Saturday, September 22, 2012

We Now Return You To Your Disappointed Review, Already in Progress

Well, let no one say that I'm not a man of my word.  Last week I promised you guys Battletruck, and Battletruck you shall have (though I imagine not many of you were particularly excited for this one.)

It's funny, the more I look at the post-apocalypse genre of film, the more I realize that, all things considered, it's pretty diverse.  I mean, while the first image is usually going to be George Miller's Mad Max movies, people will then in turn remember such other standouts as A Boy and His Dog, Fist of the North Star, The Day After, The Road, and even the Fallout game series.  Each of these took the loose idea and managed to find their own voice amidst it, ranging from brutal action in a world with society's restrictions loosened to grim realizations of the potential twilight of humanity, to a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the ways society could reshape itself in the aftermath of it.

Then - A grim statement of a future where scarce resources have become scarcer
Now - A punchline of your choice to be filled in here.

Why am I bringing up all of these other films?  In part because, comparatively speaking, Warlords of the 21st Century (the official name of the movie) makes unfortunately the worst mistake you could make under the circumstances.  It's not really that good, but at the same time, it's not exactly that bad either.  It's a very rather lukewarm offering.  But I'll get back to that in time.

As I can see everyone's on the edge of their seat for it...

The story starts, as many of these stories do, in media res - throwing you right into the middle of the action with very little explanation beyond a very quick overview that's only missing the 'You'll figure it out as you go' at the very end.  The stage is set for us through a short prologue delivered in large part via radios - in the aftermath of an age known as The Oil Wars, resources are now scarce and government has broken down.  In the middle of this chaos, military leader Straker (James Wainwright) has gathered up a cadre of loyal soldiers and wanders the wasteland in an armored truck they use to maraud other peoples for resources.   To this film's credit, their introduction to Straker does at least give us a means of getting the question of where they get the fuel for the rest of the movie somewhat out of the way.  Unfortunately, it also serves to kick off kind of a meandering narrative that feels a bit less like a thoughtout plot and more like a loose chain of events that kind of fit in a sequence.  The main element that sets much of this in motion is female protagonist Corlie (Annie McEnroe) who appears to be the only female in Straker's team.  After deciding the plunderer's life is not for her, she tries to sneak out of the camp, and, one botched escape attempt later, meets our film's hero, Hunter (Michael Beck, whom many will likely more remember from his role as Swan in 'The Warriors'.)  Hunter takes her in and then leads her to a commune of survivors, who then come under the crosshairs of Straker looking to get Corlie back.  From there it dances between revenge and human football with Corlie.  They make a game attempt to work a couple of small twists in, but unfortunately, they largely don't amount to much in the overall narrative (beyond one which partially explains Straker's motives but also makes him come across as even more insane in the long run of the movie.)

With the exception of when he's being shot at, this is basically every Michael Beck face throughout the movie.
Which, admittedly, is a bit better for immersion than McEnroe's 'Please get me out of this' to the audience.

As much as I give the movie's story a lot of grief (to be fair, with some polish it could have been interesting,) the biggest problem this movie has is in its acting.  There's no one I can really say stands out, in large part due to the fact that most of the performances are pretty lackluster overall.  About the only person who seems to make an attempted effort in the whole affair is Bruno Lawrence as Straker's resident psychopath Willie, and even then his crazy is rather restrained by what a PG rating will allow for.  Of the rest of the cast, Beck's stoicism-which previously worked for him in the above mentioned 'Warriors' as an unsure leader trying to keep the team all together in absence of a real leader-mostly just feels uninterested in this role.  Whether that's a fault of Beck or awkward direction, I can't really say. The same goes for McEnroe; For a character who has a lot of emotional baggage, she doesn't really seem particularly phased by a lot of it.  To her credit, she does try at times, but it still feels rather underwhelming - especially after watching Straker hit up and loot the survivors' camp (even if she left partway, the fact is she knows what's going down from having seen it before.)  For the final lead, Wainwright as Straker feels...kind of uncertain where they wanted him to go as an antagonist.  I'm not sure if they just wanted hardened battle commander or ruthless leader, but mostly he just looks and carries like Dean Wormer goes on a hunting trip (fun fact on that note - apparently John Vernon actually WAS in talks to play the role at one point.)  The rest of the cast are largely unremarkable. Beyond that, keep an eye out for a young John Ratzenberger as Rusty the mechanic.

"I'm declaring open season on Delta House!"
...OK, I'll stop now.  I promise.
Also, NORM!

It's disappointing, in a strange way.  I wanted to be able to rip on this film.  I was expecting a low-budget 'Road Warrior' knockoff with a lot of cheeze to unload on (cause hey, that's half the fun with bad movies.)  Instead, it's a film that largely feels like the people who worked on it weren't particularly interested in doing so. I'm talking across the board here-even the directing feels rather uninspired.   Though I do have to wonder if the shadow of Miller's second movie did have any impact on this movie, given that, despite reports they had been trying since the mid-70s to make this happen, it wasn't until a year after TRW came out that this was released.  In some ways, I also feel like one of the big enemies of this movie was its PG rating.  When you're dabbling in the idea of a world where force makes the rules, it's a safe assumption things aren't going to be nice.  Despite this, the setting actually feels like one of the tamer postapoc movies I've ever seen.  There's definitely signs they were trying to aim for darker elements, particularly where Straker is concerned (as there are some offscreen implications of torture and rape that aren't exactly subtle) but in keeping with the safer rating, it largely just amounts to shooting people and driving through their buildings. Actually, that is one other thing I can say for this movie - someone working on it really seemed to like the idea of vehicles driving through buildings, cause they come back to it several times. In fact, despite having an armored truck full of armed soldiers, that seems to be Straker's main battle tactic.

Said truck, for reference.  Woe be unto your wooden shack, for it is no match!
and for an encore - probably the best rendition of what a postapocalypse car actually would look like.

Maybe this is exactly the film they wanted to make. But I can't help but look at it and feel like it really could have been something better with a more capable, or at least had more focused hand working on it.  As it is, it just simply is.

Despite Willie's best attempts otherwise...I'd be lying if I said the way his face lights up at the prospect of looting wasn't one of the highlights of this film.
I share your disappointment, folks.  It's rare that I go into a film wanting it to be bad and actually come away feeling let down.  Hopefully next time we come across one of these in the future, though it fails as a good movie, it will at least give some better material to work with.  In the meantime, I promise next week we've got another good one lined up (I mean actually good this time) as well as a bit of shameless self-promotion for October.

Till then!

Also, this scene is actually a pretty accurate assessment of my face watching this, albeit with more facial hair.

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