Strange Days (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Strange Days is a brilliant movie.

It has its flaws, I suppose. Let's start with them. It's not a likeable movie. It doesn't allow you to get very close to any of the characters. It's very long (145 minutes), and it is based on a poor "future" concept, which made the tactical error of not placing the story far enough in the future. They were so hung up on the metaphorical appropriateness of using the millennium party as a setting, that they located the movie in 1999. Well, 1999 has come around, and it looked nothing like this movie's vision. All of a sudden it is a movie about a past that never was. If the script had been mine to review, I would have decided to locate it in some unspecified future date. On the other hand, James Cameron wrote the script, and he does know a bit more about the subject than I do.

Here's the premise. In a future world, the government has invented something to replace "wearing a body wire" - it is a device that attaches to the cerebral cortex, and tapes everything your senses feel - sight, sound, touch, emotions - everything. Other people can then watch the tape and experience the event exactly as you did. Needless to say, the government is not able to keep this under its own control, and the technology soon hits the streets as a black market commodity, thereby replacing heroin as the ultimate drug.

Ralph Fiennes plays a dealer, a seedy ex-cop who sells the experience tapes, and who (like many dope dealers) is also using too much of his own product. Angela Bassett, a very underrated performer in my opinion, is his kick-ass Kung-Fu friend. Fiennes is hung up on his ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), and keeps reliving the tapes of the experiences he had with her. This keeps his feelings for her right on the highest level of their love, although she moved on long ago.

Bassett tries to tell him that "memories are meant to fade" for a reason.


Juliette Lewis bares her breasts in several scenes. Brigitte Bako exposes a nipple in the rape scene.

The film interweaves Fiennes' personal story with a conspiracy he uncovers within the LAPD.

Why do I think it is a masterpiece, despite my negative comments above?

  • The action in this film is absolutely pulse-pounding. Several segments are filmed from the P.O.V. cam of someone wearing the wire, including a creepy double-thrill, when a murderer/rapist makes his victim wear the device and jacks her into his own device, so she can watch herself being raped and murdered from his eyes, and feel his feelings. Insane, intense concept.
  • The dialogue is literate and quotable.
  • The lingo is hip and creative.
  • The minor characters are creepy as can be
  • The stars are excellent.
  • And I like its vision of the future, even if it proved chronologically inaccurate. It is a future leading up to Blade Runner, although not there yet. The poor and rich are separating further, and the streets are decaying into unchecked violence. If you have the time, and are in the right mood, you might find this movie one of the great roller-coaster thrill ride experiences of your movie-watching life. It is intense.
  • I don't think I've ever really noticed the work of an editor before, at least not to the point where I wanted to draw attention to it, but the work here deserves special attention. Howard Smith (and James Cameron himself) worked on taking all this hectic, frenetic, raucous, noisy footage with perhaps too many sub-plots, and weaving it all together so that it made sense.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by director Kathryn Bigelow over the opening sequence

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • 2 deleted scenes

  • Widescreen letterbox format

Despite James Cameron's contribution, and a vision of the world that matches anything in Blade Runner or Dark City, the movie bombed at the box and gets a good but not great score at IMDb. I suppose that's because it's demented, ultra-violent, sexy and brutal. I don't care about that. I just think it's some kick-ass filmmaking. Not every film has to be Toy Story. If you're a film buff and haven't seen this one, you owe yourself the kick.

Director Kathryn Bigelow did not get another movie for five years after the financial failure of this one. Her most recent film was "K-19, the Widowmaker", another film with a satisfactory reputation and an inadequate box office (Budget $100 million. Box: $35 million). She made The Weight of Water for $16 million, and the box office was virtually nothing. Bigelow has absolutely demonstrated that she has talent, but simply has not proved her bankability. 


Take Rodney King vs. the LAPD, set it at the turn of the century, through in a bizarre love rectangle, pump up the volume about 50 dB, and you have Strange Days. The King character, in this case, is a politically important rapper, and the LAPD actually blows him away. Replace the video recorder with the thought recorder from Brainstorm. A tape of the assassination is given to an ex cop, who is now engaged in the underground selling of thought recordings. He is obsessed with his ex girlfriend, Juliette Lewis, and also receives a tape of the rape and murder of a hooker he sometimes uses to make tapes for sale, Brigitte Bako. He thinks he has uncovered a plot within the LAPD, but it turns out to be a simple case of his best friend trying to kill off the competition and get Juliette Lewis, while blaming him.

What they couldn't obscure with loud music and special effects, they did in with smoke and lighting. There were glaring mistakes in the plot. In the tape that is the central point of the film, it is a tape made by Bako's character, and so should be entirely her POV, yet we see her several times in it, both when the cops first stop them, and then when she is running from the cops. Bako shows breasts and bush in the rape scene, and Lewis shows breasts in numerous scenes, both bare, and through transparent outfits.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, 3/5

  • It won two Saturn awards, best actress (Angela Basset) and best director.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: it bombed. made for $42 million dollars, with good reviews and a Cameron imprimatur, it grossed only $7 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C+ (both reviewers). We scored it the same, but have radically different views of it. Scoopy says, "Classic cult film. Long, intense, violent, sexual, fundamentally humorless, it will not please the mainstream crowd, but it is brilliant, in its way". Tuna says, "This is decidedly not my kind of film. The proponents praise the fast pace, saying that it keeps the viewer involved. That didn't work with me, and I suffered through the entire 145 minutes. For genre fans, it is a very well made example."

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