Opened: January 26, 1996 | Rated: R
In most every action movie the bad guys invariably scream when they sneak up on the hero, so he knows to turn around and kill them.
Audiences generally let this slide if the movie is enough fun, but "Screamers" isn't, and throughout the picture this fallacy is always in mind.
The plot is that on a war-torn, distant mining planet, burrowing robotic perimeter guards called "screamers," reminiscent of circular-blade hand saws gone mad, have begun eliminating all life human and are modifying themselves to resemble humans.
Hung out to dry by his off-world commanders, Col. Joseph Hendricksson (Peter Weller) sets off across the planet himself to make peace with what remains of the enemy.
The idea has potential, after all it's based on a story by legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, but "Screamers" is inundated with movie cliches, stock characters, stolen premises and scenes that just don't make sense.
There's the virtual reality commander giving orders in his authoritative "Dr. No" neru jacket. There's the trek through the wilderness with the new recruit for the purpose of having a long conversation to explain the plot.
Once the hero and the recruit arrive at enemy headquarters they find a typical small band of survivors -- a shell-shocked soldier, a trigger-happy loose cannon and a sexpot female commander (Jennifer Rubin) who takes a sponge bath in front of Hendricksson while they discuss strategy for survival against the screamers.
And there's the army of spooky, dead-eyed children marching on the protagonists, which has been used in everything from "Barbarella" to "Children of the Corn."
"Screamers" teeters on the edge of being almost interesting for the first hour despite this lack of creativity.
But then Rubin's semi-tough, take-charge woman very suddenly, and for no discernible reason, gives up hope while hiking toward a ship to get them home turns into "The Girl" -- crying out "I can't go on anymore."
Col. Hendricksson comes to the rescue with a big smooch, the music swells and it's all downhill from there.
By the time they get to the secret entrance of the space ship hanger, it's a surprise that he doesn't carry her over the threshold.
Of course there are three or four "surprise" endings, most of which involve lengthy hand-to-hand combat, when up to that point the screamers had been killing quickly and efficiently.
A more merciful end would have had the screamers learning to shut up when they attack, so as to put the audience out of its misery.
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