The lighthearted humor of the previous movies is nowhere to be found in Trancers III: Deth Lives, making it a darker, more violent film. This presents a tremendous problem, because when a movie takes itself so seriously, the audience is obliged to take it seriously, and neither the story nor the acting in this offering are strong enough to support that. The ponderous grimness of the film doesn’t do the character of Jack Deth any favors, either: before, he was the perfect straight man in a silly set of circumstances. Now he’s a straight man in a dark world, so he doesn’t stand out.
Helen Hunt closes out her character Lena in this movie (and hence ends her association with the series), which is a terrible shame. Tim Thomerson does the best he can with what he’s given, which is enough, apparently, to keep the series going at least a couple more movies after this one. The best performance comes from Andrew Robinson, one of the finest character actors in Hollywood. Here he plays Colonel “Daddy” Muthuh, a psychopathic doctor/mad scientist, and invests his inimitable style of insanity into the role. Everybody else is instantly forgettable.
The plot is simple enough: there’s a Trancer war in the future that the good guys are losing (because all the hard work Jack and Lena and everybody else did in the earlier films didn’t make the least bit of difference, I guess), so Jack Deth is sent physically into the year 2005 to stop the Trancers at their source: Colonel Muthuh’s Trancer experimentation. Colonel Muthuh’s Trancer lab is located underneath a strip club, mostly so there can be a scene of a topless woman with pasties dancing on stage. A bizarre, alien-looking robot called Shark is sent to help Jack, but proves itself mostly useless. Guns are fired. Blood flies. Jack’s time machine has a black-painted apple corer on it. At one point, deliberately invoking his role as Larry from Hellraiser, Andrew Robinson as Colonel Muthuh says, “Come to Daddy.”
I got the impression that there was some kind of social commentary at the core of the story, but I couldn’t suss it out. Steroids are bad? The military is bad? Military people on steroids are bad? It didn’t make sense. Nor did the process of turning someone into a Trancer.
Unfortunately, this entry into the Trancers oeuvre represents a steep drop-off in quality from the previous two. However, if you’re a completist like me, you have to watch it.