James Franco is a busy guy; not only is he starring in 20+ (!) feature films released between 2017-18, he’s also (co-)directed six of them.
The Mad Max knockoff Future World (not to be confused with the 1976 Westworld sequel), co-directed by Franco with frequent collaborator Bruce Thierry Cheung, is one of them. And if it feels like it was thrown together over the course of a few long weekends, that’s because by any reasonable deduction it must have been.
Franco stars as Warlord, leader of a gang of ruthless raiders on motorcycles who violently pillage anything they can get their hand on and kill anyone who gets in their way. In the film’s opening scene, he brutally stabs a kindly old man (Carmen Argenziano) in front of his grandson. This future world ain’t for the weak.
Warlord is after a sexy robot named Ash (Suki Waterhouse), to do his bidding – like kill one of his own men, just to prove how much of a bad guy he really is. Franco’s character controls her through a little walkie-talkie, even when in speaking range – setting up, I presumed, a scene in which other characters gain access to the robot’s voice control at some point.
Or she’ll just gain consciousness when the plot calls for it, without explanation.
But Future World is really about the journey of Prince (Jeffrey Wahlberg, Mark’s nephew), a young man who sets out from the Oasis to find a rumored cure for his dying mother, the Queen (Lucy Liu, in a one-scene cameo despite being prominently featured on the film’s advertising material).
Prince and Ash eventually cross paths and undertake the journey together, which leads them to a beach-based outpost of druggies led by a character played by Milla Jovovich, appropriately called Drug Lord in the credits.
Drug Lord may or may not have the rumored cure to the unknown disease, but Prince will have to fight his way out of her clutches anyway. And those of Franco’s Warlord, hot on his tail to get back his precious robot girl.
Future World is the kind of low-budget post-apocalyptic wasteland actioners that flooded video stores in the 1980s in the wake of The Road Warrior’s success. But it’s far more polished than those films ever were, with a slick production design and fluid camerawork by Czech cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger, who has shot most of Werner Herzog’s films over the past 20 years.
It’s also… interestingly cast, with rappers Snoop Dogg, Method Man, and Twin Shadow showing up in minor roles alongside Margarita Levieva (Franco’s co-star on HBO’s The Deuce) and Rumer Willis (daughter of Bruce & Demi Moore). But Jovovich’s wide-eyed, under-the-influence psychopath steals the whole movie despite being a late addition.
There’s even the outline of a half-decent story in Future World; Prince’s journey across the wasteland to save his mother ain’t much, and ain’t original, but it should be enough to hang the rest of the action around.
But Future World fails to craft any kind of engaging narrative inside the premise: scenes are so loosely cobbled together, without any logic or natural sense of progression, it’s almost as if the filmmakers gathered the actors together without a screenplay and asked them to fill in the story beats. At no point are we invested in anything that happens in the movie; we only bear witness to a sloppily-compiled series of events without ever caring about the outcome.
That’s a shame, because these kinds of films can and should be fun, and Future World has the talent behind it to achieve success. In the end, however, it’s just another slog through the wasteland; go rewatch Mad Max: Fury Road again instead.