Crime Zone

Director: Luis Llosa   
David Carradine, Peter Nelson, Sherilyn Fenn

The future. I think the subject of the future was best summed up by one famous writer and director, who had a character state in one of his movies, "We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future." Okay, maybe picking a quote from writer/director Edward D. Wood Jr. wasn't such a good idea. Though it was probably better than my original idea of how to open this review by choosing to bring up the subject of a certain floor cleaner that's been around for years and (heh) waxing on about it before getting to what we think when we hear the word "future", which is what I'll get to now. What do you think of when the subject of "the future" is brought up? Well, I think that when we were all children, the idea of the future was something magical. It seemed anything could happen in the future, with ideas like flying cars, traveling to other planets, and having robots that would do all our work for us, the last one being an especially favorite idea of mine, since my parents inflicted me with doing many chores around the house. But as all of us got older, the idea of what could happen in the future starts to sour a little. We start to get glimpses of what is happening in the world from our parents' newspapers, and when they are watching the news on TV at the end of the day. We see wars that show no sign of stopping, as well as new diseases and assorted other pestilence popping up (as well as new ones that we had supposedly eradicated years earlier) with no immediate cures available.

In fact, I am pretty sure that as an adult, when you think of "the future", you'll be thinking of a number of bad things that will happen. Oh sure, there are probably a lot of other things you think about that will almost certainly progress from where they are now and get even bigger and better in the future, like the Internet, for example. But I am confident that you will be thinking of many possible bad things that might happen in the future. I confess that is what happens in my mind when I think of the future. Why is that? Why are we so pessimistic about the future? I've thought about this for a long time, and after all this time I've come to what I think is a plausible reason. The reason for pessimistic views of the future come from the pessimistic tone of future settings in popular science fiction, either written or performed on the silver or glass screen. Think about it for a minute or two. Books, TV shows, and movies are jam-packed with awul futuristic situations that could very well happen. Such scenarios include a post-nuclear war world such as what's found in The Road Warrior, and a world plagued with overpopulation and a system where the few "haves" control the rest of the population of "have nots", such as the world that's pictured in Soylent Green. There have also been other cautionary tales about what might be, such as aliens that invade our world with the intent of wiping out mankind, a scenario that has been done in countless books and movies. The list is endless, not just limited to the above, but with other things like the living dead rising to eat us, a plague wiping out the world, etc. etc.

Why is this so? Why are writers picturing our possible future in countless negative stories? The most plausible theory I have come across is that a hellish world has more dramatic possibilities. If a world is perfect, it would be hard to write about because there would be no conflict, no challenges Crime Zoneto overcome. There are a few exceptions to this (the Star Trek TV shows generally pictures a positve-looking future), but just try to think of a paradise world full-length story - you'll soon find it's a difficult setting to write about. Especially if you are working for a low budget movie producer like Roger Corman, then you have to put in negative stuff like violence in order to attract an audience. Crime Zone is not only a Roger Corman movie, but one that doesn't break from that negative future viewpoint. Here the plot description from the back of the video box: "'Beware, young traitors. The states knows who you are.' The words blare from public address speakers into the war-ravaged night. But young Helen (foxy Sherilyn Fenn from Two Moon Junction) and Bone (Peter Nelson) know they're freedom lovers, not traitors. Trapped in a police state that divides society into rigid strata, they are doomed to live as 'subgrades' - unless they can somehow escape the Crime Zone. David Carradine (Kung Fu, The Long Riders) plays Jason, the mysterious stranger who offers the desperate couple a way out if they can steal a computer chip vital to the government. Soon Helen and Bone are being hunted like animals, caught in a web of murder which leads them deep into the heart of the most shocking and violent conspiracy ever imagined. The films unveils a nightmarish world where citizens are constantly watched by TV cameras; the ultra-rich extend their lives in Gardens of Hibernation; and caged beauties dispense state-sanctioned sex in Houses of Pleasure. Now, enter the Crime Zone - if you dare!"

When you watch a movie that depicts a hellish future, like Crime Zone does, it usually doesn't take very long to figure out all the whys of the depicted society. What I mean by the whys are questions like, "Why is the government of this society (usually a fascist-like government) the way it is?" or "If this society is hell on earth, why don't the citizens just pack up and move someplace else that's better?" In other movies depicting hell-on-earth societies, you usually get answers to those questions pretty quickly. But watching Crime Zone, I thought of a lot of questions that simply didn't get answered. The society here seems to be a police state, but there doesn't seem to be anything stopping the citizens from leaving the city. A past plague in the outside mentioned several times in the movie might have stopped people in the past, but there are indications that it has long disappeared. This society also happens to be at war with... somebody. Just who the war is with, and what caused the war are both not answered as well. This is also apparently society that consists of the "haves" and "have nots", with the "haves" under the protection of the police. But we never get a good examination of these "haves" as individuals or as a ruling force when put together. Instead, the movie makes the mistake of instead focusing on the police and their Gestapo-like tactics. The police are just following orders when they inflict punishment (deserved or not) on the "have nots" - why not focus on just who is giving these orders, and what their motivations are behind these orders? Then we would most likely get answers to such questions as I wrote at the top of this paragraph.

As a result, there is no real enemy in Crime Zone. Granted, there are characters that attempt to do some bad things towards the protagonists during the course of the movie. But there is never a feeling that the bad things attempted by the other characters are coming straight from a source of real evil. It all seems to be coming indirectly. Because of this, it is often hard to get caught up in the plight of Helen and Bone. If we could identify with and sense the evil, we would willingly root for them to succeed. But there are another reasons it's hard to get involved with these two protagonists. For one thing, much of the time they are very bland characters. In the opening minutes of the movie, Bone, a member of the fascist police, is fired from his job. What's his reaction? Not upset, angry, or even gleeful, but shrugs it off as if someone had slightly bumped him while passing him on the street. As for Helen, quite frankly I thought right from the beginning that she was a stuck-up b*itch. She is so unlikable, and with Bone being so bland and unemotional, I simply could not believe, when these two people met, that they would find anything to like about the other. And later in the movie, when they start doing things like robbing banks and killing innocent people, they lose every last bit of sympathy we might have left for them. As for Carradine's character, it's not only a big question mark whether he's on the side of Helen and Bone when he meets the two of them and gives them the assignment, it is also a big question mark at the end of the movie. Despite being top-billed, he actually doesn't appear very much during the course of the movie (not only is he missing for the movie's first thirty minutes, he clearly knocked off his scenes in just a few days), and the few times he does appear there is very little to make us think one way or another about him.

I have the feeling that there are many people, who either pick up the video cassette of the movie or watch it on cable, will care little to nothing about details such as those I've discussed in the previous two paragraphs. They'll see producer Roger Corman's name in the credits and assume that they'll get some good action or even some imaginative eye candy with such stuff as nudity or creative set design. But Crime Zone doesn't even deliver in those categories. This movie was shot in Peru, no doubt to cut costs, so you might think that the new location and the extra money on hand would give the viewer some fresh and eye-catching visuals. But director Luis Llosa never takes advantage of this - the whole movie looks like it could have been filmed in the Los Angeles area. There are almost no scenes shot outdoors, and the few outdoor scenes are usually so dark and shot so close up with the camera that all these outdoor locations look the same. The rest of the movie is shot in cramped, poorly lit, and cheap-looking locations obviously shot on a soundstage with a fog machine just off camera. The only visual flair that Llosa gives these sets is a lot of neon, neon signs and neon stripes on things like pool tables. Even though this movie is supposedly taking place in the future, all this neon looks distracting and out of place. Had Llosa spent the budget for neon to spruce up and light the sets in other ways, I think the visual look of the movie would be better. As for action, Llosa doesn't seem to have a clue as to how to properly stage an action scene. The scenes where people shoot guns, for example, have the participants standing still and simply firing, completely without passion in front of or behind the camera. With the screenplay and the actors also having this half-hearted feeling, you have to wonder just how Corman had the passion to green-light this project. In fact, the majority of Corman-produced movies from this era have this feeling of lacking life and energy. Having the ability to make a profit on a movie even before it's released, due to pre-sales, Corman seems to have lost the passion to entertain an audience. As long as you never lose a dime, why care?

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See also: Equilibium, Omega Doom, Neon City