Director: T.J. Scott
Writers: J. Stephen Maunder, Richard M. Samuels, T.J. Scott
Cast: Billy Blanks, Bolo Yeung, Bobbie Phillips, Jalal Merhi, Matthias Hues, Kelly Gallant, Harry Mok, Ramsay Smith, Bill Pickells
While many will knock the glory days of straight-to-video American martial arts films as inconsistent, campy, or mostly bad, no one can say there was a lack of variety in the genre’s stars. You had the quick and kicky fighters like Jerry Trimble, Cynthia Rothrock, and Loren Avedon, wily workhorses such as Don Wilson, and underutilized talents like Keith Cooke and Kathy Long. Another prevalent subset of talents were oft-glistening strongmen such as Matthias Hues and Billy Blanks. Throw in the original Chinese Hercules, Bolo Yeung, and you’ve got yourself a party with 1993’s TC 2000. Someone definitely spiked the punch with whey protein.
Through narration that recalls equal parts Peter Falk in The Princess Bride and Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, we learn the lay of the land from Jason Storm (Blanks). In the not-so distant future, the earth’s atmosphere has rebelled after years of abuse and pollution. The rich have moved underground and safeguarded their resources with high-tech security, while the less fortunate scrap away for survival on the surface world. These poor souls huddle around oil drum fires, refuse to brush their teeth, and battle over bags of drinking water in underground fights held above-ground. It’s best not to figure out the logic there.
Storm and his partner, Zoey Kinsella (Phillips), are security officers called trackers who respond to security breaks in the ruling class’s underworld emporium of food storage and boiler rooms. As of late, sabotages have skyrocketed and the head of operations, the Controller (Smith) is none too pleased with the attacks. Zoey suspects that the tracker patrol schedules are being fed to the aggressors, The Controller’s right-hand man Bigalow (Hues) thinks that Jason is a punk bitch, and Jason thinks that the recipe for mussels and pasta he got from Epicurious is absolutely delish.
Meanwhile, The Controller and his head scientist are working on a secret cyborg prototype called the TC-2000 X, but they need a dead body to get the project rolling. Where the fuck are they going to get one of those with so many healthy, breathing people walking around? As they say, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade and mix it with Robitussin and Jolly Ranchers, then set up a lethal hit on one of your own people.
The cyborg born out of the Controller’s scheme immediately makes contact with the recent saboteurs, the Picasso Gang, led by Niki Picasso (Merhi). A clunky alliance is forged and Picasso has designs on a full-scale overthrow of the underworld. Only after listening to some vinyl, though, because his crew is comprised of high-fashion hipsters dressed to the nines in leather berets and faux furs. Admirably, Jason strikes out on his own to put a stop to the hipster takeover, but discovers that he alone can’t compete with their knowledge of obscure post-punk and ironic facial hair. Teaming with a surface world martial arts master named Sumai (Yeung) is the only chance he has to squash their ambitions.
Technically speaking, this is one of Film One’s slickest productions given the limited budget. The trackers wield laser stunners which exhaust both enemies and 90% of the post-production budget with electrocution effects. During chase scenes, viewers are treated to intense close-ups of Billy Blanks’s face, intercut with Terminator-esque first-person perspective utilizing “tracker view” overlay graphics. The locations are mostly well-scouted and integrated, and the film is thankfully short on generic warehouse scenes. To compensate, it beats you over the head with “people in lab coats frantically pushing buttons in a control room” scenes. Last, it was nice to see some thought and care went into the costume designs for the Picasso gang, even if they look the same as every other post-apocalyptic gang of thugs trotted out in leather, fur, and unnecessary face paint.
What would an early 90s DTV martial arts flick be without some hilarious missteps? There’s visible boom mics and crash mats aplenty, an incredible man-on-fire scene, and heaps of awful dialogue. Just when you thought you’d seen the last of villains consulting a watch before telling the heroes, “it’s time to die,” along comes TC 2000 to get your leather pants all swampy with cliches. Worse yet, Jalal Merhi gets not one, but two scenes where he makes out with the beautiful Bobbie Phillips, because mashing tongue with the female lead is in his contract. Cue the jealous angry fist-shaking now.
We’ve been harsh on the way fight scenes are often handled in Film One productions, but this film gets the viewing angles and editing correct more often than not. First-person and over-the-shoulder perspectives are used sparingly and fights are well-paced without too much reliance on fighters standing around while huffing and furrowing their brows at each other. The choreography is mostly substandard, but there are plenty of funny fight screams, grimaces, and sweaty embraces mid-battle between Yeung, Hues, and Blanks.
TC 2000 cribs freely from the buddy-cop formula, Demolition Man’s reanimated-corpse-as-troublemaker, and science-fiction film’s general fascination with cyborgs. These elements alone are cause for concern. However, the story keeps its focus on the right elements for the most part. In stepping to the side as a supporting player, Jalal Merhi manages to deliver what is arguably his best (or least wooden) performance. While TC 2000 isn’t fantastic by any objective stretch of the imagination, it’s a pretty serviceable 90 minutes of goofy sci-fi action fun, and an upper-tier entry in the leg-sweeps-and-lasers subgenre.