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Remembering Freejack, Mick Jagger’s Wild 1990s Sci-Fi Flick
Back when science fiction envisioned 2009 as the arrival date for future dystopia.
Freejack (streaming here on Peacock!) might've released in 1992, but it feels like a 1970s cyberpunk movie starring 1990s actors… with a dash of 1980s visual notions about how our dystopian future’s supposed to look thrown in for good measure.
Directed by Geoff Murphy (Young Guns II), Freejack is crammed with big ideas and an eclectic cast (after all, how many times do you get to see Mick Jagger commandeering a futuristic street tank?), but it doesn't quite make the most of all its cool-sounding sci-fi ingredients. It’s the kind of so-bad-it’s-good movie, in fact, that cries out today for a remake, one that might take a more thoughtful approach to guiding audiences through its fascinating central premise. Just the same, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining watch.
Starring fresh-from-the ‘80s heartthrob Emilio Estevez as pro auto racer Alex Furlong in the movie’s titular body-swapping role, Freejack is based on Immortality, Inc., the 1959 novel from late, great sci-fi author Robert Sheckley. It’s a loose adaptation framed around the novel’s key big idea: In the future, your consciousness can be offloaded as you approach your dying days, ready to be injected into a newer, younger host body — one that present-day mercenaries pluck (or “jack,” in Freejack parlance) out of the past, just before the moment of an otherwise-untimely death (a death, say, like a spectacular race car crash).
Of course, there’s a catch to getting your own new skin suit, though: It requires a ton of tech and a ton of manpower, meaning you’ve gotta be obscenely rich to afford the exclusively bespoke body-switching service.
How Freejack envisioned "future" (aka 2009) New York
If that concept sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it explored in projects far more recent than Freejack. Similar takes have gotten tons of screen traction in everything from Altered Carbon to Ryan Reynolds’ slept-on sci-fi thriller Self/Less. Sure, those modern takes look somewhat more sleek to today’s special effects-spoiled audiences than Freejack does, but when the visuals do click, there’s something kind of retro-alluring about the gritty 2009 world (yes, that’s “the future” in this movie) that Estevez’ body-swapped racer awakens in. It’s definitely a place of haves and have-nots. As one character puts it: “There’s people at the top; people at the bottom — and no one in between.”
Most of Freejack takes place in a retro-future version of New York City, and the movie takes a huge atmospheric cue from Blade Runner by filming most of its outdoor action at night. Mercenaries and their wealthy operators definitely have free rein in the Big Apple’s mean and gritty streets. Jagger (who plays main merc Victor Vacendak) steers a whole convoy of angular urban-warfare vehicles any damn where he pleases, mowing through sections of town that encompass entire opiate-addled neighborhoods right alongside the gleaming towers where corporate titans — titans like Anthony Hopkins’ CEO Ian McCandless — play marionette with society’s fate.
McCandless is dying, and thanks to his tech-assisted historical hindsight, he’s identified Alex — who’s known in the future as the deceased victim of a spectacular 1991 race car crash — as the ideal candidate to snatch from death’s jaws so that his hijacked body can be pulled into the future and injected with McCandless’ uploaded identity. But right after getting yanked from his car's cockpit as the vehicle crashes and burns, things get sketchy on the 2009 side of Alex’s jacking. He wakes up too soon on the body-prepping operating table and scampers away, in the process becoming a “freejack” — a multimillion-dollar fugitive who’s in for a rude shock at what the years have done to the world he thought he knew.
While the pacing and effects are admittedly uneven, thankfully it’s easy to at least see what screenwriters Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett, and Dan Gilroy (yes, the same Dan Gilroy who wrote three of Andor’s best episodes) were going for. The three real-world decades that’ve passed since Freejack’s release at least partly vindicate their dystopian nose for finding the societal dividing lines that define the movie’s warring classes. And despite all the cringe-y visuals, their future New York does have a distinctive look and feel that’s all its own.
On top of that, watching Freejack today is a tour through casting match-ups that probably should’ve been better appreciated at the time. In addition to Estevez, Jagger, and Hopkins, we get Rene Russo (as Alex’s past-and-future love interest), Jonathan Banks (who brings the same dead-eyed scowl here that Breaking Bad fans would later come to love), Mission: Impossible villain Esai Morales (as an eye patch-wearing tech baddie), The Wire’s Frankie Faison (as a dementedly poetic street bum), Jerry Hall (as an opportunistic 1990s version of what we’d essentially think of today as a vlogger), and Pulp Fiction standout Amanda Plummer (as a helpfully streetwise nun).
Fun fact: Jagger has shown up in way more movies over the years than you may have realized (Ned Kelly, The Man From Elysian Fields, Bent, and tons more), but in Freejack, he’s not even the only rocker who gets a generous slice of screen time. Keep your eyes peeled for Scrooged star and ex-New York Doll David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter, if you’re in more of an ‘80s music mood), playing a duplicitous pal of Alex’s who ends up giving our frazzled freejacked hero anything but shelter.
Freejack is currently streaming on Peacock here.