Just after noon on Friday, in an empty theater in Beverly Hills, Future World had an unremarkable premiere, and that is unfortunate. While the film breaks no new ground as a gritty, post-apocalyptic adventure story, it is a fun ride. It’s got colorful characters, grindhouse gratuities, a soundtrack evocative of early Kraftwerk, and it may even strum the heartstrings of some viewers. The fact that Laemmle's Music Hall 3 is the only theater in SoCal showing the movie means that the home video market is where most folks will wind up seeing it and deciding if it’s worthy of becoming a cult classic.
The narrative centers on the journeys of two characters. One is a young man named Prince (Jeffrey Wahlberg), who lives in a place called Oasis. Oasis provides the only vegetation and farming that is seen in an otherwise barren wasteland; it is filled with good-hearted people, including Prince’s mother, Queen (Lucy Liu), who is dying of the dreaded Red Fever. Prince sets out to find medicine for her, which he believes can be found at a shangri-la called Paradise Beach.
The other principal character is the world’s last android, who is called Ash (Suki Waterhouse). Ash’s journey basically provides her with a tour of humanity (or lack thereof in a land mostly populated by villains and raiders), through which she gradually seeks to find her place in the world.
James Franco plays the lead villain — a raider called Warlord. Warlord’s objective from start to finish is to find and possess Ash. Along the way, we also meet a host of fun characters, including a pimp called Love Lord (Snoop Dogg), a doctor/tech mechanic named Lei (Margarita Levieva) and a drug lord, called Drug Lord (Milla Jovovich). The performances are all engaging in their own ways. Snoop Dogg and Jovovich pretty much steal the show whenever they’re onscreen. Wahlberg’s humanity provides a nice counterpoint to a world otherwise populated by comic book–proportioned elements. Franco is a bit over-the-top in a Snidely Whiplash kind of way, but since his presence doesn’t dominate the film, it’s no biggie.
The film has a good look to it. Though a couple of design elements seem a bit too generic (all of the members of one gang wear gas masks), Eve McCarney’s production design provides the film with an overall post-apocalyptic chic that is very pleasing to the eye. Peter Zeitlinger’s cinematography is generally very good, with framing and movement that nicely convey the respective atmospheres of the different settings, be they the idyllic space of Oasis, the sleaziness of Love Town (aka “Titty City”) or the squalor of Drug Town; however, intentional or otherwise, the film is riddled with distracting lens flares.
Interestingly, pretty much every character who comes into contact with Ash falls in love with her. Beyond the fact that she is a scantily clad robot, she seems to represent a trace remnant of purity (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) to the various characters that populate Future World. Elements of attempted pathos such as this don’t necessarily hit the mark in an otherwise reasonably twisted film, but given the commitment the attractive cast members give to their characters, those beats wind up being acceptable.
This film will appeal to fans of grindhouse fare. It doesn’t set out to break any new ground, but co-directors Franco and Bruce Thierry Cheung do attempt to execute the derivative material with a certain sense of dignity. If you’re willing to resist becoming prejudiced against Future World because of post-apocalyptic story elements that you may recognize from the Mad Max series, City Limits and Hardware, you will likely find yourself enjoying the ride.