Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994) — Trading in time travel for a vampire vacation

“Killing isn’t always the answer.” “No, but it’s usually a pretty good guess.”

Justin’s rating: Deth comes for us all…

Justin’s review: For a small-budget, mixed-concept scifi movie series, the Trancer films were downright fortunate to get a largely cohesive trilogy that carried its cast and storyline through the three films. Unfortunately, the back half of this series took a steep nosedive as many of the concepts and characters refused to come back. (Why yes, concepts do have enough of a will to choose whether or not to return for a film.)

Full Moon filmed Trancers 4 and 5 back-to-back at a Romanian castle, largely ejecting the time travel elements for some sort of weird romp in an alternate dimension, and it’s… it’s kind of sad. But it’s more Trancers, so let’s not get too down on it!

Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) is still working as a time travel agent in the 23rd century after losing his second wife Lena to time jumps. He’s also lost his first wife, Alice to his boss not to mention his android partner due to a botched mission, and so he goes on a bit of a downward spiral into being more of a misogynist than usual. At least he gets a whole bunch of cool toys — including his Long Second watch — for his next assignment. Unfortunately, a Solonoid — which is a monster or alien, I guess? — jumps him upon time traveling and his machine gets flung into another realm called Orpheus.

“Something tells me I’m not in Kansas,” Deth says with a grimace. Yeah. It’s that kind of movie.

Wherever this is, Trancers exist here. Except that now they’re not zombies, but substitutionary vampires, because why not? We’re in Romania. We’ve got a castle. We’re going to lean hard into the “Transylvania” angle and not look back. In a way, this has overtones of Army of Darkness’ own romp in a medieval setting with a guy from the future. It’s just that I’ve never really warmed up to Thomerson’s Deth as I did with Bruce Campbell’s Ash.

Anyway, Jack Deth finds himself caught between the “nobles” (the vampire Trancer ruling class) and the down-on-their-luck “tunnel rats.” There’s another mild twist that Orpheus seems to be a place where people from other worlds — like Deth’s — get sent from time to time. In any case, Deth leads the tunnel rats to revolt against the nobles, and I scarcely need to draw you a map to the movie’s finish line.

The main concept behind Trancers 4 was to take every hokey film noir-sounding one-liner in the book and then force its characters to say them. It’s kind of like listening to Frank Drebin’s doofy narration and dialogue in the Naked Gun movies, only said more or less straight-faced. I think this is all to make Jack Deth and company come off as edgy and cool, but without good writing to back it up, it comes across as juvenile. Which, I guess, it’s somewhat enjoyable in a campy sense.

Yet this is light-years away from the anything-goes genre mish-mash of the first film. I can only stomach actors talking in a faux-renaissance faire for so long, and it’s disheartening to think that I have another that’s full of this sort of posturing. I ended up missing many of the things I liked from the earlier installments, such as Helen Hunt’s affable touch, the all-in synth score, and the actual time travel via ancestors’ bodies (something that got more-or-less dumped after the first film). And with a cliffhanger here, I don’t even have the relief of knowing that it’s over. Woe is me.

Didja notice?

  • Shark is the best side character we pretty much never saw
  • Butterfly knives were just never cool
  • “Exploding light hammers” is a very awkward way to describe a ray gun
  • They’re trying way too hard to make knife fighting work here. It doesn’t.
  • The way his gadgets are malfunctioning is pretty funny

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