1/19/07

822 Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

(1985, SciFi-Television, color)

Mom, my nuts?

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

Raul Julia gets stuck in a computer and impersonates Humphrey Bogart.

Summary:

Of all the computer-generated gin joints in all the virtual world...At a data-entry company of the far-flung future, Aram Fingle (Raul Julia) would rather watch movies than do his job. His slacking is soon discovered; the main computer interrupts a workstation viewing of Casablanca and orders him to see a psychist (i.e., an elderly woman with a diagnosis machine). By the time he arrives, the machine has already decided he’s stressed about the death of his mother, even though she died years ago. The psychist orders him to spend forty-eight hours doppling to rehabilitate.

(I guess I could explain what “doppling” is supposed to mean, but the movie didn’t really explain it clearly, and if I insert a parenthesis every time I have to use obtuse future jargon, this summary will be more than half parenthesis. Just smile and nod every time I write something that makes no sense. That’s what I did while I during the viewing.)

At the doppling clinic, Fingle meets the beautiful Apollonia, who paralyzes him and sends to the clinic for preparation. The Medico in charge yanks out his brain and slaps it into a baboon named Daisy, while a field trip of nine-year-old sexual deviants traipses through. One of them switches around a bunch of body tags as a practical joke. Meanwhile, Fingle wanders the savannah in baboon shape, tumbling down hills and getting drunk on fermented fruit. His doppling adventure ends abruptly when an elephant knocks him out of a tree. Apollonia rushes him back to the clinic, but his original body is nowhere to be found. So they yank out his brain (or personality, or something cube-ish) and stick it in the main computer for safekeeping.

Fingle wakes up in the computer, and gradually encloses himself in a virtual reality that resembles his apartment and workplace. Apollonia inserts herself into the computer after him, and takes the shape of his deceased mother to explain the situation: He must be as boring as possible while they search for his body, or he will screw up the programming. Fingle can’t help but tamper, though, and his virtual life soon devolves into an amalgamation of his data-entry job and the movie Casablanca. This raises the ire of the computer’s company chairman, who would rather Fingle didn’t mess with his delicate computer stuff.

What follows is a long, confusing sequence in which Fingle runs around arguing with Casablanca characters and coworkers, while the chairman inserts himself into the computer to harass Fingle, while Apollonia alternately helps and hinders. Fingle and Apollonia somehow fall in love, while Fingle rebels against…something or other, which leads to weather control and scrubbing bubbles and the death of a Peter Lorre impersonator during a shootout with virtual Nazis. Apollonia finds Fingle’s body just as Fingle shouts, “I am interfaced!” and takes control of the computer. Apparently this control extends to the outside world, since he uses it to erase his identity and set all the computers in the world to play Casablanca while he runs away with Apollonia.

Introduction:

Bobo has marked his territory.Crow has a new catchphrase: “You know you want me, baby!” He urges his viewers to buy one of his two million T-Shirts emblazoned with that phrase. Tom struggles to play the laugh track every time Crow says it.

Host Segment One:

The ‘Bots try to help Mike find a catchphrase of his own, but he can only come up with things like, “We’re all out of toner!” and “Don’t run on my wet floor!” Down on…wherever it is the deep space VW has landed this time, Pearl has begun a telethon to raise funds for her Public Television Station. Ortega mans the phones while she introduces such shows as Mike Nelson: Lord of the Dance and The Nature of Bobo, which consists of Brain Guy narrating Bobo’s lunch.

Host Segment Two:

Inspired by the baboon footage in the film, Tom and Crow order a monkey from Instant Monkeys Online. As advertised, it arrives instantly; Tom and Crow name it Henry Kissinger while it escapes into the rafters. Mike is forced to adopt a complicated non-threatening stance to keep it from throwing things at him.

Host Segment Three:

While Mike deals with Henry, Pearl continues her pledge drive by airing an excerpt from her television special: Pearl, Pearl, Pearl, Pearl, Pearl! The featured clip highlights an aggressively bland love duet with Brain Guy called, “When Loving Lovers Love.” “I really do like pie / I know a couple guys / They really do like pie.”

Host Segment Four:

Tom decides to dopple himself down to nanite scale, just to mess with them, but discovers his doppled self is even smaller than they are. Not only that, but he’s landed in the nanite equivalent of the Wrong Side of the Tracks. Nanite greasers in leather jackets work him over.

Host Segment Five:

Bobo comes to the Satellite of Love to talk Henry down from the rafters, but ends up joining him instead. They both hurl things at Mike until he brings them down with tranquilizer darts. Down in telethon headquarters, Pearl counts up her ill-gotten booty and pays off Ortega.

Stinger:

Quoth Fingle, “Mom, my nuts?”

Thoughts:

TV's Frank rules the future with an iron fist.May I humbly suggest that Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca and William Gibson’s Neuromancer are two great tastes that do not go great together? Certainly the viewer would be better served by setting an evening aside to enjoy these great works separately.

The whole movie is essentially about a guy who takes advantage of an organization that’s trying to reward him for goofing off. Granted, the company’s officers are not the most personable of men, but let’s review the company that employs them, shall we? First, they won’t let Fingle watch movies on the clock. Second, instead of firing him, they force him to go on vacation. Third, when an accident happens on vacation, they park his consciousness inside their sensitive main computer instead of letting him die. Fourth, when he starts messing around with the computer, they ask him to stop. Fifth, when he doesn’t stop, they offer him another vacation. There’s some unpleasantness at the end, but aside from some vague threats about his absent body and some virtual gunplay—which doesn’t seem to affect non-virtual people—I don’t think anyone ever tries to kill him. (I could be wrong about this. My two-year-old’s nascent speech is easier to interpret than this film.) Is this the oppressive corporate government of the totalitarian future? Where do I sign up?

Also, relieving stress by turning people into wild animals sounds like such a great idea. Surely, wild animals lead happy, carefree lives, devoid of worry and pain. Everyone knows that one wild animal would never hurt another. That elephant’s attack on Fingle’s baboon must have been some kind of anomaly.

Also, also, what makes anteaters so loathsome?

I think the telethon segments work so well because the show in general already possesses a low-budget ambiance similar to the Public Television vibe. The people at Best Brains take full advantage of this and take it further by making Public Pearl’s programming pointedly bland. “When Loving Lovers Love” isn’t brilliant because of the lyrics are clever; on the contrary, the lyrics are so intentionally insipid the song comes out clever as a whole. The “Henry the Monkey” segments are decent more because they’re well paced than because of the material, and the doppled Tom sketch is obvious but competent. My favorite host segment deals with Mike’s pathetic attempt to find a working catchphrase.

The film segments have some great comments, many of them by Tom. When Fingle goes to see the blank-faced and oddly dressed psychist, Tom says, “So aging, lesbian nuns run the future.” When low-resolution computer graphics darken Fingle’s face and suck it into the computer void, he sings, “See you on the dark side of Raul.” Shortly after Apollonia warns Fingle to stick to his boring routine, Tom asks, “Is this still the officially sanctioned boring part?” Also of note, during the lengthy ending credits, Mike calls up Overdrawn at the Memory Bank technical support to complain about the story problems. The support technician at the other end of the line asks him a number of obvious and/or nonsensical questions and then threatens him with legal action when Mike admits he didn’t buy his copy of the film. On it’s own, this Scifi/Comedy/Homage would be deathly boring and completely unfollowable. It’s still unfollowable with the commentary, but at least it’s funny enough to rate at least one viewing.