It’s safe to say that the Trancers franchise has not just gone off the rails with Trancers 4: Jack of Swords, but has raced over a cliff, fallen down a ravine, and smashed itself to bits on the jagged rocks below. Everything that made the original Trancers movies so entertaining has been left behind in this fourth offering, including the intensity, awareness of its own silliness, and anything resembling a decent performance.
Jack Deth, portrayed with wooden unease by Tim Thomerson, has become a chrononaut (a term I borrowed from Michael Moorcock) for the Council. The horrible, Trancer-led dystopia has apparently not come to pass (presumably as a result of the efforts of the previous films), so Jack time-travels to various eras to fix the streams of history, or some such. After some needlessly hostile exchanges with a beautiful scientist, his time machine crashes in an alternate universe that’s stuck in medieval times. While there isn’t a language barrier, there are Trancers, which behave more like energy vampires from Buck Rogers than the Trancers we’ve all come to know and love. In fact, I don’t know why they’re called Trancers at all.
The dialogue in the film is a mix of modern idiom and pseudo-English-accented mystic-speak, which doesn’t help the viewer take the events seriously. Everyone who isn’t overacting obviously doesn’t want to be there. The overall tenor of the film was uneven: Jack’s Long Second watch malfunctions in the worst way possible, but Thomerson’s subsequent comedic stylings felt out of place in the general, dreadful seriousness of everything else. The main bad guy, played by martial artist Clabe Hartley, almost but not quite saves the film. He moves well, speaks his lines clearly, and has a good presence throughout. Another relative stand-out was the first Trancer in the film, who didn’t last long: Borgia. Menacing, evil, with some dry humor. A shame he didn’t make it. I’d rather watch a Borgia film than another Jack Deth movie, at this rate.
In terms of swordfights, the film had several, and they were all terrible. People swinging swords at other people’s swords, for example, instead of giving you the impression that they were actually trying to hit each other. (Hitting swords edge on edge is a terribly bad idea if you want to keep your sword after the fight: they tend to get horribly notched. Real swordsmen don’t fight that way.) One guy had a katana, which was out of place among the European-style long swords. A few people held their swords with the blades backward, as though reverse-grip swordfighting was a thing. (It isn’t.) The Trancer vampires, all of whom were supposed to be big, strong, and tough, died easily at the hands of ignorant peasants. How did they become the rulers of the world if they were such wimps?
Through an incomprehensible bootstrapping paradox from a future-seeing wizard who draws pictures of his visions, Jack Deth saves the day and defeats the Trancers. But he’s stuck in this alternate medieval dimension, his time travel device is broken, and he’s universes away from a nice bathroom with a flush toilet. How will he survive?
We’ll just have to see in the fifth movie.