2/2/07

1001 Soultaker

(1990, Scifi/Horror/Romance-ish, color)

Bus Taker.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Will the displaced souls of Zach and Natalie confess their love before their bodies die?

Summary:

From right to left: Catcher's Mitt-Face and Icky-the-Pooh.Zach and Natalie used to date, but it didn’t work out, seeing as how Zach is a mechanic and Natalie is the mayor’s daughter. You know what they say about mixing politics and auto repair…

Okay, so maybe you don’t. I don’t either, but apparently everyone else in the movie does, because the former couple’s respective authority figures (Natalie’s mayoral father and Zach’s high-foreheaded drug dealer friend Brad) go on at length about how wrong they are for each other. Naturally they deny any resurgence of their old feelings to their advice-dispensing counterparts even as they attend the same Summer Festival, secretly hoping to meet. And meet they do, after Natalie’s libidinous friend takes off with a random boy and leaves her stranded. Zach offers her a ride home—or rather, offers to have Brad give them both rides home—and then the freakiness begins.

You see, professional Angel of Death Joe Estevez has been secretly watching, and is under orders from his wide-faced supervisor (Robert Z’Dar) to carry their souls back to the afterlife before midnight. Rather than wait for the seriously trippin’ Brad to wrap his car around a tree on his own, Estevez elects to scare them off road himself.

Brad, Zach, Natalie, and Tommy (a random chunky guy who happened to be with them in the car) wake up some hours later, alive and unhurt. They pick themselves up off the forest floor and walk back in search their vehicle. A bit of exposition later, we learn they are not technically alive or dead, but displaced souls jarred loose from their injured bodies. The characters remain ignorant of this development, however, even as Estevez finds them and takes Brad’s soul—a process that seems to involve green lightning and circular glow-sticks. Zach, Natalie, and Tommy run to a convenience store but can’t seem to get the clerk’s attention. They try to dial 911, but the operator can’t hear them. Estevez arrives to take Tommy’s soul while Natalie and Zach run away more.

Somehow they end up at Natalie’s house, where her concerned mother waits to pepper them with questions. She tells them she’s already phoned the police, so why doesn’t Zach wait downstairs until they arrive so that Natalie can take a nice… warm… relaxing… nude… bath…

Natalie’s almost naked when she sees her own mother ogling her creepily through the doorway. Shortly thereafter, mom turns into Joe Estevez: Shapeshifting Angel of Death. A jarring sepia flashback reveals that he and Natalie were lovers in a former life, but he killed her when she cheated on him. He begs her to take him back and live with him in soul form forever. Meanwhile, Zach has seen a news report of the accident, with live footage of their injured bodies and respective parents (including Natalie’s mom) at the hospital. They’ve been pronounced brain-dead, and life-support will be disconnected at midnight. He rushes upstairs to save Natalie from Estevez-mom, and gets his rear end thoroughly kicked. Somehow they escape and run away again.

Zach explains the whole “displaced soul” thing to Natalie while they hop a bus to the hospital. The shape-shifting Estevez meets them there and kidnaps Natalie. He takes her up the hospital elevator to heaven while Zach searches the corridors for her in vain. He runs into Brad instead, now gainfully employed as a Soultaker himself. Brad disparages Zach’s taste in females a little more before instructing Zach on how to get back into his body. He takes Zach up the celestial elevator to rescue Natalie. There’s a bit more unnecessary running around here that ends with Estevez getting Soul-taken by his boss. (I guess he’s being hauled back to heaven for a reprimand). Natalie and Zach confess their undying love. They get back into their bodies, and Natalie’s father gives their relationship his blessing.

Introduction:

Two generations of hosts, together at last.The ‘Bots decide to try a wet T-Shirt contest. Tom wins when his waffle-net crew-neck shirt absorbs a tiny bit more water than Crow’s Haynes Beefy T. Try as they might, they can’t figure out why humans get so excited about things like this. Mike says he’ll explain during the commercial break, but the commercial break doesn’t come. He pounds on the button until it works.

Host Segment One:

An unidentified ship hails the Satellite of Love, but the malfunctioning communication system can only convey static and/or a portrait of Martin Van Buren. They ask Gypsy for help making repairs, but her indelicate reply (“Cram it, you meat puppet!”) indicates she has malfunctioned as well. Their appeal to Pearl gets them a movie to increase their suffering. The countdown doorways won’t open; Mike has to force the first one and then run through. Cambot runs him down at door number three.

Host Segment Two:

Life support is failing, the hot tub is ice cold, and Gypsy can’t stop her verbal abuse, so Mike assumes command. He opens the Hexfield Viewscreen, requests magnification of the nearby alien ship (magnification is not available), orders the shields up (there are no shields), and says, “Arm the photon torpedoes!” (Crow set the last one off in his locker quite some time ago.) The Hexfield Viewscreen breaks when he tries to close it again.

Host Segment Three:

Mike fixes every malfunction and flaw, but this only makes things worse. The Satellite of Love fails completely and falls from orbit. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl and Brain Guy can’t help; they’re too busy defending Bobo’s soul from a pesky Soultaker…who turns out to be TV’s Frank. He and Pearl catch up while they make fun of Brain Guy. Meanwhile, the Satellite is saved by a tractor beam from the mysterious alien ship.

Host Segment Four:

Turns out the mysterious alien ship is piloted by none other than former host Joel Robinson. He describes his life since his MST3K days and reveals that the Satellite of Love was rigged to self-destruct ten years after construction. He wanders off to make repairs while Mike marvels at Joel’s fast-food management success. “Don’t compare yourself, Mike,” says Tom. “It ain’t healthy.”

Host Segment Five:

Joel and Mike discuss the Satellite’s oil filter while, down in Castle Forrester, TV’s Frank realizes Joel’s soul is next on his list. Joel makes some lame excuses for not taking Mike and the ‘Bots home, and leaves quickly. Frustrated, TV’s Frank searches for another soul-taking victim. He refuses Pearl’s soul and Brain Guy doesn’t have one. Bobo offers his; Frank takes it with no apparent ill effects. He and Bobo play Ring Toss with it into the closing credits.

Stinger:

Estevez-mom ogles the semi-nude Natalie through the bathroom doorway.

Thoughts:

Zach, buddy, this is the last guy you should be asking for advice.Imagine a soap opera from the higher end of the production value spectrum crossed with a cheap Twilight Zone knockoff and you’ve captured Soultaker’s basic flavor. It’s late-night cable fodder to be sure, but then, it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. There’s a lot of unimaginative dialog and some muddy theology, but the story works decently and, with one notable exception, it moves fairly well. That notable exception is the hospital sequence, in which the climactic showdown gets caught in some kind of plot whirlpool that forces to the whole thing to circle the staircases half-a-dozen times before the movie can end. My only other real complaint is the nauseating Estevez-mom sequence, which rivals the cave scene in Eegah for its creepy, but probably unintentional implied incest.

The host segments start off strong with the ‘Bots missing the point of human intimacy yet again in the Wet T-shirt contest. Mike’s failed attempt at assuming command works well too, but the most notable segments are the ones that feature guest appearances by former cast members Frank Conniff and Joel Hodson. Frank’s description of celestial politics is wonderful. His goofy, slightly manic style of humor matches that of the current cast really well. Joel’s laconic humor worked better back when the show was built around it, and works best when he’s allowed to ramble stream-of-consciousness style. This goes pretty well when he describes his activities since his escape, but his subsequent non-excuse for leaving the Satellite dwellers stranded falls flat.

The film segments have some good lines. As Estevez’s incompetent Soultaker fails repeatedly to collect Natalie and Zach, Mike says, “This is what happens when death is run by low-level bureaucrats.” As Zach runs up a hospital staircase for the third or fourth time, Crow says, “This has action and nostalgia, because we’ve seen it before.” Throughout, Tom makes fun of Estevez’s various sinister poses by calling him things like “Leak Taker” and “Bus Taker.” Vivian Schilling both wrote the film and starred as Natalie, inspiring snide comments when the other characters compliment her, and the lengthy closing credits feature an elaborate scenario invented by Tom and Crow describing the couple’s messy break-up and Zach’s subsequent descent into alcoholism. As an episode, it’s fun but not special, worth watching at least once for Joel and TV’s Frank.