By Wes Smith
Though many viewers consider the heyday of kitsch films to be the 60’s and 70’s, other generations have had no lack of their own number of cult films, as showcased by 1988’s Cherry 2000.
The 80’s were a special time in cinema. It was the birth of arguably the first generation of nostalgia-centric youths that would go on to become the same forces that drive Comic Con, Transformers reboots, and the Ninja Turtles years after the fact. It’s no coincidence that it was also the generation that embraced Sci-Fi as a medium and lead to the distinct look that 80’s films bring.
Following the success of Star Wars, Sci-Fi was no longer considered a thing for geeks alone. The film launched a great deal of scrambling to tap into the sci-fi market with varied results. Earth-based, futuristic stories took hold, leading to genuine classics and groundbreakers like Mad Max (1979) and Blade Runner (1982).
By the time Cherry 2000 came along, the market was all over the place. Orion Pictures, itself an oft-remembered production company among nostalgics, had begun production on its own dystopian Sci-Fi while the going was good. With Melanie Griffith, who would about to become a force in her own right with Working Girl, and David Andrews, a TV player making his jump to features, cast as the leads, filming began in 1985.
The story for Cherry 2000 follows a young, richer man (Andrews) from a dystopian Anaheim as he struggles with a broken sex robot. Dating real women in the future requires contracts and legal hurdles, and his passion for his Cherry 2000 model bot sends him off to the wastelands in search of a replacement. There, he meets the tracker E. Johnson (Griffith) who helps him fight through the lawless country of rebels who are after the rare Cherry data-chip he possesses.
What resulted from the production was simultaneously strange and wonderfully unique – part Sci-Fi, part Western, part Romance. Director Steve De Jarnatt was making his feature debut (he would only create one more feature, Miracle Mile, before returning to television work). Under his hand, the film mixed an interesting and fantastically rendered future Anaheim with an almost satirical, madcap wasteland shot mostly in Nevada. The budget seemed mostly used in the few brief city sequences, whereas most of the desert consists of rebels looking like a Hunter S. Thompson convention in their floral print and khakis.
Adding to the oddities, and perhaps giving the film much of its charm, were the usage of Andrews and Griffith. Unlike Barbarella, which showed sparks of its lead’s abilities, Griffith seems a misfire of casting for Cherry 2000. Her E. Johnson looks the part, but her soft-spoken choices clash with the character of someone used to wandering wastelands. Andrews does well in his role, but one wonders how Kevin Costner, who had originally been offered the role, would have done in his place.
The sentiment seems to be shared, with Griffith’s stating later that Cherry 2000 was her least favorite film. She had just had her first child, and had been threatened with recasting for the movie had she not delivered in time to start production.
Of course, the acting choices hardly make the movie a bad one. At least, in terms of cult films go, anyway. Instead, they add to the weird draw of the film that earned its status as a cult hit. In the midst of a landlocked resort, as one rebel camp is portrayed with striped umbrellas and all, the addition of Griffith and Andrews seem right at home.
The main star isn’t the actors anyway, but rather am orange 1965 Ford Mustang that has cemented itself as one of the underrated picture cars of its time. Throughout the film, it is set on fire, dangles from a magnetic cane with passengers in tow, and has no small amount of spitfire in the Nevada desert. While most of the action and props used by the main actors look as if they were purchased at Lowe’s, Johnson’s car is one of the few examples of genuine power in the film.
In the end, Cherry 2000 turned out to be a fun film that no one knew what to do with. It wasn’t nearly fleshed out enough to be a full-on Sci-Fi, and the wasteland was a bit too out-there to be called a Western. Orion ended up sitting on the film for nearly three years. When 1988 came around, Griffith had moved well past the movie on to other projects, already earning buzz for an Oscar nomination in Working Girl. Hoping to use the buzz to their gain, Orion quietly released Cherry 2000 on video, skipping a theatrical release entirely.
That Cherry ended up becoming a cult hit at all is somewhat remarkable. After its release, the film inexplicably gained traction via cable viewings. The film hit the mark with movie car enthusiasts, certainly, but the colorful and low-budget visuals gave it an attitude that was perhaps missing in the darker, serious Sci-Fi of the time.
In terms of kitschy, cult films, it’s tough to say that Cherry 2000 is a good film by any means. It is, however, an incredibly fun one in the way only cult classics are; the kind of film you put on in the background while your friends are around or you quote with other enthusiasts at a midnight show. The film just received a Blu-Ray release for the first time, so something must have gone right for Cherry 2000 after all this time.