The love-on-the-run couple of the low-budget science-fiction melodrama, "Crime Zone" (citywide) are an ex-cop and and a hooker (Peter Nelson and Sherilyn Fenn) from a state-supported pleasure palace. And, though the movie probably didn't cost much, producer-director Luis Llosa and his designers try for a "Blade Runner" ambiance, wreathing the scenes in smoke and neon, purple glare and blue sizzle.
In this film noir, science-fiction hell, everyone is manipulated, everything is a lie. The fugitive lovers, duped into a life of crime by a mysterious cigar-smoking smoothie (David Carradine), are "sub-grades," lower-class lumpen. They're trapped in the ultimate post-Holocaust fascist state: a city of night, where private sex is verboten and all criminals are given public electronic crucifixions on TV. Some sort of perpetual war is going on with an outside enemy state, but no one experiences everything directly. They're jammed up into rotting, dark tenements and they get everything secondhand, on TV, in bordellos, in electronic pool halls with neon tables and cues.
It's another example of science fiction commenting on joyless or awful aspects of the present. Writer Daryl Chaney uses the usual rat-in-the-maze plot structure of these dystopian melodramas and Llosa keeps things racing along in a grim, punchy way, but the characters lack humor or life. As in many such stories about people fighting for their individuality in a mechanical future hell, robots seem to have taken over the character psychology.
But, anytime a Z-budget thriller like "Crime Zone" (MPAA rated R for sex, violence, partial nudity and language) tries to make itself look like "Blade Runner," you have to applaud it for chutzpah. Executive producer Roger Corman is a past master at stretching a dollar, and the plucky Llosa and his production team keep everything in the dark, concentrating on the edges of rooms, bathed in colored swirls and splays of light. If they don't exactly triumph over the material and budget, at least they manage to stay in the ring.