Not to be confused with Futureworld (1977), the slick but disposable Westworld sequel, this standard world-gone-to-shit action movie is co-directed by James Franco, who also takes a juicy ham role as the lead villain, and Bruce Thierry Chung, who also co-wrote with Jeremy Cheung and Jay Davis. I assume that the recent modest revival of the future barbarism sub-genre was triggered by Mad Max Fury Road rather than the multiple signs of impending eco- and politico-doom all around in the zeitgeist. Like The Bad Batch, which Suki Waterhouse starred in immediately before showing up for this one, Future World seems more like a dress-up-as-your-favourite trash apocalypse movie character party – for those who want to cosplay the robobabe in Cherry 2000 or the horn-helmeted biker from No Blade of Grass – than anything else. I’ve not seen so many scenes of future bikes bombing through the desert since Death Sport (1978) or come across a vision of a post-collapse world so generic since the Italian Mad Max imitations of the early ‘80s – but this isn’t a nostalgic recall of past ends of the world like Turbo Kid or a scrappily inventive return to low-budget ingenuity like Molly. If it weren’t for Franco’s wildly inconsistent auteurism – this is what he chose to follow up The Disaster Artist – Future World would most likely be ignored before showing up quietly on the SyFy Channel.
It opens with a montage of mankind’s achievements as advancing technology and rising sky-scrapers attain a summit of civilisation – followed by old-fashioned nuclear war, and the transformation of America into a desert wilderness of survivor enclaves and wandering raiders. In a whooping assault on a peaceful community, Warlord (James Franco) kills a grandfather-type actually listed in the cast as Grandfather (Carmen Argenziano, who has been getting the short end of the dystopia stick since Punishment Park in 1970) and takes control via a voice-activated remote of initially naked robot blonde Ash (Suki Waterhouse), whom he uses more as killbot than sex toy. Meanwhile, in the peaceful oasis of Oasis, ailing matriarch Queen (Lucy Liu) needs medicine. Her callow son Prince (Jeffrey Wahlberg) sets off in search of the paradise he knows about from a totemic post card (a plot point from Mad Max 2) and a supposed antidote for ‘the red fever’. His journey leads to two horrible communities run by guest stars – Love Town, where a pimp (Snoop Dogg) has lapdancers kitted out with shock collars and encourages the patrons to zap them for lulz … and Drug Town, where a bipolar pusher (Milla Jovovich) sticks dirty needles in folks she then shoves into an empty swimming pool to fight a masked gladiator berserker in a kilt (David Batchelor). Warlord wants Prince’s rare supply of bullets and sics Ash on the naif – but the robot malfunctions and develops a conscious/conscience (she also feels compelled to narrate the film). She helps the underwritten clod hero out of one set of trouble and into the next … then discovers she’s programmed for lesbian love with the Drug Town mechanic (Margarita Levieva).
Like the dumbest rumble in the ruins movies, Future World makes a narrative point of the scarcity of resources but all these communities somehow have what they need to keep going – be it drug-makings, naked porn girls, bike fuel or machetes – though everyone in charge, good or bad, seems so stupid that it’d be a miracle if they survived a weekend camping in Cornwall let alone the Fall of Civilisation. Franco, with dirty teeth and a lot of cackling, is a useless villain, and Waterhouse just has to model revealing outfits and look blank as the robot with a possible soul (but no spark). Wahlberg makes Mark Gregory – Trash of the Bronx Warriors films – look like Kurt Russell at his best. Only Jovovich, finally shaking some life into the film, is value for money on a level of camp – she’s the only element here that the next wouldn’t-it-be-fun-to-make-a-modern-Warrior of the Wasteland krewe might consider ripping off. With Rumer Willis as a future barmaid, Clifford ‘Method Man’ Smith and George ‘Twin Shadow’ Lewis Jr as lowlifes, and Franco regular Scott Haze.