Thursday, February 9, 2017

Retro Review: FUTURE HUNTERS (1986)

(US/Philippines - 1986; US release 1989)

Directed by Cirio H. Santiago. Written by J.L. Thompson. Cast: Robert Patrick, Linda Carol, Richard Norton, Ed Crick, Bob Schott, David Light, Paul Holmes, Peter Silton, Ursula Marquez, Elizabeth Oropesa, Bruce Le, Wang Chang Lee. (Unrated, 100 mins)

While Filipino exploitation auteur Cirio H. Santiago is best known for his association with Roger Corman from the 1970s until his death in 2008, he frequently branched out and worked on his own. Some of the better-known non-Corman Santiago films include THE MUTHERS (1976), VAMPIRE HOOKERS (1978), DEATH FORCE, aka FIGHTING MAD (1978), and FINAL MISSION (1984). Perhaps the craziest Santiago joint away from Corman is 1986's FUTURE HUNTERS, where the filmmaker basically goes for broke, throwing every big Hollywood action/adventure genre from the period into one ambitious mash-up before anyone knew what a genre mash-up was. Perhaps more than anything, FUTURE HUNTERS is Santiago trying to make his own version of a Cannon/Golan-Globus production. Its dumb plot and nearly nonstop action could've worked for any Chuck Norris or Michael Dudikoff adventure outing; its rousing score by Ron Jones (who went on to write music for FAMILY GUY), divides its time between mimicking cues from Jerry Goldsmith's KING SOLOMON'S MINES score and something more synth and drum machine-based that does its best to invoke Gary Chang or Jay Chattaway; and its 100-minute running time matches the typical Cannon genre production to the minute. Alas, without a bottom-line guy like Corman to oversee things, Santiago indulges himself a bit too much. Even with a jam-packed plot and a shitload of action, FUTURE HUNTERS somehow manages to drag a bit. A lot of this is due to Santiago letting shots run longer than necessary and not trimming the fat elsewhere. In his quest to showcase every action subgenre he could in a single movie, Santiago somehow lets the pace slack. Had this been done under the Concorde banner instead of Vestron offshoot Lightning Pictures, Corman would've had this thing down to 80 minutes and it would've been perfect. As it is, it's stupidly entertaining in all the right ways, but it really could stand to lose 15 or 20 minutes.

Opening in the year 2025, 40 years after "The Holocaust" turned the world into a post-nuke wasteland, marauding, Mad Max-like hero Matthew (Richard Norton) is the last survivor of a group of renegade warriors who have ventured into the Forbidden Zone to find the head of the Spear of Longinus. The Holy Lance, which pierced the body of Christ on the cross, holds within it the power of creation, and with that the ability to turn back time. Matthew hopes to retrieve it and go back 40 years to prevent the Holocaust, with Wez-esque despotic madman Zaar (David Light) in pursuit. Matthew is transported back to 1986 but is badly wounded right beforehand. Before he dies, he hands off the spearhead to vacationing couple Michelle (Linda Carol) and Slade (a debuting Robert Patrick). So begins an adventure through every genre that pops into the heads of Santiago and screenwriter J.L. Thompson (probably a pseudonym for someone, and erroneously listed as veteran director J. Lee Thompson on IMDb). FUTURE HUNTERS is primarily a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ripoff with the globe-trotting search for an ancient artifact, as Michelle and an incredulous Slade attempt to find the actual Spear of Longinus in order to reattach the spearhead and thus, prevent the approaching nuclear holocaust. But it dabbles in Santiago's familiar post-nuke wheelhouse before Norton's Matthew is killed off shortly after the prologue. Then the RAIDERS plot kicks in, then they're off to Asia where Slade meets an old buddy Liu (kung-fu second-stringer Bruce Le) and it becomes a Shaolin martial arts movie for ten minutes as Liu has an extended fight scene with powerful Silverfox (Wang Chang Lee, aka Jang Lee Hwang). Then it's back to RAIDERS as Slade and Michelle are confronted by Bauer (Bob Schott of GYMKATA), the chief henchman of modern-day Nazi Fielding (Ed Crick) who wants the spear in his quest to bring about a new Nazi uprising. Before long, they're a lost in the jungle for a brief segue into ROMANCING THE STONE before they encounter a dwarf tribe played by the same group of little people who play similar roles in all of Santiago's post-nukes, only this time it's a blatant riff on the RETURN OF THE JEDI Ewoks, That detour sends them to a group of Amazon warrior women, one of whom Michelle must battle over a crocodile pit in order to obtain the spear, attach the head, and save the world.

For such a wild plot, FUTURE HUNTERS could have some more spring in its step. Santiago pads a lot of the running time with overlong establishing shots and hanging on to some shots much longer than needed. Still, watching him rip off every '80s blockbuster in sight (you can even say there's some BACK TO THE FUTURE in Matthew's story) is ambitious and pretty ballsy on such a fairly low budget. Though the film was released in the Philippines in 1986, it didn't turn up in the US until its straight-to-video debut in 1989. Though he appeared in several films after, FUTURE HUNTERS marked Patrick's debut and he's a pretty engaging smartass hero, and he's clearly doing a lot of his own strenuous stunt work. Prior to making his impact in pop culture history with his role as the T-1000 in 1991's TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, Patrick got his start in Santiago's Filipino B-movies after he auditioned in L.A. for the Roger Corman production WARLORDS FROM HELL and, according to WARLORDS director Clark Henderson on the Blu-ray special features for Santiago's WHEELS OF FIRE, "it was obvious to all of us that he was a better actor than everyone else in the room." Corman farmed Patrick out to Santiago, who took an instant liking to the young actor and gave him the lead role in FUTURE HUNTERS, as well as his Vietnam actioner BEHIND ENEMY LINES (1988), along with supporting roles in other Philippines-shot, Santiago-directed Corman productions like EQUALIZER 2000 and EYE OF THE EAGLE (both 1987). Though he realizes the movies were junk, Patrick, who has never stopped working since FUTURE HUNTERS, has always looked back on his time with Corman and Santiago with appreciation, grateful for his first big break and for the experience, as well as for meeting his BEHIND ENEMY LINES co-star Barbara Hooper, another Corman ingenue loaned out to Santiago in the late '80s. They hit it off during during production of BEHIND ENEMY LINES and have been married since 1990.

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