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Case Number 21136

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Terminal City Ricochet

Alternative Tentacles // 1990 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 15th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia has a vision of dystopia. It's a world dominated by flipper discs and pan-and-scan transfers.

The Charge

When real life is a television show, you can't change the channel!

Opening Statement

Jello Biafra, former front man for seminal '80s punk band The Dead Kennedys, has had many projects and titles over the years: singer, spoken-word artist, record label head (of his company Alternative Tentacles Records), and anti-censorship crusader. One title he should not claim, however, is talented judge of quality filmmaking, if Terminal City Ricochet is anything to go by. Not only will it make you want to change the channel, it will make you want to burn your DVD player lest it subject you to anything like it again.

Facts of the Case

In the future, Earth has only a few livable places for humans and one of them is Terminal City, a blighted community divided between shantytowns and mansions that is constantly being hit with space debris. Terminal City's mayor, Ross Glimore (Peter Breck, The Big Valley), wants to retain his power at all costs, and accompanied by his ruthless aide Bruce Coddle (Jello Biafra) he hatches an elaborate plan. He decides to brand Alex Stevens (Mark Bennett, The Toy), a paperboy and former rock musician who witnesses an accident Glimore caused, as a terrorist. As Gilmore and Coddle use their power over the media to label Stevens an enemy of the state, Stevens goes underground and joins forces with rebellious Beatrice (Lisa Brown) and brain-damaged hockey star Ace the Savior (Germain Houde, Un Zoo La Nuit) to bring down Glimore's oppressive and corrupt government once and for all.

The Evidence

Terminal City Ricochet is muddled, technically inept, clumsy, painfully earnest, and loaded with cheap sophomoric humor. All of that would be bad enough if not for the fact that the film is built on one of the most astoundingly self-important screenplays ever written, one that thinks that it can get away with its flaws purely because of its ambitions. The combination of a pretentious (and disjointed) screenplay with slovenly filmmaking results in one of the most singularly unpleasant movies ever made.

Of course, it's only natural to make certain allowances for low-budget cult films. Even within those parameters, however, Terminal City Ricochet is painful to watch. The acting ranges from ridiculously histrionic (Breck, Biafra) to wooden and inert (Bennett, Brown). The direction by TV hack Zale Dalen (Airwolf) is amateurish, with little flair for visuals, pacing, or nuance. The special effects are so cheap that the movie appears to be rightfully embarrassed by them—whenever possible, the film shows actors reacting to the effects rather than the effects themselves. Biafra and his cohorts may claim that the film is intentionally bad because it's intended as cartoonish satire but that's just a cop-out. Cartoonish satire implies something that's both skillfully made and joyous to watch, and Terminal City Ricochet fails on both counts.

The film's most glaring ineptitude, however, has nothing to do with the budget. As you might expect from a movie with no less than five credited screenwriters (including Beverly Hills 90210 scribe Phil Savath), Terminal City Ricochet is, to put it gently, wildly incoherent. Glimore and Coddle immediately hatch a plan to frame Alex for the crime of running over Glimore's campaign worker that Glimore himself committed, yet the actual crime is never mentioned again for the rest of the film. When Alex and Ace the Savior embark on a harebrained scheme to kidnap Glimore's son, we see that Glimore and Coddle are one step ahead of them and are awaiting them. How this is possible is never explained nor does it pay off in any logical way. The constant falling space debris isn't explained either-it doesn't add any humor to the movie, it isn't significant to the story, and it doesn't make any point, social, political, or otherwise. If anything, none of the plot points hammered repeatedly, from Ace the Savior being a brain-damaged hockey star thought dead to the notion of rock music being outlawed, actually add anything to the story. They just seem like random ideas thrown together to make the film seem edgy and brave.

What's even more disconcerting is that for all its purported courage, Terminal City Ricochet's message boils down to one of the laziest and hoariest in drama: politicians lie and manipulate the press for their advantage. That's seriously the best that Biafra and crew could come up with? That message is identical to that offered in forgettable '90s junk like Speechless and The Distinguished Gentleman, which makes this movie officially as cutting edge as a bad Eddie Murphy comedy. Of course, politicians lie and manipulate the media—every American over the age of twelve takes that for granted. What's more accurate is that most Americans believe that their side doesn't do it and the other side does. If Terminal City Ricochet had the courage to take on that uncomfortable truth, it might actually have served more use than as a terrible low-budget ripoff of Rollerball, Blade Runner, and Brazil, amongst thousands of others. Instead, the film is content to stoop to such lows as a scene in which one of Glimore's political rallies is literally showered in gallons of human excrement. If that's your idea of trenchant political commentary, then Terminal City Ricochet is the film for you. Outside of that severely limited demographic, however, this is not worth anyone's time or money.

Technically, the disc is as cheap as the film itself. The full-screen transfer is taken from a video recording, complete with some fairly sizable video glitches and artefacting. It looks pretty bad, but that's punk rock, supposedly. The stereo mix is adequate, with decent separation and audible dialogue. The selection of extras is more than the film deserves, presumably because of Biafra's celebrity. There are two interviews with Biafra, one from 2006 (7:02) and one from 1992 (3:04). Though Biafra grudgingly concedes that the film doesn't really make sense, he still insists that it's an important film that must be widely seen before every election. To which the only logical response is: Don't American voters suffer enough during elections? Also included is the film's trailer (2:11), a photo gallery, and two music videos for songs used in the film, D.O.A.'s "Behind the Smile" (3:34) and I, Braineater's "Modern Man" (3:18).

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Packaged together with the DVD is the film's CD soundtrack:

• D.O.A.: "Behind the Smile"

• The Beatnigs: "Television"

• Jello Biafra & NoMeansNo: "Falling Space Junk (Hold the Anchovies)"

• I, Braineater: "Modern Man"

• Gerry Hannah: "Living with the Lies"

• Art Bergmann: "War Party"

• Jello Biafra & D.O.A.: "That's Progress"

• Evan Johns & the H-Bombs: "Madhouse"

• NoMeansNo: "It's Catching Up"

• The Groovaholics: "Pull the Trigger, Sunshine!"

• D.O.A.: "Concrete Beach"

• Jello Biafra & Keith LeBlanc: "Message from Our Sponsor/Object-Subject"

This is actually a pretty good album. As a sampler of late-'80s indie-label punk rock, it's representative of its time and place. The best artists on the Alternative Tentacles label contribute some of their best songs, with NoMeansNo, Evan Johns, and the Beatnigs as the standouts. Even then, though, the whole album is worth hearing if you're at all interested in what this era in music sounded like. Ignore the DVD and keep the CD instead.

Closing Statement

Terminal City Ricochet is a terrible film, but not because it's a low-budget one. It's also not a terrible film because it's so stridently political, or even because it follows similar themes and ideas to previous post-apocalyptic films. It's because it's so fundamentally lazy, not bothering to come up with any new ideas or viewpoints and wallowing instead in cheap shots, toilet humor, and lazy craftsmanship. Biafra's fans deserve better than this wretched attempt at filmmaking. The soundtrack has some excellent music but despite what Biafra himself may claim, Terminal City Ricochet doesn't need to be viewed by anyone at any time ever. Avoid.

The Verdict

Guilty of jaw-dropping pretensions matched by equally jaw-dropping incompetence.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 65
Audio: 70
Extras: 75
Acting: 50
Story: 40
Judgment: 40

Perp Profile

Studio: Alternative Tentacles
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Cult
• Science Fiction

Distinguishing Marks

• Interviews
• Music Videos
• Photo Gallery
• Trailer
• CD Soundtrack


• IMDb
• Official Site

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