Times Staff Writer

“Trancers” (citywide), an unpretentious and amusing low-budget sci-fi entertainment, takes us 300 years into the future--only to zap us right back into the present.

Sometime during those three centuries the great earthquake has at last struck Los Angeles, and the ruins of downtown can be seen offshore. What’s left is called Angel City, and for sometime it has been ruled by a three-person high council. But the place is plagued by the zombie-like “trancers,” described as “not quite alive and not dead enough.” Unfortunately, they’ve come under the mind-numbing control of a villain (Michael Stefani) intent on ruling everybody.

Time serum has allowed Stefani to escape to 1985, taking over the body of an LAPD lieutenant. What’s left to do but send top Angel City cop Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) in pursuit?

“Trancers” could stand as a textbook example of efficient, effective exploitation film making. Most important, pulp science fiction enthusiast Charles Band, who produced and directed from Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo’s script, hasn’t taken himself too seriously and has made imagination count for more than money.


He’s also made sure that the film has a unified film noir look to it, and the combination of shadowy lighting and rapid pacing distracts attention from the necessarily modest special effects. At 75 minutes “Trancers” (rated a surprisingly severe PG-13 considering its admirable lack of gratuitous violence) may have been trimmed, which could account for occasional vagueness in continuity; therefore, it’s all to the better that Band has kept his premise simple.

Best of all are the film’s capable leads. Cast as something of a cross between Philip Marlowe and the Bladerunner, Thomerson, heretofore relegated to supporting roles, is a big rangy guy with a weathered look, lots of presence and a good sense of humor. By the same token Helen Hunt, the pretty young woman Thomerson meets in 1985, has plenty of spunk, which is just what’s needed to play off Thomerson’s macho man. ‘TRANCERS’ An Empire Pictures presentation. Producer-director Charles Band. Screenplay Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo. Camera Mac Ahlberg, Music Mark Ryder, Phil Davies. Production designer Jaff Staggs. Special effects makeup John Carl Buechler and Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc. Film editor Ted Nicolaou. With Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani, Art La Fleur, Telma Hopkins, Richard Herd, Anne Seymour, Miguel Fernandez, Biff Manard, Richard Erdman.

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).