Futureworld (1976) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG for violence, language and some suggestive content (probably PG-13 today)
Running time: 104 min.
Cast: Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, Arthur Hill, John P. Ryan, Stuart Margolin, Yul Brynner
Cameo: Allen Ludden
Director: Richard T. Heffron
Screenplay: George Schenk, Mayo Simon
Review published December 11, 2007
A useless sequel to the minor hit from 1973, Westworld, this one imagines a couple of reporters, print man Chuck Browning (Fonda, The Cannonball Run) and TV hotshot Tracy Ballard (Danner, Alice), investigating the Delos-owned, newly revamped amusement park for the rich, which is now said to be a lot less dangerous. They are one of the few to enter the cost-inhibitive theme park who aren't a multimillionaire or prestigious leader of nations, and though things seem to be quite tame from all appearances, Browning's skeptical nature has him digging in places he doesn't belong. Inevitably, Chuck discovers there's a sinister plot beneath the fun facade, whereby humans and robot replicas become virtually indistinguishable, which, when you have world leaders coming to your party, can be a beneficial thing indeed, if you're a criminal mastermind that is.
Although Yul Brynner (The Magnificent Seven, The King and I), sadly in his final film appearance, reprises his role as the gun-touting cowboy gone berserk, fans of the first film should be told that his new footage consists of a ludicrous dream sequence where Tracy envisions herself in a romantic affair with the homicidal android. This is just one of a great many laughable elements of this ambitious but woefully dumb plot. One could at least give the script by Schenk (Turkey Shoot, Barquero) and Simon (Phase IV, Marooned) some credit for taking the basic premise into a different direction, but not when that direction is this predictable and hokey. The sleuthing by these intrepid reporters contains all of the contrivances of a Scooby-Doo mystery, complete with madman-in-disguise climax. If ever a script and director were on the same page, this might be it, as Heffron (I the Jury, V the Final Battle) seems in lockstep with the script's hackneyed nature.
Although the plot, once the filmmakers get around to revealing it, suggests that world-altering plans are afoot, the film still feels like a small-time crime caper, with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, and a lackadaisical delivery that explores about a half-dozen cool features of the theme park attraction (3D holograms, dream readers, etc.) that have no bearing to the story at large. Intelligence-insulting developments occur almost randomly, such as a lengthy chase sequence involving the reporters and a trio of fake-looking samurai who somehow have the ability to be transported and appear out of nothingness to go booga-booga in snarling fashion. The bickering reporters are supposed to recall those snarky films of yesteryear, with competitive rivals who are attracted to one another, although the witty banter of this film is far from witty.
The acting is barely passable across the board, with Fonda offering little of the appeal he showed earlier in his career. It's not the actors fault, though, that Heffron isn't quite sure if he's filming a paranoid thriller, comedy or sci-fi adventure. He tries to give us all three, but none deliver sufficiently in any one direction, resulting in frustrating viewing for all but the most indiscriminate of viewing audiences. Futureworld can't deliver on its promise of awe-inspiring action and intrigue, and the series would end with its first and only sequel. It's appropriate, since there's nothing that can come after the future.
©2007 Vince Leo