Director – Geoff Murphy, Screenplay – Dan Gilroy, Steven Pressfield & Ronald Shusett, Story – Steven Pressfield & Ronald Shusett, Based on the Novel Immortality Inc by Robert Sheckley, Producers – Ronald Shusett & Stuart Oken, Photography – Amir Mokri, Music – Trevor Jones, Visual Effects – DreamQuest (Supervisor – Richard Hoover), Transfer Sequence – Robert Blalack & Praxis Filmworks, Special Effects Supervisor – Joey DiGaetano, Production Design – Joe Alves. Production Company – Morgan Creek
Emilio Estevez (Alex Furlong), Mick Jagger (Victor Vacendak), Rene Russo (Julie Redlund), Anthony Hopkins (Ian McCandless), Jonathan Banks (Mark Michelette), David Johansen (Brad Carter), Grand L. Bush (Boone), Amanda Plummer (Nun)
Formula One racing driver Alex Furlong spins out in the midst of a race. At the moment the car explodes, Alex is snatched up by a time-travel operation and whisked into the year 2009. There he is claimed by bounty hunter Victor Vacendak. Alex finds that he is a ‘freejack’, one of various marked people who are snatched out of time by The Spiritual Switchboard to become new bodies for this society’s rich as they age or become ill. Refusing to accept such a fate, Alex makes an escape. He goes on the run in a bewilderingly changed world, all the while pursued by Vacendak who is determined to claim his body.
In his book Immortality Inc (1958), Robert Sheckley used a variation on H.G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) to offer an intriguing pseudo-scientific rationale for zombies, ghosts and various life-after-death phenomena and to question the body-mind issue. By contrast, Freejack, the film adaptation of Immortality Inc, uses a variation on H.G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes to make a car-chase movie. Freejack is unfortunately science fiction that has been made by people who perceive people’s interest in the genre as being limited to explosions, car chases and heroes and villains quipping one-liners in the midst of the action to show they are not taking things too seriously.
Freejack is a film that makes no sense at all – one never understands why the rich have to snatch people through time to house their minds. Nor is it ever explained why Anthony Hopkins’s corporate exec goes to such extensive lengths to obtain Emilio Estevez’s body – there is an explanation about him desiring Estevez’s old girlfriend Rene Russo and wanting Estevez’s body to fool her, but the film clearly believes that explanation as little as we do and shows it to be ruse a few minutes later, whereupon no further explanation is ever offered.
Freejack was made by expat New Zealand director Geoff Murphy, who had previously made the anarchic cult NZ comedy Goodbye Pork Pie (1980) and the fine end of the world film The Quiet Earth (1985). Alas, after The Quiet Earth made Geoff Murphy’s name on the international stage, all his films in the commercial mainstream, including the likes of Young Guns II (1990) and a couple of other sf/action hybrids, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) and Fortress 2: Re-Entry (2000), vanished into the routine and formulaic. The script for Freejack was co-written by Ronald Shusett who once had the career-boosting credit of the story for Alien (1979) on his resume, but away from collaborations with Dan O’Bannon has only written the likes of King Kong Lives (1986) and this.
The film features some odd casting, the most bizarre of which is Mick Jagger. Here the producers having clearly banked on Samuel Johnson’s old adage (concerning women preachers and dancing dogs) that audiences would pay “not to see it done well, but done at all.” At least, Mick Jagger’s non-acting and marbles-in-the-jowls accent is preferable to the awful acting indulged in by Jonathan Banks, who goes through the same teeth-clenched, temple-straining thing he always does, and David Johansen (aka parody rocker Buster Poindexter) who takes the opportunity to go thoroughly over-the-top. Amanda Plummer does the flaky, spaced-out giggly thing she always does as a gun-toting streetwise nun but the effect is so awful that her scenes are embarrassing to watch.
The film’s interesting, albeit repetitive, background and Cyberpunk designs are actually more interesting than the film itself. The vehicles seem cumbersome and the technology not that advanced, but the interior designs are memorable. Although, as a future, the film fails to convince that such sweeping social changes, let alone the idea of the Spiritual Switchboard and time-travel, could have occurred in the space of 17 years. (Rene Russo never appears to age during this time either).
The only other Robert Sheckley works to have been filmed have been The Tenth Victim (1965) about a future where human hunting is a legalized sport; The Prize of Peril (1983), which features similar themes; and Condorman (1981) about a comic-book artist who gets to bring his creations to life, which was very loosely based on Sheckley’s spy novel The Game of X (1967).