Circuitry Man (1990)

In the future, the earth will become unfit to live due to the end of rainforests and mankind’s pollution, with an atmosphere lacking oxygen required for human life..so man went underground, “raping” each other’s minds. Vernon Wells is a criminal named Plughead, a bald menace in a suit with plugs throughout his head used to ravage the minds of anyone he so wishes. His rival is Juice(Lu Leonard), an obese, loud, venal kingpin who operates her power in the subterranean version of Los Angeles. Juice “commissions” her former body guard, Lori(Dana Wheeler-Nicholson;Fletch)to protect her in a shady dealing of “chips” with Plughead..if she agrees, then Lori will be able to secure a much better living arrangement, getting out of the corrupt, degraded confines of Los Angeles. In an exchange that goes awry, thanks to police interruption(..detective Beany, played by Paul Willson(the plump barfly always looking for solidarity with his fellow drinkers on CHEERS) if often upstaged by those he’s after), Juice and Plughead escape only to contact each other in an argument over the metal case containing the chips. Plughead believes, after snapping her neck, that he’s rid of Juice, but chooses to confront Lori, losing the case getting stabbed by her in the process(..Lori’s one tough broad). Snatching away the case, Lori persuades a “love machine”, a “synthetic”(..a pleasure android manipulated by Juice)named Danner(Jim Metzler)to take her to New York. Danner was promised the whereabouts of this romantic love concocted by Juice if he delivered her the chips(..these chips are like narcotics for those with “outlits” in their heads), and Lori informs him that she will give the location of this girl is he will perform the task she wishes. Picking up a filthy derelict along the way(Dennis Christopher in an embarrassing performance, this is far away from his BREAKING AWAY day, that’s for sure)who fed on leeches to survive as they travel the underground maze(..it looks like a parking garage, and probably was)to where the exit to “topside”(..above ground, in order to survive in the atmosphere, oxygen tanks are a must, which is why Lori and Danner take their trashy guest along thanks to his supply)is located. Following behind is Plughead and his new lieutenant, Yoyo(Barbara Alyn Woods, dressed in a suit, kind of a gunsel)who had worked for Juice and moves from one criminal to the next, and is a bit of a maneater. Soon Plughead will align himself with a gang of biker bandits as they pursue our heroes.

While I found the cast mostly entertaining, this film disappointed me in certain areas, because there are several sequences where the action is shot off screen. There’s a moment, for instance, where Danner challenges a trucker(..hauling oxygen tanks)to a game of pool. Danner is able to knock the 8-ball in one break yet it all occurs away from our eyes, only seen in the expressions on the faces around the table. Not very long after, Lori defends Danner in an altercation against those in the building so that he can escape a chamber lacking oxygen, with all most of the fighting away from our view..if Lori is a tough girl, then let us see her in action! Another scene has the trucker, giving Danner and Lori a ride, being pulled apart by motorcycles at Plughead’s command, yet again we do not see it. Even at the end, during the climactic shootout between police and the bikers as Danner and Plughead have a “cerebral duel”, both instances are never visually realized(..we never see the result of the shootout or Danner’s final strike to escape the mind of his adversary). I’m guessing the film was low budget, not funded enough to stage big action sequences, but the failure to deliver left me wanting. And, seeing Wells with wires plugged in his head is pretty laughable, removing the menace he’s supposed to convey. The desert becomes a major setting for the middle portion of the film as we see very little left after mankind’s natural destruction.

The idea of subterranean cities I think is a nifty concept, but CIRCUITRY MAN doesn’t really have the monetary capabilities to fully establish such an ambitious concept. I think many will probably respond more to Danner and Lori’s burgeoning romance rather than the plot they’re involved in. Wells is in a handful of scenes, dispersed throughout, which is probably a good thing because if one looks at him too long, he’d probably induce giggles and rolling eyes. I can understand the cult for it, due to it’s campy nature, but as serious sci-fi, CIRCUITRY MAN isn’t quite up to the standard. My favorite sequence has the viewer within the twisted mind of Plughead where a mass of collected bodies appear as Danner must defeat him in his desired setting(..Wells’ face carries a withered demonic shape).