Time is running out for the Sci-Fi Channel which, in a matter of weeks changes its name to SyFy so they can, presumably, run less science fiction and sell out to the infinitely more profitable world of ultimate fighting. Maybe it’s for the best. Sci-Fi has never been as sci-fi focused as its name suggests and when they try, it always turns into a bad horror movie. Case in point: Their latest made for TV movie Star Runners.
It starts out in the right direction, with old school pulp lettering in the credits and an outer space chase sequence. That seems sci-fi enough, doesn’t it? Former Trek helmsman Connor Trinneer stars as Tycho and Heroes best-buddy James Kyson Lee is Lei Chen, a pair of transport pilots or “star runners” with an illegal shipment to slip past the feds. It seems at first that they’re going for a Han Solo/Chewbacca dynamic here between the two of them, smugglers shaking patrols cracking wise at one another. It never quite works, mostly because Trinneer and Lee play their characters as if they’ve just taken a heavy dose of sleeping pills, but at least the script seems to be trying, even if it’s not succeeding.
Unfortunately Tycho and Chen are soon captured and blackmailed by the government into picking up a mysterious shipment and dragging it back to them. The bad acting continues as they hop in their ship and jump into hyperspace using special effects taken straight out of the original Star Wars. That’s not a complain mind you, most of the outer space effects in the film have a great, retro-feel and when they don’t feel like an homage to something else, they turn into a straight ripoff of the more recent Battlestar Galactica which, isn’t really such a bad thing. The outer space effects nearly work, but before they cost them too much money everyone ends up on the ground.
Tycho and Chen get the package, it’s a girl with amnesia, whom they immediately dress to look exactly like Alice in Resident Evil. Same outfit, slightly different color, but it’s obvious that the costuming department has read the script and realized that we’re headed for a Resident Evil ripoff. Or maybe it’s more of a Resident Evil, Pitch Black ripoff since it happens on an alien planet and we’re fighting head-decapitating spiders instead of the undead. Either way, as soon as our mystery girl gets dressed it’s off to find an excuse to strand them all on a dangerous planet.
The problem here is that Star Runners eventually goes where every bad, Sci-Fi Channel project goes, dipping straight into the fighting CGI monsters well. Earlier this week maybe you read my little rant about the recent lack of T&A in science fiction movies. I think I’ve figured out what happened to it. It’s been replaced by computer generated monsters. Once upon a time when you didn’t have the budget necessary to make your sci-fi flick happen, you’d throw in an alien in a bikini or something to distract your audience from the bad matte paintings and cardboard control panels. Now you skip the bikini babes and instead hide your inefficiencies behind half-assed, CGI spiders. It’s quantity over quality really. The working theory here seems to be that the quality of the CGI monsters doesn’t matter if there’s a lot of them. Having just sat through two hours of movie built almost entirely on this assumption, I’m pretty sure it’s the opposite that’s true.