Space Truckers may be a B movie, but if it’s up to me it’s definitely a B+ movie! Seriously, how many sci-fi movies can you mention that actually have bona-fide space pirates in them?! The only one that occurs to me is Ice Pirates (1984) – a movie so dated and terrible that when I tried to watch it I was unable to finish it. Space Truckers (whose IMDb rating is lower than that of Ice Pirates! Scandalous!), on the other hand, is the real deal. It’s got Dennis Hopper, it’s got a clear and straightforward Mad Max-in-space type of story that couldn’t dream of taking itself seriously, and it’s got really cool production values. The quality of the acting does vary a bit, but our main man Dennis H. is never out of character for a second. If you love sci-fi, this is great stuff. It’s a brilliant realization of the style of classic ‘50s pulp sci-fi!
It is 2196 A.D. We’re on Triton, the largest moon of Neptune. Dennis Hopper plays John Canyon, a lowly (and elderly) independent space freighter pilot – or space trucker – fallen on hard times, always on the look-out for a gig to keep him in the black. After a fracas about the payment for his latest load of genetically designed square pigs, he is handed a very hush-hush assignment: to transport a classified load of containers to Earth. Unbeknownst to Canyon, the containers contain large numbers of super-cyborgs intended by the solar system’s richest corporate leader to take over Earth by force! This is not a spoiler, as the movie opens with a great scene featuring the brilliant inventor of the cyborgs, Dr. Nabel (Charles Dance in an uncharacteristically hammy but becoming role), being in the process of demonstrating what just one of these cyborgs can do. After the entire complex has been reduced to smithereens, the corporate funder, Mr. Saggs, exclaims that with a 100 of these, we could conquer Earth! Thinking that there’s probably just the one prototype, he cautiously asks Dr. Nabel how many he’s made. Nabel cannot suppress a smug chuckle as he reveals, “5,000!” Talk about overkill! I am instantly reminded of the Richard Corben story “Unprovoked Attack on a Hilton Hotel” (from the science fiction issue of the comics magazine Creepy, #73 from the mid-1970s), where a brilliant but absent-minded scientist has been asked to build the ultimate bomb, and can’t stop chuckling when it’s about to be tested. He’s forgotten to tell the military that it will annihilate the entire solar system…
Anyway! For the transport to Earth, John Canyon has teamed up with his former (and much younger) girlfriend, Cindy, and a young guy fresh out of Space Trucker School. After a slight mishap with a dark matter asteroid, the rig is picked up by a huge former passenger liner, now converted into a space pirate ship! And who might the leader of the pirates be, other than Dr. Nabel, who was nearly killed by Mr. Saggs so as not to blow the whistle on him. But Nabel survived, and “rebuilt his brain”, along with the rest of his body, and has now been planning his revenge on Mr. Saggs for, oh, I don’t know, at least a few months or so.
Charles Dance, who always looks so serious, gets a chance to really lay on the silliness in his Dr. Nabel incarnation. When he ends up attacked by his own cyborgs, he shows our hard-pressed heroes how to escape them, eliciting probably the movie’s best line from (who else) John Canyon: “You know, for a son-of-a-bitch gimp rapist murderer, he died okay!”
The movie also offers up a love story. As things quite literally heat up, the young guy (Stephen Dorff) naturally falls in love with Cindy, to Canyon’s chagrin, but by the time the ending approaches, there is also a match for Canyon waiting in the wings… Suffice it to say that the heroes get the girls and the happy country music soundtrack plays on!
Space Truckers is a rare gemstone of a movie, one of the only ones of its kind – a proper pulp romp from the time when men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri! Believe you me!
My American (but region free) DVD version has lots of extras, incl. a directorial commentary track, trailers, cast interviews, an easter egg, and whatnot. Only Spanish subs, though, which is a shame. I may buy the European release, too, one day.
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Debi Mazar, Charles Dance, Stephen Dorff, George Wendt, Vernon Wells, and others.
Runtime: 95 min.