Cloak and Jagger

As the science fiction thriller Freejack would have it, the big Apple seventeen years hence is a grimy midnight junkyard blanketed by noxious gas, infested with drug-crazed snipers engaged in open warfare, and run, police-state style, by the hired goons of all-powerful corporations. Nuns armed with machine guns curse like sailors, and the rivers are so polluted that a brief dip will kill you, but that doesn't keep armies of have-nots from frying up river rats for lunch. The movie doesn't speculate on Manhattan hotel rates in 2009, but the price on the head of runaway-hero Alex Furlong is a cool ten million bucks.

This is a pretty standard vision of post-apocalyptic chaos - indeed, most tourists from Kansas City see New York this way right now - but filmmakers Ron Shusett and Geoff Murphy do more here than recap 1984 or Blade Runner. Working from Robert Sheckley's novel Immortality, Inc., they give us Marty's kid, Emilio Estevez, as the "freejack" of the title, a body on the run, a piece of meat bought and paid for the minute his race car explodes in flames in 1991, but who slips through the cracks before his buyer can occupy him just a flash-forward later.

As in sci-fi schemes aplenty, this foments a chase of Evil after Good through the chaotic streets, nasty undergrounds, and sleek boardrooms of the future. Who better to lead the pursuit than Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, looking craggy, dessicated, and mock-dangerous. As the ruthless body-retriever Vacendak, gotten up in black-studded leather, equipped with ray gun and bright red armored vehicle, Jagger puts a bizarre comic charge into the film that carries it over the rough spots. Jagger's such a pleasure to watch as he goofs his way through this that you soon forget about the movie's infelicities of plot and its crashing cliches, narrative and visual.

When our hero Alex isn't getting whacked on powerful blue cocktails or careening over the pavements in sundry vehicles, he's in hot pursuit of his long-lost lady love (Rene Russo), who's now a hired gun for mysterious corporate chieftain Anthony Hopkins. It's not difficult to unravel a couple of plot twists the minute you set eyes on Doc Lector, but that's all right: The fun lies in plunging on to the finale through a shambles of wrecked machinery, fallen warriors, and fiery anarchy.

Producer/co-writer Shusett made a few bucks earlier with Alien and Total Recall, and Freejack doesn't measure up to either of those projects. New Zealand-born director Geoff Murphy (Young Guns II, The Quiet Earth) doesn't bring much that's new, either: The story's old hat, and by now we've seen everything the special effects departments have to offer.

Still, Freejack's a decent entertainment, nicely acted, straight out of the thrill-a-second school. In this century or the next, you could do worse.

Directed by Geoff Murphy; screenplay by Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett, and Dan Gilroy, from the novel Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley; with Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins. Rated


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