Cherry 2000 (1987) dir: Steve De Jarnatt, starring Melanie Griffith
What’s it about?
It is the year 2017, in a dystopian America where unemployment has hit 40%. David Andrews plays a wealthy electronic whizz named Sam Treadwell, who comes home each night to be greeted by his beloved robot girlfriend - a model known as Cherry 2000 (played by Pamela Gidley). One day, while he is making love to her on the floor of his high-tech pad, they accidentally let the kitchen sink overflow, resulting in the soapy water causing her to short-circuit. She’s a total wreck, with only her personality chip being salvageable.
Sam has a look at some other potential robot girlfriends as well as the possibility of picking up a real woman at a nightclub. In the future depicted here, the latter process has its own complications as it involves having a contract drawn up on the night with a lawyer present. However, he is unable to move on from his beloved Cherry, so he sets out to look for a new body to match the personality chip. The only place where he could still find this model, however, is out in the wasteland - in the dangerous Zone 7.
Hence, he travels out of the city to a small town called Glory Hole, where he hires a tracker named Johnson (Melanie Griffith). Despite some initial friction between the two, she agrees to do the job and they head out into the desert together in a souped-up red Chevy. However they soon catch the attention of the psychotic Lester (Tim Thomerson) and his gang, who seem hell-bent on making their journey as perilous as possible.
Watch a trailer:
Why is it significant?
Cherry 2000 was the first of only two feature films to have been directed by Steve De Jarnatt - the other being Miracle Mile (1988). Unfortunately, in both cases, various adverse circumstances surrounding their initial releases ensured that they remained little-seen for a long time. Their failure to find audiences resulted in De Jarnatt opting to throw the towel in as far as big-screen ventures were concerned, although he did continue to work on episodes of TV shows such as The X-Files and ER. Nonetheless, both films have found cult followings over the years due to rereleases on various home viewing formats.
Cherry 2000 has also been lent some interesting prescience of late due to its subject matter surrounding AI and robot sexual partners. A number of real-life developments have been made in this area in recent years, with some purported “sex robots’ even going on sale in 2017 (the year in which this film is set!) The notions and ethics of falling in love with AI consciousnesses have also been broached, to more critically-lauded effect, in such films as Her (2013) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
Unlike the independently-made Miracle Mile, Cherry 2000 was granted a sizeable major studio budget of $10 million courtesy of the now-defunct Orion Pictures. It was filmed in 1985 with a cast headed by Melanie Griffith, who had garnered major attention in Hollywood circles around this time thanks to her performance in Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984). Orion had originally slated the film for a summer 1986 release. However, due to the fact that they struggled to nail down how to market such an offbeat film, this date was continually pushed back. When it finally did come out it went straight-to-video in the US and UK.
How does it hold up?
While De Jarnatt’s second film Miracle Mile is a genuine classic, Cherry 2000 is more of an entertaining near-miss. Quite a few genres and sub-genres are fused into one: post-apocalyptic movie, Indiana Jones-style high action, romance, technological sci-fi, comedy and Western. It’s a quirky but silly affair which could only have been made during the 1980s, complete with gaudy set design and gaudier shirts (the latter mostly worn by Lester and his gang). Miracle Mile also mixed and matched from various genres, albeit to much greater effect.
The film’s main weakness is the handling of its central premise. It basically hinges around Sam waking up to the fact that a plucky, sharp-shooting, flame-haired Melanie Griffith makes for a much better girlfriend than a cute but air-headed robot woman. He takes a whole hour and a half of screen time to fully realise this, while most non-gay male viewers (and non-heterosexual females for that matter) would surely come to that conclusion more or less straight away. There’s little dramatic or comedic tension here, especially when even the wonderfully forward and sultry Griffith fails to generate much in the way of chemistry off the stiff and standoffish David Andrews. When the film takes a breather to attempt to develop their onscreen relationship, it feels like it stops dead.
However, if you can accept the film’s weak centre and the other daft elements of the story (the nerdish Sam is suddenly adept with a gun in the action sequences, while most of the bad guys couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from close range) then there’s quite a lot of fun to be had in the incidentals. While the comedy aspect is nowhere near as funny as it should have been, there are still occasional moments of genuine wit here, an example being the early nightclub scene which satirises the (often absurd) expectations of both men and women when looking for a mate. The action sequences are well done, the best being a stunt-filled centrepiece involving our heroes having their Chevy lifted over a ravine via a magnetic crane while the bad guys fire rockets at them. The cast is great: aside from Melanie, there is a nice hat-tip at the film’s Western influences via solid appearances from veteran genre actors Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. Tim Thomerson is also hilarious as the clearly psychotic self-help guru villain Lester, as is Cameron Milzer as his unbelievably nonchalant girlfriend - who also happens to be one of Treadwell’s old flames. Watch out for a pre-stardom Laurence Fishburne as one of the lawyers present during the nightclub scene.
The film’s also a pleasure to look at, with some imaginatively self-aware production design featuring some Western references, a Las Vegas semi-buried under the desert sands, and a background cameo by Robby The Robot. Jacques Haitkin’s landscape shots add another layer of exuberance to the production.
Whatever its strengths and weaknesses, Cherry 2000 makes for an interesting viewing when placed in context. What if Steve De Jarnatt had decided to continue making films despite the commercial failure of both it and Miracle Mile? Over the course of the two films, there are hints of a distinctive style being formed amid the morass of influences and tropes. The theme of romance under apocalyptic circumstances is broached in both of them, as is a certain passion for action and thrills. It’s a shame that he couldn’t have made more.
Runtime: 99 mins
Dir: Steve De Jarnatt
Script: Lloyd Fonvielle, Michael Almereyda
Starring: Melanie Griffith, David Andrews, Pamela Gidley, Tim Thomerson, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr, Brion James, Laurence Fishburne, Robert Z'Dar, Cameron Milzer