Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In short: Wheels of Fire (1985)

A man called Trace (Gary Watkins) drives through the post-apocalyptic wasteland stalking his sister Arlie (Lynda Wiesmeier) and disapproves of her choice of boyfriends.

One day full of car crashes and random violence, the siblings are seperated. Without Trace knowing, Arlie is caught by the men of the evil post-apocalyptic warlord Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana), who will proceed to make her a naked car ornament, rape her, hit her and rape her again for the rest of the movie.

When they are not mistreating women, Scourge's men attack convoys of a group trying to establish a new order. Those guys are known under the unpleasant sounding name of The Ownership, and their love of order is the antithesis to Scourge's lifestyle, so the gangleader is trying to provoke them into a fight he knows he won't be able to win. No, I don't get it either.

While all this is going on, Trace drives randomly around, teams up with bounty hunter Stinger (Laura Banks) and her trained falcon and the mind-reading Spike (Linda Grovenor), fights Morlocks, roasts some cannibals and cynically leaves some people who are trying to build a rocketship. Neither he nor we know anything about them, so don't ask me why that's supposed to be a big thing.

When Trace finally realizes that Scourge has Arlie in his hands, he does the usual one-man hero bit.

Even compared with the Italian films which make up large parts of the genre, Wheels of Fire is an at times nasty piece of work. There's a bit too much care and love going into the depiction of Lynda's ordeal for comfort. I'm quite sure that it's all just meant as an excuse to show us some breasts, yet I can't help but feel that this goal could have been achieved in a less unhealthy way or with less enthusiasm for the girl's humiliation. Although I am talking about a film that thinks it prudent for its supposed hero to repeatedly use a flamethrower and shoot fleeing people in the back for no good reason, so it is probably a lost cause in any case.

It would be easier to overlook Wheels of Fire's dubious ethics if there were much else noteworthy about it, but the film doesn't seem all that interested in being interesting.

Director Cirio H. Santiago was of course an old hand (as producer as well as director) in the exploitation business, but he usually wasn't the most energetic of directors. His handling of the non-script stays flavorless and as meandering as the non-plot. It's done clean enough for a point-and-shoot film, it is just never stylish or charming or as full of pure dumb excitement as many other films of its sub-genre are.

The action is relatively solid in its cheap way, but again neither mad nor silly enough to keep the jaded viewer too interested.

There are a handful of moments which reach the proper height of dumb fun I want from my silly Mad Max variants - the Morlock sequence with its chittering blueskins is stupid enough to be charming, and the final battle is at least enthusiastic.

I can't wholeheartedly recommend Wheels of Fire to anyone but the hardened cult movie veteran (you know who you are), yet I have to admit that I stayed vaguely entertained by the comfy rhythms and genre tropes the film rather mindlessly repeats between its ethical failures, even if neither my heart nor my mind were exactly convinced by them. In other words: I have seen worse.


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