Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1983)

Caught in a future world, his only escape is back in time!
--the tagline on the VHS cover, which is odd since the film doesn't mention time travel

Why don't you "reconst" your "Flavo-Fibes"?!
-Tom Servo

Is it just me, or have I been getting a lot of movies telling me the world will suck in the future since I started this blog?

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is a 1983 TV movie filmed in Canada and bankrolled by public television station WNET in New York. It was intended to be part of an ongoing series of PBS-funded productions adapting various sci-fi novels (in this film's case, a 1976 short story written by John Varley) but ended up being the last of only three because of lack of funding. The film was not a critical success and since then was re-aired a few times on the Sci-Fi Channel, including in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its eighth season, which also featured fake pledge drive host segments.

To think, your tax dollars helped fund this movie.

You don't have to be computer-simulated to work here, but it helps.

In what is yet another in a ever-lengthening list of dystopian movies I have come to review on this blog, this faux-Matrix world is entirely computer-controlled and ruled over by a number of super-duper-maxi-mega-multi-million-dollar corporations which have assumed all power of governance and lawmaking and general bossing-people-around-type affairs. The late Raul Julia, known for such films as The Addams Family, Addams Family Values and I am certain many others, stars as Aram Fingal, a programmer for one of these big companies (named "Novicorp" for the sake of convenience) who's one of those annoying people at the office. You know the type - never does his job, sits at his desk staring at Facebook posts, spends all his time at the water cooler chatting up secretaries, we've all seen them. Only instead of Facebook, Fingal just sits as his desk downloading old movies like Casablanca (or in this film's futuristic lexicon, "scrolling up cinemas") on company time.

Well, one day, his superiors finally catch him in the act and order him to visit his "psychist", an old lady who has to be prompted to ask him about his mother by the big all-seeing computer with an electronic disembodied voice that exposits absolutely everything that happens in this film. His "psychist" orders him to 48 hours of compulsory "prophylactic rehab", which consists of inserting him in a virtual forest with his mind placed in the body of an animal, or "doppling" him as they call it. It's sort of a forced vacation, though if you ask me, it's more like they give him some juice (or "reconst", whatever that means), knock him out, cut his head open, stick some electrodes in his brain and have him narrate over some stock film ripped from a nature documentary.

Fingal, as it happens, is also very poor, so rather than be doppled into a horse or something nice yet very expensive, he ends up inside the body of a baboon named Daisy.

It was either that or go in as an anteater. Vile, stupid, hateful creatures.

Either he's being doppled or he's part of a focus group for an Adult Swim pilot.

All goes well in his little dopple universe/nature documentary footage. He skitters around the place, gets drunk on nature documentary footage maruba fruit with his little animal friends, and just chills. However, when he's threatened by a nature documentary footage elephant, he requests to be pulled out of there, but there's a bit of a problem with that - you see, at the same time some grade school kids are going on a field trip of the doppling facility, touching people's brains and unbuttoning their tops, when one perverted little urchin in particular for some reason switches Fingal's tag with somebody else's, and now his body has gone missing.

When word of this gets out to the rival companies, Novicorp's stock plunges, and the appropriately fat, appropriately evil Chairman (Donald C. Moore) is considering having Fingal terminated to recoup their losses, but Fingal's dopple supervisor, a tech named Apollonia (TV movie vet Linda Griffiths) convinces him to change his mind and have her keep Fingal's soul in their HX368 computer mainframe until they can find his body, or before his dopple time runs out and his existence is erased, whichever comes first. Of course, Fingal IS quite easily bored, and she would have to keep an eye on him so he doesn't start screwing with the computer's source code.

You can already guess how that will turn out.

"I'm getting something...Novicorp...can...suck...my...HEY!!"

Fingal wakes up in a computer simulation of his own bedroom and tries to phone for help, but is only informed to go to work as normal. Apollonia must enter the simulation and explain to him that he can create his own reality simulation in the HX368, but he must create a reality as normal as possible to make it easier to track him.

And how does she enter the simulation? AS FINGAL'S LONG DEAD MOTHER. Yeah, THAT'S normal.

Well, at least this scene gives us the film's most unintentionally funny line - Raul Julia asks "Mom...am I nuts?" and it comes out "Mom...my nuts?"

By the way, Fingal is played by a Puerto Rican actor, but his mother is Caucasian? How does that work?

"Well, I had a little fling in San Juan, one thing led to another, and then..."

Anyway, for some reason the Chairman decides to undermine Apollonia's efforts by hacking the simulation to chase her Fingal's-mother character to run into the path of a simulated truck.

From there, it isn't long before Fingal's turned the inside of Novicorp's mainframe into a cheap Casablanca set, complete with a virtual reproduction of himself playing Humphrey Bogart and an unnamed neurotic virtual guy as Peter Lorre. Apollonia and the Chairman pop in and out frequently, the former to try and keep him in line and slowly become the love interest, the latter as the "Fat Man" who comes in to make vague threats and generally make life difficult for them.

Of all the scenes in all the movies in all the world, they reference this one.

Eventually, after extensive periods of boredom which included sleeping with one of his lady coworkers and even finding THAT boring, Fingal gets tired of waiting for them to pull his mind out of the machine and decides to find his own way out of the HX368 by punching in numbers at random, despite the fact that tampering with the programming could have devastating effects in the outside world it controls. After numerous attempts, he stumbles onto the access code quite by accident - IY479.

So the name of the computer is HX368 and the password to access it is...IY479. The letters and numbers that follow each letter and number in the name of the computer. That's the kind of thing an idiot would have on his email account. I'm surprised it wasn't 863XH or 12345 or the Chairman's wife's name spelled backwards.

Anyway, some cheesy video effects and random falling snow later, we've found he's hijacked the weather control system and is now wreaking meteorological havoc all over the world. Or so the graphics tell me.


Apollonia reappears to Fingal for some reason dressed as Venus in a clam shell from the Renaissance painting (or, if you want, think Uma Thurman from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) and tells him to stop again. Fingal complies...for about five minutes, until another visit from the Fat Man changes his mind again. He also deduces that the Chairman is using Apollonia to track him down and badger him. He tries to regain access, but luckily the CEO has added another security lock to the system to keep Fingal out, but he gets back in anyway by just "reversing the access code."

So now it's...974YI? ...How did this guy get to be CEO of this company again?

Anyway, THIS has the effect of spitting Monopoly cards out at everybody in the building, as Novicorp's finances are redistributed to the proletariat masses.

Meanwhile, Fingal's body is finally recovered. Turned out he was in the sex change operation queue. Go fig.


What happens after that is very, VERY confusing, so I'll just skim through it. The Chairman finally decides that Fingal must die and re-enters the computer via Apollonia for a final confrontation, promptly shutting her out entirely somehow, the ensuing meeting leaves virtual Fingal and the little guy shot, a cheesy spinny virtual effect appears out of nowhere in front of Fingal which he grabs somehow and screams "I'M INTERFACE" at the top of his lungs, and then he stands in front of the Fat Man who starts convulsing for some reason, and they both just stare at each other for a full minute before Fingal shoots some very large pixels out of his eyes and vaporize the Fat Man.

...ah calls 'em as ah sees 'em.

Some MORE cheesy video effects later, Fingal returns to his body, and he and Apollonia make out a little before he erases their identities, assigns the Chairman a month's compulsory rehab (as an anteater, appropriately enough--serves him right, the bastard) and programs every screen in the building to scroll up Casablanca before the two of them leave the room, free from their corporate yokes.

"Look, I've Photoshopped the Chairman's face onto an anteater! ...I think I've improved the anteater!"

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank wants to be a good movie, I can feel it. Deep down inside it wants to be a decent sci-fi movie. Sadly, it comes up short in this because of three reasons:

One: the visuals in this film are not the least bit pleasant, at least when it's not nature documentary footage. The filmmakers' decision to shoot this movie on cheap-looking videotape instead of film is glaring, and the chroma key and blue screen special effects only heighten the level of its ugliness. I was half-expecting Mr. T to come out and teach me something about self-esteem. The climax practically thrives on them to the point where you have no idea what's going on. Not to mention it looks horrifically dated three decades after the fact, and the music and sound effects do nothing to help.

Two: it tries to pass itself off as futuristic by giving everything silly futuristic names. It rips a page out of George Orwell's 1984 by trying to invent new words for things. Money is called "credits." Movies are renamed "cinemas." Even potato chips are renamed "Flavo-Fibes!" It's cute and all, but in a few cases it gets really confusing and unnecessary. I mean, what the hell is "reconst" supposed to be anyway? Water? Beer? Medicine? Whatever was in Fingal's cup at the doppling table could have been wallpaper paste for all I know.

And three: corporation that is so glaringly evil and yet so grossly incompetent that the concept of network security eludes them. This is a guy who could hack into their server and watch illegally download movies on company time, and they put an access code to their most delicate software that is so simple a grade school kid could crack it? And then when he tries to get back in, they put in ANOTHER access code that he literally cracks in seconds?

In short, this movie is one part cheap Orwellian sci-fi, one part plot enigma, one part computer graphics vomit and one part low-budget Casablanca ripoff. I can't think of any other reason not to recommend this movie that the Anteater Anti-Defamation League can't provide.



Anonymous said...

"By the way, Fingal is played by a Puerto Rican actor, but his mother is Caucasian? How does that work?"

White Hispanics are Caucasian. And Mr. Julia clearly WAS white. Look at pics of him where he didn't have a tan. Apart from that...the shape of his head, his nose, etc. 100% Caucasian!
He even played a German once (in "The Rookie"). Just sayin'

But very cool article nonetheless!

Anonymous said...

Reconst = reconstituted orange juice