Space Truckers is a happy surprise, considering how many SF films have renta-plots about nasty mega-corporations, malevolent robots and (yawn) hard-bitten, downtrodden pilots. In fact, this small-budget special effects fest does something few Alien clones manage - it uses its material well, and adds a soupçon of Pythonesque absurdity too. Somehow it's hard to imagine Ridley Scott sticking traffic lights along the edge of space lanes, but Stuart Gordon isn't the least bit po-faced about sci-fi: you get the feeling that, if he'd had any money left, he'd have added bollards, zebra crossings and Little Chefs in hollowed-out asteroids.
It's this tongue-cheeked element that gives Truckers an identity of its own, but the film carries its action and suspense with the same ease. (The first sequence, in which an automated soldier burns his way into the Company's research base on one of Neptune's moons, is a great action set piece in its own right.)
That the film does a sudden shimmy to take in Vic And Bob humour is, initially, off-putting, but the hard SF/comedy blend works pretty well. The weirdness makes a strange sort of sense, from the square pigs that have been genetically engineered to fit into cargo holds, to the cybernetic pirate whose rapaciousness is sabotaged by the unreliability of certain replacement body parts. The story's also free of convenient coincidences and gaping plot holes. There's a tacky moment when Debi Mazar and Stephen Dorff decide that the best way to cope with their overheating spaceship is to... take their clothes off, but you can't have everything (unlike the jammy Mr Dorff).
Space Truckers is no big-budget film, and occasionally it shows. The scenes on Earth look marginally less futuristic than your average episode of Bugs, and some of the space shots under the opening titles are so obviously computer-spawned they might as well have been cartoons. But on the whole, Gordon has spent his money in the places that matter. The bio-mechanical soldiers are reminiscent of Geiger's famous xenomorph (faceless heads and flailing arms), while the zero gravity sequences are quite convincing. They're not a match for the Vomit-Comet realism of Apollo 13, but it's nice to see a sci-fi movie paying lip service to the laws of physics.
Hopper seems chuffed to be playing the hero for a change, and Mazar and Dorff do well as the rest of a standard-issue heroic threesome - grizzled old veteran, young buck, lass who's engaged to the former but destined to end up with the latter (Dorff wins again). Dance overacts spectacularly in his dual roles as Dr Nabel and pirate captain Macuando, George Wendt does much the same as the blobby head of Interpork, and Shane Rimmer gets a chance to show his face after years of voicing Thunderbird pilots.
Truckers won't drag you to the cusp of your seat. But it's fun, and, as it draws towards a nicely sardonic twisty-plotty ending, you'll be (mildly) astonished how fast the last 90 minutes have flown.
A genuinely odd oddball movie, Space Truckers dives head-first into the SF pool with admirably infectious enthusiasm. Think of it as Alien meets Python, with low-key action sequences and impressive special effects.