If you ask Judge David Johnson, a more appropriate title for this series would be Cleopatra 36-25-36.
Like The Matrix, but with cleavage.
A syndicated scifi extravaganza originally paired with the Bruce Campbell–fronted Jack of all Trades, Cleopatra 2525 is a full-on high-fructose blast of special effects and eye shadow.
Facts of the Case
It's the distant future, and machines, of course, rule the earth. The fringes of mankind live in a vast subterranean underworld, which is continually infiltrated by human-looking cyborg killing machines called Betrayers. Defending civilization from the threat of the machines are a handful of elite fighting squads called Voice Teams, which take orders from a mysterious disembodied voice named, uh, Voice. So then…hmmm…how about if I just let the profoundly corny theme song tell the rest of the premise?
In the year 2525, they're women with the will to survive,
Awesome! Those three women are Hel (Gina Torres, Firefly), Sarge (Victoria Pratt), and Cleopatra (Jennifer Sky), a recently defrosted stripper from the 21st century and the newest addition to the team. Together, these bodacious freedom fighters will battle Betrayers, dangerous psychics, neon-tinted scumbags, and the treacherous Creegan, their clown-school-castoff archenemy.
Disc One, Side A:
Disc One, Side B:
Disc Two, Side A:
Disc Two, Side B:
What a migraine of a show! My buddies and I stumbled on this series in 2000 and couldn't take our eyes off of it. Not because of the story or the acting or even the hardly-there costuming. Cleopatra 2525 had us glued to the set because it was such an all-out assault on our eyeballs, an over-the-top display of how to cram as much zaniness and sensory overload into twenty minutes, that we couldn't look away. It had the production values of Batman and Robin, the skin of Baywatch, and the narrative coherence of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Horrible and cheesy, yes, but compelling—if only for the question of how long it took the set design people to turn everything neon.
Well, five years later, not much has changed. The show is still an onslaught of special effects, quick camera cuts, ridiculous costuming, and nonsensical storylines. But underneath all of that lurks what appears to be some fun…
The show centers around this team of three kick-ass women and the adventures they get into in a post-apocalyptic world run by Clinique representatives and S&M fetishists. Actually, that would be two kick-ass women, Hel and Sarge. Cleo acts as the requisite portal for the audience to learn all about the mystifying back story to this new world. (But mainly she's there to flaunt her breasts and utter high-pitched wails when the special effects start to fly.) The team is assisted by a reprogrammed Terminat—uh,Betrayer—named Mauser who, as far as I can tell, hangs around a workbench all day even though his arms turn into big fake-looking guns. The three women are sent on assignments through the cavernous underworld by Voice, the unknown British lady pulling the strings. To get from place to place the team freefalls down the great metal shafts and swings on poorly rendered CGI gelatinous grappling hooks. Going to the surface means death, as Earth is now patrolled by humongous flying robots called Baileys (we later find out that the machines have been named after their creator, George Bailey…yep, like the guy from It's a Wonderful Life).
The ladies' nemesis down under is this guy Creegan. And even though he's supposed to be this ruthless, fear-inducing baddie, it's awfully hard to take him seriously. The producers have opted to dress him up like a playing card. His face is painted white, with jester-like makeup outlining his eyes and mouth, topped off with unkempt red hair. Whatever. It works for Gotham City, I guess.
Of course, the rest of the characters don't fare much better in the costuming and makeup department. Can there be more impractical outfits for laser-blasting female super troopers than the tight, revealing garb our heroines prance around in? Sarge runs around in little more than a bikini, Hel's sporting bicycle pants and about a cubic foot of blue eye makeup, and Cleopatra wears a skirt! Now, for the red-blooded heterosexual male they may not be cause for complaint, but to the discerning, uptight scifi eye, these costumes (as well as everyone else's; Mauser is wearing some kind of metallic plastic '80s-aerobic-leotard composition) add to the self-parodying effect of the show.
Which wouldn't be so bad if the tone of the show overall were more tongue-in-cheek. With the premise of a thawed-out stripper fighting men with eyeliner, you would think the atmosphere would be comical, but it's not. And unfortunately that's what torpedoes Cleopatra 2525—it takes itself too darn seriously. Gina Torres playing Hel straight and Sarge as the Amazonian warrior princess juxtaposed with outrageous laser duels and villains in fluorescent spandex is laughable. That's laughable as in "laughing at" not "laughing with."
Things get much goofier when the action scenes kick in and the pyrotechnics fly. These sequences are mind-numbing; people are flipping and twirling and blaster bolts are flying every which way and the camera work is dizzying and the busy set design clashes with the foreground. The visual effects are slightly above average on the scale of syndicated television quality, but they still look awfully silly at some points. The lasers and explosions are solid, but all the CGI and green-screen work is hokey stuff.
The storyline of the Baileys and Creegan and The Voice and "humankind's rebirth" wraps about as convincingly as it could. Much of the heavy lifting for concluding exposition happens in the series finale (which, like the last six episodes, runs at 45 minutes), where the writers formulate a mad dash of closing off the plot. Rest assured, you will finally meet The Voice, find out what Creegan is really up to, learn the origin of the Baileys (a very stupid origin, mind you), and receive a little closure to the series. The downside is that it's mainly a clip show and the three leading ladies get shafted in screen time. Basically, you Cleopatra 2525 fans won't be left dangling by an impromptu break in episode production. The series ends where it wants to, coming down like a five-year-old from a Snickers binge.
Episodes are presented in their original fullscreen aspect ratio and look good enough. There is much color and effects work here, and the video quality does the hopped-up production justice. A bright, busy, boisterous transfer. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix is adequate and loud enough to transmit the onscreen insanity as well.
Universal includes a limited amount of special features on this set. There's an episode of Earth 2, another scifi series, a handful of deleted scenes, an uncensored blooper reel, and a brief, fairly useless bit on the stunts and special effects.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I did say there was some fun to be had, and I'd be a cold cynic if I didn't admit there was some sugar-coated amusement present in this series. There is. But eventually the joy was overwhelmed by the straight-faced idiocy of it all, and, sadly, the fun ultimately comes at the expense of the show.
Cleopatra 2525: The Complete Series is such a fiesta of sound and fury, and is grounded in such a totally outrageous world, you would think that it would be a real gem. Sorry, but the show takes itself way too seriously for its own good. For the horny, ADHD scifi fans only.
The accused is sent to the pharmacy to go get some Advil for the court's throbbing headache.
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