Matty takes a look at a middling sci-fi action flick that could have been something special.
There’s the germ of a brilliant, brilliant movie in MEMORY RUN (or, as it’s also known, ‘Synapse’). An adaptation of pioneering transgender sci-fi author Jean Marie Stine’s powerful 1968 novel Season of the Witch, Memory Run lifts the gender-swapping hook of its source text and flirts with several of Stine’s go-to themes of sexuality and identity. However, the thought-provoking ideas that journeyman helmer Allan A. Goldstein circles are often lost amidst a half-baked script that’s typified by confusing plotting, cumbersome inner logic, and nondescript characters. In Season of the Witch — a highly personal and ruminative work written as Stine began her transition — everything fit together seamlessly and served the transformative journey at the heart of its narrative.
The novel told the tale of Andre, a rapist in an underpopulated future-shock society who’s sentenced to have his consciousness transferred into the braindead body of his female victim as punishment. Here, in the radically different Memory Run (a ‘suggested by’ credit would have been more apt than ‘based upon’), everything is reduced to a poorly conceived footnote. For instance, why does the film’s iteration of Andre (Chris Makepeace), a black market arms dealer, break into an office complex completely unaware that his girlfriend, Josette (model/actress/author Karen Duffy), lives in the apartment above it? Then, why does one of Andre’s gang frame him for her murder? And then, why does the Life Corporation — a sinister, power-mad conglomerate in the Weyland-Yutani mode — elect to transpose Andre’s mind into Josette’s body and not just some random host like the flesh suits of the poor bugger’s they’ve already been harvesting in their quest for immortality? The answer seems to be solely to facilitate a series of action sequences as a freshly feminised Andre gets his/her revenge — action sequences that are, admittedly, very bloody good. Literally.
Indicative of western cinema’s growing fascination with Hong Kong stylistics throughout the ‘90s — a fixation that led to the Hollywood debuts of auteurs such as John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark — Goldstein ladles on the gunplay, slo-mo, and ultra-splattery squibs with a painterly eye for carnage. The visceral punch is top notch — but, ultimately, it’s tough to care on an emotional level when even the bad guys getting shot to pieces are flat and tedious.
Indeed, it’s a real shame that Memory Run is so slight and sketchy in terms of story and motivation as the film is often astounding from an aesthetic and tonal perspective. Having previously lensed Goldstein’s Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), Curtis Petersen’s noir-soaked photography is excellent. Drenched in shadow and emphasising space and shape, Peterson’s compositions give Memory Run a nightmarish and oppressive vibe conducive of the Big Brother-controlled dystopia in which it’s set; an enveloping sense of despair heightened by Varouje Hagopian’s evocative, Vangelis-tipping score. Better still is that the world presented feels authentic and lived-in. Goldstein and Peterson make great use of a couple of repurposed sets left over from production designer Ian Hall’s previous gig, Johnny Mnemonic (1995) — a production that, at the time, was poised for a box office success that Memory Run’s producers, the Fries/Schultz Film Group, hoped to ride the cyberpunk coattails of. Spoiler: it didn’t happen, and Memory Run swiftly sank into bargain bin anonymity. It’s better than that — but not by much.
USA/Canada ● 1995 ● Sci-Fi, Action ● 85mins
Karen Duffy, Saul Rubinek, Matt McCoy ● Dir. Allan A. Goldstein ● Wri. David Gottleib, Dale Hildebrand, Allan A. Goldstein, from the novel Season of the Witch by Jean Marie Stine
4 thoughts on “Don’t Mind Me: Memory Run (1995)”
Bought it on VHS to add to my Matt McCoy collection (yes, I had an extensive one.) It was pretty good. Nice review, will revisit.
Thanks for reading, Gareth.
But… You have a Matt McCoy collection?! Tell me more!
Ha, back in the VHS days. Following his Police Academy outings and Hand That Rick’s the Cradle I noticed him popping up in a few trashy movies I’d rent with chums and he was pretty cool in most. Deep Star Six and Dead On were high lights.
Good to see this overlooked film getting some attention. it’s been a personal favourite of mine since I saw it on the Sci-Fi Channel in the late Nineties (or thereabouts) and I own it on DVD. Haven’t read the novel it’s loosely based on, so I can’t comment on how much the movie deviates from it – I can only judge MEMORY RUN on it’s own merits. Great cast of familiar faces – Duffy, McCoy, Tori Higginson, Saul Rubinek, Nigel Bennett (a scene-stealing turn as a goose-stepping corporate Nazi), Barry Morse, etc. And proving the old adage that there are no small roles, Natalie Radford as Celeste’s cellmate/protector/lover(?) and Higginson as a resistance fighter both make such strong impressions that it wasn’t until I watched the movie for the third or fourth time that I realised they each only have around ten minutes or less of screen time. For me, the film’s key scene is when Celeste accidently spies upon Higginson’s body double making love to McCoy, and experiences female physical sexual arousal for the first time.