that a film cannot stand on special effects alone. As a result, it would seem Travolta, who has proven his talent time and time again, is actually putting forth an intentionally bad performance, as if he decided there was no way this film could be a success, so he may as well just has throw caution to the wind and wallow in the mediocrity. I see no other explanation for his astounding scenery chewing. What I can't figure out is why all the other actors are so bad, too.

It is the year 3000. As usual in science fiction stories, the population of Earth has been reduced to a cave-dwelling, fur-wearing, cro-magnon-type species, who have recently discovered how to tame fire and are making great progress with the wheel and the pointed stick. First we meet Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), whose lack of faith in "the gods" upsets his fellow neanderthals, but allows him freedom from the fear that plagues the others. When he goes out searching for some nuts and berries, he is abducted by the Psychlos (from the planet Psychlo), an alien race with beehive hairdos, dredlocks, and neatly-trimmed goatees, who have conquered Earth despite their distaste for its native flora and fauna and their inability to breathe its air.

We soon learn that the local leader of the Psychlos is Terl (Travolta), who, along with his slow-witted henchman Ker (Forest Whitaker), regularly engages in his three favorite activities, which are: 1) enslaving and abusing Earthlings, 2) selling out his friends, and 3) erupting in maniacal laughter. (In addition to their other friends, Terl and Ker regularly sell each other out, too.) Their latest plan is to force a bunch of slaves to mine gold, unbeknownst to the "home office" (yes, they really call it that), and keep the rewards. But Jonnie and his friend Carlo (Kim Coates), and several others, have plans to overthrow the Psychlos and destroy their planet.

This film maintains a surprising consistency of bad acting and directing almost from the first frame to the last. The effects are occasionally interesting, but it's mostly a dark and depressing affair, and the script is far too complex for its own good. Travolta and Whitaker are such cartoon character bad guys, they bear no trace of believability, though Travolta seems to be enjoying himself at least. Whitaker mostly just looks embarrassed to be there, which he should be. As the protagonist, Pepper is surprisingly bland and unremarkable, even when he and his good-guy underlings are showing truly unbelievable leaps of intuition (like when they learn to fly Harrier jets in 7 days). Added to this is the fact that the film is filled with anachronistic slang, with characters saying things like, "put it on my tab" and "have you blown a head gasket?" I don't know why a Psychlo would know what a head gasket is, but I think its inclusion in the film suggests an exciting new chapter in the theory of internal-combustion engine evolution. Do you suppose this has something to do with Scientology?

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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