Cherry 2000 (1987)
Steve De Jarnatt
David Andrews (Sam Treadwell), Melanie Griffith (E. Johnson), Tim Thomerson (Lester), Ben Johnson (Six Fingered Jake), Pamela Gidley (Cherry 2000), Cameron Milzer (Ginger/Elaine), Harry Carey Jr. (Snappy Tom), Brion James (Stacy), Robert Z’Dar (Chet), Larry Fishburne (Glu Glu Club Lawyer)
“With unemployment down 40%, the nation rounds the corner. Salvage and recycling centers are paving the way for the future. Just as our grandfathers’ generation did, workers today need to think twice before throwing things away: toaster ovens, steam irons, blow dryers. Whole families are pitching in. The result is plain to see; a new life for household appliances…” – newsreel
Cherry 2000 is the feature-film debut of director Steve De Jarnatt who would go on to adapt his own screenplay a year later and make the absolutely perfect Miracle Mile (a column favorite.) Needless to say, Cherry 2000 is not as good as Miracle Mile but neither are most movies so we won’t hold that against it.
From looking at the cover of the film you would assume this is one of the million Mad Max ripoffs to come out throughout the 80s. All the posters prominently feature Melanie Griffith with her bushy red hair holding a gun and posing and most of them feature her orange Ford Mustang imposed over a wasteland environment. The movie is actually more of romantic comedy/action-adventure hybrid like Romancing The Stone except the genders are flipped. Melanie Griffith is the dangerous and exciting rogue Michael Douglas type and David Andrews is the goofy square Kathleen Turner character who’s in over his head.
One could easily assume that Griffith, sporting a shaggy red mane that is clearly a dye-job is the titular Cherry 2000, but that’s just the name of the McGuffin sexbot (I played bass for McGuffin Sexbot) that Griffith’s character E. Johnson and David Andrews’ character Sam Treadwell are searching for. And though the movie looks like a goofy Full Moon/Empire sci-fi comedy along the lines of Oblivion or Trancers, it’s a fair amount more put-together than that.
In the far-off future year of 2017 a vaguely-referenced conflict (name-dropped once in the film as “The Border Wars”) has collapsed the global economy. The world is slowly recovering, people are recycling as a new form of employment whilst gun-toting rabble roam the trash-strewn wastelands torturing and killing whoever they please out of boredom.
In Anaheim, California (one of an unknown number of civilized sectors left in the US), Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) experiences a personal trauma when his companion robot short-circuits in a bout of soapy-watered kitchen floor foreplay. Treadwell takes his sexbot to the repairman but her circuitry is fried. He has her hard-drive but the problem is that his semi-deceased lover is a Cherry 2000, a particularly sophisticated and rare variety of companion droid even before the world went to shit.
Desperate to bring Cherry back, Treadwell travels into the wasteland with a skilled tracker, E. Johnson (Melanie Griffith) to get to an old warehouse in the ruins of Las Vegas where he can find another Cherry 2000 chasis and restore his lost love to his side. The big wrinkle is that Vegas is in Zone 7, an area of the wasteland run by the sadistic warlord Lester (Tim Thomerson) and his gang.
David Andrews is as charming as a dull man can be, as always. He actually has a lot of legwork to do in this movie to not make Sam Treadwell seem like a pathetic dweeb. The movie makes a token attempt to show why Treadwell would prefer the love of an artificial lady in a goofy scene where he and two co-workers go to a singles bar where people court one-another with sexual simulations and legally binding romantic encounter contracts overseen by lawyers (a young Laurence Fishburne appears as one-such lawyer in a small but memorable bit).
Unfortunately the challenges of modern dating don’t hide the fact that Cherry is a bubble-headed simpleton with a handful of canned worshipful responses. Seemingly her best quality is that she’s played by the painfully attractive Pamela Gidley. But Cherry has no actual emotions so it still just kind of makes Treadwell out to be the kind of guy who takes his Real Doll out to restaurants with him. Weirdly, Andrews manages to make Sam seem like a fairly normal and likeable person, though every time he takes out his little disc player and cycles through Cherry’s various sayings it’s hard not to roll your eyes and groan. He’s one of those weird actors like Robert Forster who managed to sneak into the role of leading man several times on nothing more than an indescribable charming quality. He also has the best firing-a-machine-gun face this side of Sylvester Stallone.
Speaking of charm, lets talk Melanie Griffith. If you’ve seen a Melanie Griffith movie then you’ve either made peace with the way she speaks or you haven’t. Her inimitable line delivery is certainly distracting at first but as the film progresses it gets to where you don’t notice it as much. Similarly, her ridiculous dyed hair stops being distracting after a few scenes and she flashes those blue eyes and that wry smirk and you’re in love. I had always assumed this movie was made when Griffith was in her early 20s but she was actually nearly 30 at the time (62 in actress years) and started filming it about three weeks after the birth of her first child.
E. (short for Edith) Johnson is an unsung hero in “Strong Female Characters” category. The film uses her as a sex symbol, an action hero, a vulnerable love interest, and a comrade in arms all without tipping over into one particular facet too far. Johnson is written and played in a way that is so refreshingly un-self-conscious (rather like the 2 leads of Night of the Comet) that I don’t know why she isn’t brought up more when listing the great heroines of pop culture. I’m not a major Melanie Griffith fan and the only reason that the actress who plays the supporting lead gets top billing here is because Orion Home Video was trying to capitalize on Working Girl when they released the film in the US, but she completely deserves to have her name at the top of the credits.
Andrews and Griffith don’t have a lot of onscreen chemistry beyond a general sort of camaraderie that builds over the film. In fact the film’s end doesn’t feel so much like a consummation of their relationship as it feels like Treadwell realizing that his sex robot is just really stupid and shallow. It’s not a great pairing but it works well enough and never manages to spoil the fun of the movie.
My favorite character of the film is Lester. Tim Thomerson plays the character as a psychotic warlord with a military background who has a ridiculously sunny demeanor and a penchant for spouting pleasant affirmations to his men as he sends them into battle. (My personal favorite is in the climactic scene where he sends his men to kill Johnson and Treadwell and tells them to be “friendly, yet firm.”) Lester and his gang live in a paradisaical town of geodesic houses surrounding a swimming pool just outside of the ruins of Vegas. He has a sort of late-50s early-60s yuppie motif where everyone wears Hawaiin shirts, cotton dockers, Bermuda shorts, loafers, and big white patches of sun screen on their noses. Thomerson’s pleasant-yet-terse performance elevates a character that would’ve simply been a basic maniacal gang leader in any other movie. Though I love Thomerson’s roles as Jack Deth in the Trancers movies and Brick Bardo in Dollman, this probably my favorite of his performances.
Don’t get excited by Robert Z’Dar and Brion James’ names in the credits. James gets one scene and Z’Dar only gets about five lines.
Cherry 2000 is a deeply silly love story, sometimes that’s done intentionally and other times it isn’t. The film has several weird quirks like a cowboy bar where patrons buy donuts to go with their hard liquor or E. Johnson’s mentor Six Fingered Jake extolling the virtues of the toaster oven and how it’s ideal for cooking rattlesnake. It’s a movie that really only could have been made the way it is in the late-80s to early-90s and it belongs to a certain sub-genre of tonally weird basic cable staples like Highway to Hell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like those movies, Cherry 2000 is full of flaws but endlessly enjoyable.
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