Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Scanners.”
The Movie: “Scanners”
Starring: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan
Director: David Cronenberg
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 76 percent
Brown: It’s about time we got back to Cronenberg, Froemming!
It was back in September 2017 when we reviewed our first David Cronenberg movie in “The Dead Zone.” And considering this man’s love of body horror and my squeamishness, I should be happy that we haven’t done any Cronenbergs since.
And yet, I’m the one that picks a Cronenberg for the second time with “Scanners.”
Now, I think everyone with a computer since the early 2000s knows this movie as the one with the guy’s head exploding.
But I picked it for another reason.
See, one of my favorite “Saturday Night Live” skits is the relatively obscure “Jimmy Tango’s Fat Busters” where Jim Carrey plays a fitness guru who uses crystal meth to lose obscene amounts of weight. And near the end of the skit, he and Will Farrell “Scan” each other.
Rewatching that skit made me remember “Oh (REDACTED), I haven’t seen ‘Scanners’ yet.”
So, here we are.
While I try to get the voices out of my head with a mystery syringe, give me your initial take, Froemming.
That was pretty much all I knew about this movie before watching it for the JOE-DOWN. That reference and, of course, the dude’s head actually exploding. Which remains quite a hilarious scene to me.
So, based on its reputation, I knew the movie had some guy whose head just exploded and nothing more.
And I was shocked by what I saw.
No, not the message of military playing God, or the private pharmaceutical companies playing God, no I was shocked to see that at some point in his life, Michael Ironside was young. It is like seeing a picture of a young Kurtwood Smith (try Googling that, no photos of this exists). It’s haunting and disturbing all at the same time. Also, great to see Ironside back in a JOE-DOWN review. I think he rivals Travolta in appearances here.
Brown, as I try to outrun some hired goons in trench coats, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: So the movie begins with what looks like a homeless man walking around a shopping mall, so as to remind you how ‘80s as hell this movie is. This trench-coated man is smoking a cigarette out in the open, which did make me wonder how many states CAN you actually do that in anymore in 2020. And, he just sits down at a food court table and starts munching on a half-eaten hot dog, which may be more disgusting than anything Cronenberg did in “The Fly.”
Froemming: Look at Mr. Moneybags here, all affording his own hot dogs. Elitist.
Brown: I thought everyone in the ‘80s had money. Did popular culture lie to me?!
Froemming: Hey, you and Donald Trump share the same ideas of wealth in the ‘80s!
Brown: Thankfully not the same barber.
Anywho, as this vagrant eats his hot dog, he’s getting judged by a pair of women at another table. Only, their lips aren’t syncing up to what they’re saying. Turns out, he’s scanning them!
For those not in the know, being a Scanner in this universe means you have psychokinesis and telekinesis. So, dude is reading minds and acting like he’s getting a cluster headache for doing so. As someone who has dealt with cluster headaches, they are the (REDACTED) worst. It’s like feeling like an ice pick is being jammed into your temple and to the back of your eye socket.
Froemming: One, that sounds horrible and I hope you have sought medical treatment for those.
Brown: To wrap up this all-too-real conversation, ever since I started using a CPAP, haven’t had one since.
Froemming: Good. Now quit interrupting me.
Two, this movie plays fast and loose with the powers these Scanners have. They can read minds, they can force people to see them as other people (WTF?), they can create chaos in the brain with —
Then, for some (REDACTED) reason that we will touch on later, they can read and scan computers? They explain it as computers have nervous systems, but they don’t. Computers are not people, unless they are cyborgs with British accents or something, and that is just being close to being a person, damnit.
Anyway, this hobo who won’t let a good hot dog go to waste is chased by hired goons after he makes the poor lady who was making fun of him convulse on the floor with a crazy headache or something.
But, to be fair…
Brown: So when the goons are chasing our vagrant, they shoot him in the hand with a tranquilizer gun. … Why the hand? I feel like anyone using a tranquilizer gun should aim for center mass on the chance you miss. The hand is a small target and will take a while before the target is subdued.
We’ll get to the vagrant’s fate later. In the meantime, let’s go to ConSec, a private military company.
There, a man is about to expose the world to Scanners by giving a live demonstration. During this, the Scanner asks the audience if there is a volunteer, but warns that it is a painful experience.
The one to raise his hand: Michael Ironside. Yeah, his name in the movie is Darryl Revok, but I think I speak for Froemming here when I say we’re calling him (REDACTED) Michael Ironside.
Froemming: Yup. Also, Darryl Revok sounds like the name of a background character in “Blade Runner.”
Now, this movie has a lot of life lessons in it, and the one I will forever hold on to is if I am ever in some situation that asks for a volunteer and I see Michael Ironside picked and take the stage, I am walking the (REDACTED) out of that seminar. Nothing good can come of it.
So, we can write and write about what follows, but YouTube will show you much better than our words as to what follows.
Brown: So every time that someone gets scanned in this movie, that high-pitched squeal the movie uses kept making me think I had tinnitus like I was Sterling Archer.
Now, a couple things I want to bring up from this scene.
First: Every scanning scene is hilarious because the way the actors play it up is so big and Kabuki-like. It’s community theater-levels of cheesy.
Second: Michael Ironside’s scar on his head. We find out later that Ironside did that to himself by drilling a hole into his head “Pi” style. That is a freaky trait even without the backstory. I kept thinking he had an old Charlie Manson swastika tattoo.
Final point: For a room where a MAN’S (REDACTED) HEAD EXPLODED, that background and table is SPOTLESS. No one in the room is covered in blood and viscera, namely Ironside.
Froemming: Maybe his crazy powers deflected that mess? If so, he should use that power if he ever sees Gallager live.
Brown: I will say that that shock and effect of the head explosion still holds up well. It’s wonderful what you can do with a fake head full of lunch leftovers and a shotgun.
Froemming: Yup, the practical effects have certainly held up. Unfortunately, this movie has “The Room”-levels of bad acting in it. You made a reference to community theater earlier, I think that is where 99 percent of the cast was found, as Ironside is the only one in this movie that could, you know, act. And it is young Ironside, where his voice sounds normal, not three-decades-of-smokes-deep-and-guttural like in the other movies of his we have watched.
Well, Ironside make his escape, all right, and is chased by the private security, because the police probably has better things to do than chase a psychic terrorist through the mean streets of wherever the hell this movie takes place, Toronto?
And he uses his crazy powers to kill his chasers. Who are private security and probably made minimum wage, so that seems kinda tragic if you think about it.
Brown: I think this movie was actually filmed in Canada. This movie would have been a 10 for me if Michael Ironside got arrested by RCMP.
Now, when Ironside gets captured, a group of men are restraining him and a doctor is supposed to give him a shot of ephemerol (remember that name) that’ll subdue his powers. Only, the doctor shoots it into his own hand. How did no one see this and call out that BS? I’m sure the answer is Scanner power but we don’t get an answer.
Now, back to the bum. His name is Cameron Vale and he is now in the care of Dr. Paul Ruth, who specializes in Scanners. I feel like that’s a made-up medical emphasis he got from Dr. Nick Riviera at Hollywood Upstairs Medical College.
Froemming: Like a tenured professor, he really soaks in the accolades of his nonsense stature. To the point he sits in a leather chair near a fireplace, sipping expensive booze while doing nothing at all.
Now, I want to bring this up because it troubled me a bit. The bum, Cameron, never blinks. Ever. His eyes are as wide and alert as a student in Dr. Nick Riviera’s Hollywood Upstairs Medical College wired on adderall. Or like our president wired on adderall tweeting at 4 a.m. What I am saying is this guy doesn’t blink and it freaked me out watching this.
Brown: Earlier, when Dr. Ruth is working with Cameron, he brings in all these people that flood Cameron’s mind with internal monogogues, which brings the guy great pain. Cameron was freaking out like Senor Chang.
Froemming: Good thing Cameron never suffered from Changnesia.
Brown: If he did, Michael Ironside would have to hunt him down with a paintball gun.
Now, with Cameron in his custody, Dr. Ruth decides to recruit this homeless man to do his bidding. See, ConSec wants to shut down its Scanner program after the world’s cleanest head explosion. But, the Good Doc sees this as a reason to keep the program alive, because of the power of Scanners. So, Cameron is tasked with assassinating Michael Ironside because he has started a Scanner underground.
Froemming: Dr. Ruth is just like a tenured professor, making up BS to save his sweet, sweet pointless gig.
Brown: You’re not wrong.
Also, we see footage of a young Michael Ironside (for his character) and man, dude looks exactly like Ted Bundy.
Anyhow, Dr. Ruth spends some time honing Cameron’s scanning ability by making him speed up the heart of a man who claims he can control his heartbeat. So, a lying hippie. Cameron nearly makes the guy’s heart explode before stopping. For what Dr. Ruth made out to be grueling exercises in mental gymnastics, Cameron is all powerful REALLLL sudden.
Froemming: To take a page from the neckbeards angry at the new “Star Wars,” this makes Cameron a Mary Sue.
Brown: What message boards are you on that have Star Wars fans saying that?
Get off 4chan and Breitbart, man.
Froemming: Let’s just continue the review, Brown.
Brown: With his powers honed in, Cameron’s first task is to find a Scanner named Benjamin Pierce. But there’s a problem: Michael Ironside has a spy in ConSec.
Froemming: The spy is Braedon Keller, a man whose endgame is as confusing as the spelling of his first name. Is he just Kent Brockman when the threat of an alien invasion is coming, he welcomes his brain-scanning overlords?
Brown: I mean, you blow up one of my co-workers’ head and have his mind literally in puddles on the floor, I’ll do what I need to do to avoid that fate.
Froemming: Well, that’s because you’re a coward.
Anywho, Cameron goes to an art exhibit to find another like him. I’ll let Ron Swanson explain my views on art.
This Scanner, Benjamin Pierce, is not affiliated with either side in this war, so you know he is a hippie of some sort. Cameron tries to get the curator of the show to tell him where to find Old Ben, but the guy won’t, so he scans the guy’s brain for information.
What a dick move, Cameron. Some people just don’t want to be found. They also don’t want random ass nosebleeds either. They are not cokeheads, damnit.
But he is spotted and thwarted by another Scanner, Kim Obrist, who just happens to be at this exhibit.
Brown: I feel like any interaction between Scanners is like Groundskeeper Willie telling Bart to not use his Shinnin’ between 4-5 p.m. That’s Willie’s time!
When Cameron finds Benjamin, they are eventually interrupted by Michael Ironside’s hired goons.
Froemming: Hired goons?
OK, so the acting from Benjamin’s part was comically bad. I was hoping he would end one of his lines with “Oh, Hai Mark!”
I did like he weird-ass living arrangement. His living room is on a weird platform above the ground floor. I’ll never understand art.
Brown: All of Benjamin’s art and sculptures look like the album cover to King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King.”
Froemming: Fun fact: I love prog rock and hate King Crimson.
Cameron wants to recruit this wimp, but the goons take care of him with a volley of bullets. Why Cameron waited to use his powers to thwart them after Benjamin was shot like seven times, I’ll never understand. But he does, causing them to have a bad headache then throw themselves against walls.
The whole movie I was wondering why Cameron just didn’t use his powers to have these gun-toting hired goons turn their weapons on themselves. He has them flying all over into plaster and whatnot. Just make them shoot themselves or each other.
Brown: Cameron is too busy making the herky-jerky head motions of Carrie White from “Carrie” to focus his power on forced suicides like Michael Ironside does.
As Benjamin dies, he gives Cameron a name: Kim Obrist.
After walking the streets with a sweet synth soundtrack — synth music will always hold a special place in my heart — Cameron eventually finds Kim, where she is housing other Scanners like a poor Professor X.
Froemming: The crew in this house looked like “Hipster X-Men,” their weakness being sincerity and bank accounts.
At this house, Cameron meets others like him, and they sit in a circle talking nonsense-feel-goodery and other hippie BS, only with their brains and not their mouths. And while in this circle, more hired goons show up and take a few out before the psychics use their power to stop them.
And yet another chase ensues. This time, Cameron is driving a van has “school bus” painted on the hood.
It is a van, not a school bus. I don’t know how they do things in Canada, but if they are calling vans “buses” then they are wrong.
While escaping, another van pops out, though this one has the decency to not call itself a “bus” and runs Cameron right into a record store.
These days, record stores would pay someone to drive right into them in the off chance it results in business.
Brown: I bet those hipster Scanners insisted on going to that record store because Neutral Milk Hotel sounds SO MUCH better on vinyl.
Froemming: It does sound better on vinyl.
Brown: You go ahead and tell yourself that. If it’s not clear, folks, I’m not an audiophile.
Anyways, Cameron and Kim are hunted down by the hired goons but are able to scan their way out of trouble. And one of the hired goons gives Cameron a clue (thanks to some scanning): a bottle of medicine from a place with a complicated name that I can’t find on Google. Whatever.
With a drug company and a weapons company warring with each other, this movie had to be the genesis of Bernie Sanders’ ideals about capitalism.
Froemming: This is a libertarian’s wet dream.
Cameron wants to get back into ConSec with Kim to investigate a computer program associated with the company, since ephemerol is being distributed at this one place neither of us can remember the name of. It gets kinda confusing here, corporate espionage is not something that holds my attention, even if it is Michael Ironside doing it. Kim has to pose as an insider to Ironside’s crew, because reasons?
Braedon Keller is instructed by Michael Ironside to kill Cameron’s alleged insider, because that is how business was done in Reagan’s America.
Brown: Well, Keller is essentially a hired goon.
So in his corporate espionage, Cameron found something called the Ripe program that runs through ConSec, so he and Kim come in to try and get info from Dr. Ruth. The Doc’s suggestion: Cameron should scan the computer system because it has a nervous system.
… No. Cameron and his blank stares are not Neo. Computers and the internet are not a nervous system. They are a series of tubes. If former-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!
Brown: Meanwhile, Keller interrogates Kim, but starts it by basically saying “Hello, you’re very attractive. I’m interrogating you.”
ConSec is not woke.
Then Keller goes one part hitman, one part Harvey Weinstein by being all aggressive and kind of sexual. It’s hard to describe. But Kim has an ace in the hole: Dr. Ruth injected the two Scanners with a placebo, so her scan powers are in play here. Kim subdues Keller, but not after he hit an alarm to start a manhunt against the dangerous Scanners.
Froemming: Well, Keller does get to kill Dr. Ruth, which will save the company so much money.
Cameron and Kim escape, and find a payphone, where Cameron can use his Scanner powers to get into the computer program, because (REDACTED) any logic at this point.
As he is inside the computer, Keller wants to stop it, but his IT department can’t really do anything about it.
So, like a boomer confused by how YouTube TV works, Keller becomes angry and wants to destroy the whole program. Which, if the IT department is locked out of it, how do they pull off the self-destruct thing?
Brown: When he was near death, the way Dr. Ruth kept saying Cameron’s name, like Cam-mor-Rawn, that was annoying. He is far below Dr. Loomis from “Halloween.”
Froemming: Is this how Rick Grimes learned to pronounce “Carl?”
Brown: No, Rick Grimes learned that by watching the episode of “The Office” where they try using southern accents to play a murder mystery.
So as the computers are being destroyed, Cameron uses his scanner powers to kill everyone in the computer room. So the IT guys meet their end through no fault of their own like the contractors on the Death Star.
In scanning the computer system, Cameron finds the addresses of doctors that are receiving ephemerol. Cameron and Kim visit one of these doctors, where Cameron confronts the doc while he’s giving a pudgy man a physical.
Meanwhile, in the waiting room, Kim is getting scanned but can’t figure out who’s doing it. Turns out, she is getting scanned by a fetus via pregnant woman in the same waiting room. Kim gets a bloody nose out of the deal and I’m convinced that this Scanner child grows up to be Eleven from “Stranger Things.”
Seriously. That’s a Scanner if I’ve ever seen one. Plus, we’ve already established that every Scanner seems to vary in their abilities. So confirmed: Eleven IS a Scanner.
Froemming: Or it confirms “Stranger Things” isn’t very original and masks nostalgia porn as homage.
Brown: “Stranger Things” fanatics: send your hate mail to email@example.com.
Well, outside the hospital, Cameron and Kim are shot with darts and are captured by Ironside, who either used his powers to figure out they would be there or is incredibly good at guessing.
And now the finale of this journey: The villain exposition dump!
At his corporate office, Ironside lays down some truth bombs on Cameron with an old Time magazine. Turns out, they are brothers and Dr. Ruth was their father. A madman who used ephemerol as a way to make pregnancies less painful or something, but the side effect was creating Scanner children, the first two being Ironside and Cameron. And pulling the family guilt trip from Darth Vader in “Empire,” Ironside wants his brother to join him, so they can rule the galaxy, or Toronto, wherever the hell this takes place.
Brown: How uncomfortable were you when Michael Ironside kept referring to Dr. Ruth as “Daddy?”
That was nightmare fuel to me.
Froemming: I found it uncomfortable. It is a strange thing for an adult to say.
Well, Cameron refuses and we get a good old-fashioned Scanner-off between the two brothers. And I imagine their veins popping in their arms and face, along with Cameron pulling skin off his head, made Brown wildly uncomfortable, which brings me great joy!
It also has Cameron’s eyes exploding, skin melting, fire erupts out of nowhere and Ironside’s eyes turn pure white. And I loved every minute of it.
Brown: Like the head explosion, I think it’s better seen than explained.
It is disturbing but the head explosion comes as a shock. We’ve seen some weird (REDACTED) up to this point so this isn’t out of left field like before. The practical effects are still amazing.
I also imagine what Cameron goes through is what happened to all the Nazis when they saw the inside of the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Froemming: Oh, like what happened to my respect of that franchise when Indy survived a nuke blast in a refrigerator?
Brown: We’ve watched worse sequels on this blog.
So after we all see Michael Ironside’s O-face in this Scanner battle, we get Kim waking up in the next room and seeing the aftermath of the battle, namely the scorched body of Cameron. Then in the corner, we hear Cameron’s voice and someone curled up in a ball under a jacket.
It’s Michael Ironside! But with Cameron’s voice and distinct green eyes. And there’s no more drill scar.
So, good Scanners win, I guess as long as you’re OK with looking like Michael Ironside the rest of your life.
I call that a wash.
Froemming: That mug of his made him a famous character actor. I never saw the other actor in anything after this, so I think this will be just fine for him.
Let’s crash our vans that we call “buses” down to recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Absolutely. The acting isn’t great but the effects hold up incredibly well and the story is an interesting idea.
Froemming: Yes, it is an interesting movie. Lags at times, but overall it is an enjoyable film.