A few words from Matty on Doug Campbell’s thoughtful sci-fi drama.
A once common sight in bargain bins the U.K. over thanks to its budget DVD release from the peerless Prism Leisure, THE TOMORROW MAN — or, per its possessory auteur title during the closing credits, ‘Doug Campbell’s The Tomorrow Man’ — is a thoughtful if not entirely successful bit of sci-fi.
A sort of cross between Trancers (1985), Timecop (1994), Back to the Future (1985), and A Christmas Carol, at its core is a moderately compelling performance from Corbin Bernsen. Convincing even in the face of the hoary dialogue writer/director Campbell often saddles him with, Bernsen does a good job as Larry; a blue collar family guy in early ‘70s California. Though buoyed by a strong sense of right and wrong, the hard-drinking Larry doesn’t always express his beliefs the best way, and his firm-handed, black and white model of parenting frequently pits him at odds with the needs of his wife, Jeanine (Elizabeth Sandifer), and their prepubescent son, Bryon (Adam Sutton). Larry’s problems, however, have just begun — and following his dismissal from the machine shop where he works, his life is completely upskittled by a gang of time-travelling criminals led by the nasty but not unsympathetic Mac (Morgan Rusler, reuniting with Campbell following Out of the Darkness (1996) and The Perfect Tenant (2000)).
The best written character in the film, Mac is the grown-up version of Bryon, and Rusler’s muted anger and sorrow-filled gait provides The Tomorrow Man with its powerful dramatic throughline. Kidnapping Bryon and pulling him into the present (well, the millennial present), Mac’s plan is to spare his younger self from the misery that his pop is poised to inflict on him in the wake of his firing, when Larry becomes a drunken, abusive brute. And in turn, Mac will hopefully stop himself from becoming a violent career felon created by circumstance.
Managing to steer clear of chintz, Campbell exerts a great deal of control over Rusler and Bernsen’s tension-spiked interplay and the pleasures of The Tomorrow Man rest entirely upon their verisimilitude. Making a transtemporal leap of his own to get Bryon back, Larry is forced to confront some ugly truths about the man he thought he was vs. the man he actually twists into, and Campbell deftly guides his leads through the emotional wringer as Rusler stoically fizzes with pain and Bernsen attempts to correct mistakes he hasn’t even knowingly committed yet.
Despite the film being drab stylistically, and the rules of his time-travel mythology shifting depending on the demands of the plot, Campbell — who’s since earned his place in cult movie history as the creator of Lifetime’s Stalked By My Doctor (2015) franchise — relates The Tomorrow Man at a fair old clip and seasons it with a little humour. Having teamed with Campbell and Rusler on Out of the Darkness, Beth Kennedy errs on the right side of annoying as the wise-ass, time-hopping, Matrix-garbed future cop Bernsen buddies with, and Bernsen’s shocked reaction when he learns that America lost the Vietnam War is priceless. The scene-stealer, mind, is Bernsen’s real-life mum, Jeanne Cooper, as the geriatric Jeanine (which is kind of weird when you think about it). Still, unleashing a tragi-comic tour de force, the late, long-serving star of The Young and the Restless is excellent, her every utterance soaked with venom, regret, and — crucially — heartache.
USA ● 2000 ● Sci-Fi, Drama ● 89mins
Corbin Bernsen, Morgan Rusler, Jeanne Cooper, Beth Kennedy ● Dir./Wri. Doug Campbell