Films

Anatomy of a cult film: Merc Force

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With Netflix, Hulu, and other endless streaming options, a world of cinematic pleasures is at our fingertips. The ability to stop and start thousands of films at our leisure allows for a certain pickiness that normally makes it all the easier to separate the proverbial cream from the figurative tripe. Some front-runners may prefer to dote on the cream—we’re looking at you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—but, we at Handshake are more enamored with the crappiest of the crap.

Bad movie nights are less-formal, masochistic versions of the Oscars. They’re a showcase for the so-bad-they’re-good treasures hauled up from the bottom of the cinematic sea. But, not everyone has time to sort through the muck to find a film with that special charm that makes it worthy to be laughed at, instead of with. Helping you sift the good crap from the bad crap is Cult-Worship.

We’ll start with an easy one: Merc Force, a 2003 movie streaming on Netflix. This one is not expected to generate a cult following—unless there are enough folks out there with a predilection for Creed-like ballads and 2-D computerized spaceships that look like they belong in the screensaver of a 1994 Dell. The $3,000 movie was directed by James Panetta and filmed in the wilds of Bucks County, Pennsylvania (but with all the glitzy effects it could easily pass for Lackawanna!). It follows a group of intergalactic mercenaries on a “smash and grab” mission gone wrong on the planet Eden.

Pesky little things like character development and dramatic foreshadowing are taken care of with opening titles that introduce each main character with a list of vital statistics: planet of origin, species, military rank, etc. The movie makes a big deal of how many different species and planets are represented, but the diversity is in name only as only one character (a random green guy with a mohawk) is even remotely non-human looking.

All the buzz about species variation does set up one amusing trick, where the bathroom signs in a seedy space bar on the mining colony of Zarton 5 read “Toxic” and “Non-Toxic” instead of “Men” and “Women.” Unfortunately, that mildly clever joke wears off quickly, as the graphics used to add those novelty terms in are only used in the first frame and none of the subsequent ones.

Perhaps the only thing cheesy enough to inspire a wide following for the film would be the super sappy sounds of the aforementioned Creed-ish soundtrack. Those tunes, which are both annoying and constant, are provided by Bucks County’s own Liquid Cloud 9. In a way, the soundtrack is the movie’s saving grace—but, only in the sense that it saves the action from being the worst part of your cinematic experience.

Really, the only people likely to watch this movie are those late-night Romeos perusing the 2 a.m. sci-fi selection for something offering nudity. Well, (spoiler alert) there are no boobs, so keep this one off your tube and away from your cult.

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