Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Steel Dawn

 Not every actor is greeted with immediate success with their first film.  Most actors work up to it, by taking small parts and impressing audiences and directors with supporting roles.  Similarly, not every actor can be great right out of the starting gate; most have to warm up to the idea first.  While you might guess from the title that this was Patrick Swayze's Red Dawn sequel, I like to believe that Steel Dawn is his warm-up for Road House.  We can all agree that Road House is the pinnacle of American cinema, right?  Well, this film shows hints of his greatness, but doesn't quite deliver.  Probably because this is a bad, bad movie.
Pain don't hurt...but Steel Dawn kinda does.

After World War III, the world is left a big ol' desert.  Well, at least it is where this movie takes place.  An unnamed wanderer (Patrick Swayze --- he's called "Nomad" on IMDb, but "The Warrior of Destiny" in the movie trailer...I'll just call him Dalton Jr., or DJ, to avoid confusion) travels through this harsh terrain, looking for a purpose.  Along the way, he fights sand people (the Star Wars kind, not the derogatory term) and shows off his sword, which has several holes in the blade, which absolutely don't make the sword weaker or make it look like it was designed from an erector set.
Kids love nuclear war!
While wandering aimlessly, DJ encounters his old army boss, who tells him about a sweet protection job he's heading to.  Basically, the army boss has been hired to protect some peaceful farmers from a local bully, Damnil (Anthony Zerbe).  Unfortunately, the bar where the two men stop to talk is not a friendly one.  When our hero, DJ, sips his drink, he discovers that he has been drugged.  His former boss is alerted in time, but ends up being murdered by Sho (Christoper Neame), a merciless assassin that is just looking for a worthy opponent.  That opponent can be either a weapons master, or someone who can out-mullet him.
Not an easy task, I assure you.  Having nothing else to do, DJ decides to protect the farmers that his boss was going to protect, if only to place himself in a position to get revenge on Sho.  The farm that he ends up protecting is run by Kasha (Lisa Niemi, Swayze's real-life wife).  She runs a tight ship, with the farming regulated by her right hand man, Tark (Brion James).  Kasha is about to wind up in big trouble, though; she has discovered an underground fresh water well beneath her property, and that is worth killing for.  Will Dalton, Jr. stand up for these strangers, or will this drifter switch sides?  Do you have to ask?

As far as post-apocalyptic movies go, this isn't the worst that I have seen.  In fact, it has one of the more workable premises I can think of.  It doesn't make any absolute statements about the world, it just explains that fresh water is very valuable, which makes sense in a desert.  And, let's face it, plausibility is usually a pretty big stumbling block for this type of movie.  Another plus is the fact that Brian May of Queen scores it; well, it's not a fantastic score, so I guess that's more of a tidbit, but whatever.  Trust me, it's tough finding things to applaud this movie for.

So, where does it go wrong?  Let's start with the details of this post-apocalyptic world.  For starters, can anyone explain to the hair?
I would cry, too, if I had a post-apocalyptic perm.
It was genuinely distracting.  Kasha had one of the least convincing "natural" hairstyles I can remember, and there was a surprising amount of super mullets in this movie.  DJ even braided his!  All those mullets, and not a trucker hat to be found...this is truly a disturbing future.
Is this the greatest film mullet of all time?
The hair didn't bother me as much as the use of weapons.  Dalton, Jr. earns Tark's respect by showing off battle skills using a slingshot effectively; Tark doesn't give him respect, so much as he acts like he saw the hand of God tear apart the heavens, just to give DJ a thumbs up.  As for the erector set sword, I'm going to ignore the poor logic that puts sizable holes in the blade, near the base of the sword.  Instead, I would like to point out how it is carried by DJ when he's not using it.  Normally, you put a sword in a sheath that is either hanging from a belt or slung over your shoulders like a backpack.  DJ does things a little differently.  His battle pants have a holder for his sword's handle, not it's blade.  So, when he's walking, his sword is sticking straight up, with nothing covering the blade.  That means that, if he had to grab his sword quickly, he would cut himself.  Or if he fell down or did a somersault, he would cut himself.  Or if he reached into his back get the picture.  I also "loved" their mode for fast transportation, the "wind racers."  These things look like go-karts with sails.  As you might conclude from that description, they don't look like they go very fast.  Thank goodness there is a wind rider chase scene.

The acting is about what you would expect from a Patrick Swayze vehicle.  He, once again, plays someone who doesn't emote until he has to fight the final bad guy.  I love how serious Swayze takes his terrible action roles; it is impossible to listen to him read off some of these awful lines and not smile a little.  No, he's not good in this movie, but this quiet hero does give us a glimpse at Swayze's work in Road House.  Lisa Niemi may have inspired Swayze's hit, "She's Like the Wind (Racer)," but that's about all she inspires.  When I was watching this movie, I was more impressed by Brion freaking James than either of the leads, and that's a pretty bad sign.  To be fair, I was impressed by how blonde he got his beard, but that's besides the point.  If you make the mistake of watching Steel Dawn, you might recognize Arnold Vosloo as an evil henchman.  Or you might not.  It depends on how much you love The Mummy series, I guess.  The best character in the film was a stereotypically gay doctor who was transported across the desert by rickshaw, and I that was just because of the rickshaw.  Oh, and there was a child actor that I left out of my synopsis, because he was Jake Lloyd-bad.  You're welcome.

Lance Hool has directed only three movies in his career (he's mainly a producer), but he was directed some of the greatest actors in Hollywood.  Aside from Patrick Swayze, he has had the pleasure of Chuck Norris and late-career Tom Berenger as his leading actors.  If that doesn't clue you in to Hool's directing talents, let me gently suggest that his actors tend not to be critically acclaimed for dramatic performances.  He's not much of an action director, either.  Fight scenes are nearly indecipherable; I often couldn't tell how many opponents Swayze was supposed to be fighting.  I also don't see the need for useless somersaults in the middle of sword fights, and I sure don't see the effectiveness of twirling a sword while you're fighting.  Hool managed to get poor acting and awful fight scenes out of a movie that has very little to offer except for those two things.  On the bright side, he managed to find enough sand to make the movie.
I found this German trailer for Steel Dawn and thought I would share it.  Would this have been better in German?  Anything would have helped.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa, that trailer is awesome! How did this thing only get two stars?! I guess some movies are better in translation.

    And watch your mouth when giving a back-handed complement to Brion James!

    Exclamation Point!