Directed and Co-Written by Steven Lovy
May 25, 1990
In a future where humans have moved underground to avoid devastating pollution, an android and a mob bodyguard must run an illegal electronic drug from Los Angeles to New York.
Circuitry Man is an odd film I stumbled across ages ago. It helped me realize that a film could be enjoyable no matter the budget or if it was a major release or something less known. I found this sitting on a shelf at a local video rental place when such things still existed. The cover art intrigued me so I rented it and I was pleasantly surprised.
This film has stuck with me because it was just so well done. Circuitry Man was not anything particularly original, but it presented what it had in an entertaining way. Many of its aesthetics appear to have come from Blade Runner and the theme of environmental collapse which features prominently in this movie was well done even then. But what Steven and Robert Lovy did was toss it into a comedic take on the drug movie.
They go retro with the props and look of just about everything rather than try to have too many futuristic items. It is easier to find old items to put in your film than it is to craft future tech when you have a small budget. It helps to give the world these characters exist in a different feel from many other science fiction worlds.
This is a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk crime thriller. The premise is our two main characters are trying to unload some drugs for some quick cash, but the cops and the criminals are in hot pursuit. Been done plenty of times before but given the science-fiction setting it is entertaining.
Jim Metzler is Danner who is a bio-mechanical pleasure android programmed by gangster Juice (Lu Leonard) to believe that he has a girlfriend being held prisoner by her. I feel sympathy for the character. He is searching for his great love who is a work of fiction created by a crime lord to get him to drive from Los Angeles to New York. Do not think about that too hard though. I do not get why she just did not program him to be a loyal servant without needing the bribe.
Dana Wheeler-Nicholson plays Lori, a retired mob bodyguard now designing clothes. Yep. That is a little…silly but does not become a major plot point once she is forced to work for Juice again. She and Danner are joined on their journey by Leech (Dennis Christopher) who lives off of toxic sewer leeches.
But the real treat is the legendary Vernon Wells as the film’s main villain Plughead. Vernon Wells is a classic screen psycho. He was in such films as Mad Max 2 and who can forget him in the classic Schwarzenegger action epic Commando? I cannot think of too much the man has done but then again it was not until fairly recently that I realized he was in this and the two films I just listed. He really changed himself up in each part but once you know you cannot mistake him.
Everyone is just so good in this. They take this rather ludicrous plot and their parts seriously enough. I need to give honorable mention the late great Lu Leonard. She was one of the great character actresses and she stole every scene she was in here. Her Juice was my favorite side character.
There are a decent number of characters and a great amount going on for 90 minutes worth of story, but Circuitry Man does not peel over packed. The story moves fast but you do not miss anything. This is a film that is better than it should have been.
Reportedly this started as a student film that Steven Lovy made while at UCLA. Not sure what exactly it looked like, but I am very curious. This movie is a real gem, and I am curious about what was the inspiration.
Circuitry Man is an enjoyable entry into the post-apocalyptic science fiction genre. Not original but very entertaining. For the general film fan this is not a must see but for fans of quality low budget films this is a watch it!