Friday, June 5, 2009

Cleopatra 2525 - The Pilot Episode (2000)

Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Starring Gina Torres, Victoria Pratt, Jennifer Sky

"Go ahead...make my day."

This show was fucking crazy. A jiggle TV/Sci-fi mash-up about hot pants wearing underworld rebels from the future and a catch-phrase spewing stripper from the past who team up to battle evil robot overlords - who they sometimes also have sex with - Cleopatra 2525 was a unique, audacious, and wholly ludicrous show that, in a good and noble world, would still be airing daily today. Unfortunately, it hit the airwaves just a year before September 11th, 2001, and after Armageddon came to town, nobody was interested in this frothy little cocktail. It sailed off into oblivion after just two seasons.

The brainchild of Evil Dead/Xena, Warrior Princess producer Robert G Tapert and Xena writer RJ Stewart, Cleopatra was shot in New Zealand, on Xena's sets. Its origins stretched back to 1997, when the Xena production team produced a pilot for a show called Amazon High, starring Selma Blair. Amazon High's story involved a modern-day 'valley girl' (Blair), transported back in time to the days of the "Amazon Nation"-whenever the hell that was. That particular concoction doesn't really make much sense, so I can see why they scrapped it and reworked the premise into Cleopatra 2525. I mean, a valley girl in the past? A stripper in the future is way more plausible, man.

Along with some bullshit called Jack of All Trades, Cleopatra 2525 was sold into syndication as an "Action Block" to replace the defunct Hercules series. After its first year, Jack was canceled, so the thirty-minute series was expanded into an hour to flesh out the time-slot. By that time, Cleo had built a healthy head of steam, and generated scores of fan-sites and a startling amount of sexed-up fan fiction. Many examples are still mucking up the internet as we speak. But it was never that easy to find, promotion was weak, and by the time it finally generated some buzz, the death-bell was already ringing. I personally remember seeing scintillating ads for the show, but they were sandwiched between terror alerts and Anthrax updates, so I scarcely noticed. Cleo, we hardly knew ye.

And so, here we are, nearly a decade away from the end of the world, in tech-savvy times with level-heads running the country and economic prosperity just around...well, maybe not around the corner, but possibly up the street Ok, we're broke, but everything's free on the internet, at least, so perhaps it's time to revisit this sexy little nugget of trash-TV to see what we missed out on the first time. I am merely reviewing the 21 minute pilot episode. At this point, I have no idea what happens later on in the series. So keep your spoilers to yourself. Thanks!

As the show opens, we are thrust into a post-industrial netherworld constructed of CGI and cardboard. A hot blonde in tight leather and blue mascara named Sarge (Victoria Pratt) and a gorgeous black chick in booty-shorts named Hel (Gina Torres), along with a bald, buff dude run around their ashy underworld looking for a good place to bust out. They use their laser guns to blow a hole through the roof and pile out into an idyllic field of green grass and warm sun, but their springtime frolic is cut short when a giant flying monster/robot with machine gun arms shows up and starts thrusting suggestively at them.

As said thrusts are accompanied by white-hot space-bullets, a panicked battle takes place. Our heroines manage to blow a chunk off the beast. They snatch it up and dive back underground. Catching their breath, the girls are dismayed to find that their male companion has sustained some damage, but instead of blood and torn flesh, his innards reveal charred metal and torn wires. Turns out he's a robot. An evil robot! Quick, somebody roll the opening credits.

After an awesomely atonal theme song ( a riff on Nebraskan pop duo Zager and Evans' 1969 #1 hit In the Year 2525), performed by Torres, we are back in the thick of it, with Sarge and Hel trading laser blasts with the robot-fiend. The effects are somewhere between Astro Zombies and a Sci-Fi movie-of-the-week, and the sound is obnoxiously loud. I have yet to watch this show in 5.1, but I'm pretty sure if I do, the police will show up shortly after.

Unable to defeat their metallic tormentor, the girls dive headfirst into a deep shaft, where they fall freely at a blinding speed. Luckily, Hel shoots Spiderman-like webs from her wristbands, and she breaks their fall. They duck into a corridor and assess the damage. Seems the robot has somehow trained himself on Sarge's voice, making it almost impossible to avoid him. Worst of all, Sarge has been blasted in her kidney - and she's only got one. If she doesn't get help, fast, she's a goner. By the way, Hel has a voice in her head that tells her what to do. Not sure if it's an actual person buzzing in somehow, or just some sort of Future-phrenia. Time will tell, I suppose.

Hel and a beat-up Sarge limp into a mad scientist lab run by a werewolf and a snake with arms. I know how that sounds, but that's exactly what happens.

The werewolf is doting over a curvy blonde (Jennifer Sky) wrapped in gauze. They just found her. She's been frozen for 500 years, but she's in perfect shape. Wolf and Snakey plan on using her as a sex slave. Hel barters with the wolfman to get Sarge a new kidney. He agrees to help her out for a wooden box. Wood is hard to come by in the future, especially since robot monsters own all the trees. Sarge gets placed into some sort of microwave and gets a new kidney, and while the wolf and the snake wander off to do god knows what, the bandaged blonde starts to wake up.

She immediately checks her tits. They're pretty awesome, so she breathes a sigh of relief. Then she notices where she is, and freaks out, grabbing a gun and threatening to use it - if she can figure out where the trigger is.

The girls ponder whether to just kill her - better than getting raped by a snake with arms - but after the rampaging robot shows back up, they decide to just take her with them.

After a bunch more running around, she informs them that her name is Cleopatra, she's a stripper, and the last thing she remembers, it was 2001, and she was getting a boob job. "Boob job?" Asks a confused Sarge. Turns out that in the future, there are no boob jobs. Good thing all these 25th century girls have naturally big tits. After informing her that she is 500 years in the future and everybody she ever knew is now long dead, the girls fill her in on the current crisis: monster-robots named Baileys have taken over the Earth and forced humans underground. Hel and Sarge are part of a rebel force sworn to reclaim the Earth, governed by the voice in Hel's head. And that's pretty much what's happening in the year 2525.

So, what will our hapless heroine do? What can she do, really? She joins the team. "All for one, and one for all," she says. Hel and Sarge think this is brilliant. They don't have the Three Musketeers in the future. Pretty much everything Cleo says sounds either brilliant or bewildering. And so, the journey begins.

Honestly, I thought this episode was a blast. Hot girls, crazy outfits, an absurd storyline, camp dialogue, shoddy effects, and a wobbly theme song. Who could ask for more? The brief running time is a bummer, but as mentioned, the second season fattened the episodes up and introduced a host of weird subplots and oddball characters. A DVD boxset of the series was released in 2005, and on the basis of this first episode, I'd say it's well-worth seeking out. Boners will most assuredly be popped.

Availability: Cleopatra 2525 is available on DVD.

Link: the unofficial Cleopatra 2525 website!

- Ken McIntyre

1 comment:

  1. This was originally part of Universal's aborted "Action Pack". Not sure if it had anything to do with the failed "Action Network" that tried to launch with the original pre-syndication version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World TV series, which had nudity and was intended for an adult/grown-up audience demographic, but it seems like something about using the word "Action" carried bad mojo, or maybe it was just bad timing. Considering how Hollywood burns through properties it's only a matter of time before Cleopatra 2525 gets the movie treatment. That would be something to see!


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