Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Neon City (1991)

As is so often the case on this blog, it's the end of the world. This time though, it's a combination of various ecological catastrophes and holes in the ozone layer caused by a scientific experiment gone wrong that has turned North America (and that's the only place that's important, surely) to crap.

At least, there's still some sort of government trying to uphold a certain amount of order among the few survivors huddling together in the handful of population centres, but its idea of order, containing the murder of "mutants" and enforced sterilizations, isn't necessarily one distinguishable from barbarism. The country between settlements isn't better off though. It's controlled by half-mad bands of roaming bandits and full of the strange new environmental dangers of this grungy new world.

The ex-ranger (in this case "ranger" means a mix of cop, soldier, and fascist bootlicker) - now bounty hunter - Stark (Michael Ironside) finds himself convinced to do a bit of work for his former bosses, namely transporting the murderer Reno (Vanity), whom he has just caught, on a passenger transport through the dangerous outlands to a place called Neon City (the Paris of the wastelands?). On board are a merry company of characters. There's Stark's ex-wife Sandy (Valerie Wildman) who shares a rather traumatic past including a dead baby with him, the driver Bulk (Lyle Alzado) who was a friend of Stark's before Stark arrested him for murder, a doctor of medicine with a dark secret (Nick Klar), a debutante who spent most of her life in Switzerland (Juliet Landau), an elderly scientist with another dark secret (Arsenio "Sonny" Trinidad) and Dickie Devine (Richard Sanders), bad professional comedian and trader in suicide drugs.

With these people on board and the bandit raiders on the transport's track, there will be never a dull moment on the journey.

The word that comes to mind first when thinking about Neon City (which I'd rather have called The Road to Neon City, but of course nobody ever asks me stuff like that) is "solid". In fact, the film might be the textbook definition of the description, or of that other frightening word, "competent". Usually, I prefer my movies "clever" or "terrible" or "mind-wrecking", but complaining that a film like this is neither very good nor so terrible that it becomes interesting again seems a little unfair.

Neon City seems to have been made with all the best intentions of creating a solid (there's the word again), cheap little post-apocalyptic variation on Westerns like Stagecoach or El Dorado/Rio Bravo in a vehicle, with a truck standing in for a stage coach (or a sheriff's bureau) and post-apocalyptic bandits standing in for the "Indians" (or for pre-apocalyptic bandits). It's the sort of idea John Carpenter would have loved to use, I'm sure, and I'm equally sure that Carpenter's version of this film would either have been pretty great or pretty terrible, definitely not solid. But I digress, which is understandable given that the film is as all-around solid as it is, and therefore not inducive to much analysis, ranting or bad jokes.

Director Monte Markham (probably better known as an actor) points and shoots nicely and makes what he has to work with (barren, slightly snowy landscapes, grubbiness) look as interesting as possible; the script isn't brilliant, but puts the character types it includes to enough use not to annoy, lets the expected plot move forward without pretensions of greatness and is not completely without moments of cleverness in its worldbuilding; the actors as well as the ex-NFL pros embody these characters with professional vigour; Michael Ironside is for once allowed to be the (grumpy, bad-tempered, yet golden-hearted) good guy. And that's more or less the film - a solidly made cheapo in the tradition of classic character-type based B-movies that isn't ever going to be a "classic" of any kind itself, yet manages to achieve its goal to entertain for ninety minutes if a viewer is willing to let herself be entertained.

That's perfectly fine by me. Of course, I tend to like the sort of movie Neon City is based on quite a bit,too.


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