‘You need to work on your personality’: A Review of Cherry 2000

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Do you like science fiction? Do you like westerns? Do you, my dear reader, also like romance? What about a chimeric fusion of all three, stitched together corpse to corpse? If so, then I have a special treat for you!

Directed by Steve De Jarnatt, Cherry 2000 is an unusual gem filmed towards the latter part of the eighties. Because of its unusual take on the genre, it was difficult to market and therefore was placed on the back-burner only to then be released direct-to-video. Forgotten by most, it has since then become a cult classic among a select few.

The plot is as follows:

‘In the post-apocalyptic California of 2017, Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) manages a recycling plant. His companion is Cherry 2000 (Pamela Gidley), a lifelike robot who caters to his every need. When Cherry expires, Treadwell refuses to settle for a newer, less attractive robot. Salvaging the chip containing her personality, he hires tracker E. Johnson (Melanie Griffith) to lead him through the lawless desert zone, where a replacement Cherry 2000 model can be found.’

The plot is as the plot reads—a bit threadbare (please watch the trailer to gauge the film’s unique vibe) and well-trodden. This is, however, perfectly fine, and has even worked for such recent films such as Blade Runner 2049 (the K and Joi subplot). Being unoriginal and relying on clichés is okay if you do something with the genre by subverting the audience’s expectations, or by doing something unique and special.

As mentioned earlier, I think Cherry 2000 is a bit of a special treat, and that is primarily due to its vibe. Cherry 2000 is odd and unusual, which works in its favour as it allows the audience (myself included) to want to know more, delve more and enjoy the world presented before us on the screen. From the drab sprawl in the beginning to the western-style desert, the audience is taken on a self-styled genre road trip. On the surface, it may feel too strange and quirky. I can see some people asking me, ‘why is there a western in my cyberpunk film?’, and that is a perfectly valid question. However, I came to understand it as the soul of this film—the conflict between rural and cityscapes.

‘We’d have more fun chewing on razor blades than dribbling around the zone in broad daylight.’

Sam Treadwell’s longing for a replacement Cherry 2000 chassis can be understood (perhaps even more clearly today) as a longing for a place in the sprawl’s elevated ladder. Humans become so drawn to the rat race of life, that they fail to realise that they are but meager morsels in the food-chain of the corporatocracy. We long for some sense of meaning and do so for some time, only to then realise that we spend the entirety of their lives behind a monitor. Some of us cling to this way of life the same way Treadwell clings to Cherry 2000’s memories. It is easy and offers us a slight glimpse into a golden future that may or may not be. It is safe.

But the rural western is all but safe, and when Treadwell descends into this unfamiliar territory, he does, as characters often do in westerns, finds himself amid the rubble, gunfire and shooter babe, E. Johnson. I very much like the duality that De Jarnatt plays within Cherry 2000, and thought it worked mostly well.

‘Well, it’s all so paranoid and audio-visual.’

While not frequent, there were also some strong flourishes of worldbuilding that were deployed subtly. A perfect example of this depicted a colleague of Treadwell drawing up a contract to sexually engage with another patron in a neon-soaked bar. The social structure of this world is summed up in this brief exchange. A slight back and forth in a peculiar setting that did not beat me over the head. I wish there were more of these in the film.

The world-building was definitely aided by Basil Poledouris’ beautiful score which perfectly summarised the chimeric fusion of science fiction and western. I found myself bobbing my head each time it found its stride and is definitely something I could listen to over and over with a smile on my face.

My favourite part of this film, however, happened to be the characterisation of Melanie Griffith’s Erin ‘E’ Johnson. Whilst Griffith was mostly wooden during her performance (I will get to that shortly), her portrayal of Johnson was something mesmerising. I loved the costume, the hairstyle and the way she got her job done (often through bouts of shooting). There was a story there, a better story than the one we got, and I felt as if the film would have been a lot stronger if we had just got a Mad Max-esque journey film featuring Johnson as the protagonist.

Though I did enjoy this film, it did have several flaws that did irk me at times. For instance, I felt that there was no time in which I felt I was watching top-notch performances. This is a problem especially in a film that tries to depict a quirky and strange universe. I could understand it if David Andrews as Treadwell was permanently dulled, but not Griffith, or any of the other western personas. They were not terrible by any means, but just okay. Which might be worse, for there is nothing more boring than a mediocre performance.

The relationship between Treadwell and Johnson was something that I felt to be forced as well. I did root for their relationship based on my primal hunger for the goodness of life, but objectively, there were only meager strings holding the two together. There was no chemistry in the film.

‘At least I got a brain.’

On a technical level, the film was shot adequately and displayed some rather adequate explosions. The action was also quite adequate followed by some adequate props and a somewhat adequate villain. I may have used too many adequates, but that, unfortunately, sums up Cherry 2000 if you don’t analyse it on a theoretical level. Beyond the screen and meat of the film, there are some really curious and troubling themes that are worth writing about, but beyond that, Cherry 2000 is just a mediocre action film with a nice score.

While I do appreciate its subversion of genre and appreciate Robert Z’dar’s brief cameo, there are better sci-fi action films.

If you’re keen on watching this film, you can purchase it here!

Cherry 2000 – 6/10

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