Although this movie is titled TC-2000, it does not take place in the year 2000, but rather, in the year 2020, which is (fortunately) still the future. Global warming, pollution and other man-made disasters have rendered the surface of the Earth almost uninhabitable. The rich have retreated to an underground safe haven and hired a high tech police force to keep all of the world’s poor people from crashing their party. But the street gangs are getting bolder, and their attacks are growing more sophisticated. It’s only a matter of time before the strongest of the gangs, the one that is led by the violent maniac Niki Picasso -
Niki Picasso? Really? That's the toughest name this movie could think of for it's villain? When I think of “Picasso” I generally don't think about "bad ass gang leader" - I think "cubist painter." Picasso is one of those one-word names like Oprah or Hitler that exclusively refers to one person and whoever wrote this movie had to know that. Trying to get away with that is as bad as trying to get away with “Eleanor Oprah” or “Harold Hitler” – or, actually, it’s even worse, because Oprah and Hitler actually had legions of people that followed their every command while Picasso was just a painter. No one is terrified of painters. I know Jackson Pollock was kind of a drunk and I'm sure he wasn't fun to hang around with, but I can't imagine him running L.A. with an iron fist. And that still puts him way ahead of Andy Warhol or Toulouse-Lautrec, who were not exactly known for their brawling abilities. No, I can’t see a Picasso as a gang-lord.
There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to harp on that one name, because that might make it seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, I could be talking about the cyber-cops who are actually the movie’s leads, and who have quite the story arc: the female half of the duo is shot in the back in a firefight, then she's turned into a cyborg and reprogrammed to fight against her old partner - but forget it. All of the punchy kicky stuff in this movie is fine, but it really is thin gruel compared to "Niki Picasso". And that’s not just because “Niki Picasso” is funny while a cyborg-ex-partner-in-bondage-gear plot is cliché – it’s because all that partner vs. ex-partner stuff speaks for itself but a pretentious name like “Niki Picasso” points beyond itself towards something more interesting.
The truth is that there is often a tension between the intention and execution in exploitation movies like TC-2000 because they have to balance out whatever high concept ideas they have with whatever half-assed action scenes their audience expects. They can offer some commentary on a pressing political issue like pollution, but they can’t go too far with that because their audience is far more interested in watching beefy weirdoes try to murder each other. In this case, we have a little bit of “big idea” (in the future everyone will live in underground bunkers) and a lot of half-assery (those bunkers will look like a generic industrial areas, and also the implications of a ruined Earth will mostly be ignored.) The Niki Picasso thing plays into this, because TC-2000 gives us one high falutin’ name but then it gives us a bunch of names like “Jason Storm” and “Zircon” and “Blade.” That one name tells me that this movie wants to go big but it is ultimately too timid to do so .
For example, let’s compare TC-2000 to the Warriors, another movie which features a lot of gang warfare. The difference is that all of the gangs in the Warriors have weird themes - some of them dress like baseball players and others dress like mimes – and that gives the film a certain amount of conceptual consistency. If the Warriors is going to give every one of it’s gangs a recognizable identity and uniform then it’s obviously committed to it’s specific vision of New York street life. Having just one Niki Picasso, just one guy with cubist designs painted on his face – that’s too much and not enough, overblown without being interesting. He either needs to be placed in a world that’s fully committed to being weird or which is fully committed to being a rote genre exercise. But as it is, he’s a sprig of parsley on a plate of chili cheese fries.
So, yes, picking on “Niki Picasso” is a bit of overkill because he’s just one cog in the machine, but he’s also the cog that best exemplifies the machine’s strengths and flaws. This is a movie that wanted to create a bold new world – but then it hesitated to do anything original with that world. This is a film that wanted to be apocalyptic but ended up being generic. This is a film that wanted to sneak one Niki Picasso past us without going whole hog and naming his henchmen stuff like Mad Dog Modigliani, or Popgun Pollock. And that’s just no good. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years watching genre crap it’s that you can either give me ten Knifey Da Vincis or none, but you can’t give me this just one nonsense.