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Steel Frontier
(1995)

Director: Paul G. Volk & Jacobsen Hart   
Cast:
Joe Lara, Bo Svenson, Brion James


Most people would probably agree that the fall of communism in the Soviet Union was a good thing. While I would agree that it was nice to have one less enemy threatening the west, I would also say that not everything about this was positive. There is one bad thing that came out of the fall of communism, and that was the essential death of the post-apocalypse film genre. The genre itself took a lot of time to get going, with only token efforts in the '50s and '60s, but the genre seemed to blossom overnight after Mad Max and The Road Warrior. The '80s were filled with post-apocalypse films, not just with domestic efforts, but efforts from Italy and other countries. But once communism fell in mother Russia, filmmakers pretty much stopped mining the genre altogether, probably feeling it was foolish that a new friend would be a nuclear threat anymore. And also because China, while still fiercely communist, didn't seem to be as big a threat as the Soviet Union once was. Anyway, as I was saying, the fall of communism was a big blow to this movie fan, because I have loved the genre ever since I realized it existed. Part of the reason is that many of these films are westerns in disguise (substitute cowboys and indians for the characters in The Road Warrior, and see for yourself.) Another reason is that since I was a child, my overactive imagination had me place myself in a post-apocalypse landscape. I imagined myself struggling for scraps of food, getting weapons, and even welding together an armored vehicle. Though at the same time, I realized I was kidding myself - I would almost certainly die of radiation poisoning just days after the bomb dropped.

Since the fall of communism, pickings for post-apocalypse movies have been mighty slim. Though it's possible that I could think of several Talk about a bad day!more if given enough time to ponder about it, I can only immediately think of two post-apocalypse movies that have been made since the fall of communism. And one of them may not even be considered by some people to be a bona fide post-apocalypse movie. That movie would be The Postman, Kevin Costner's overblown epic. The other one is the movie being reviewed here, Steel Frontier. It can be considered a bona fide post-apocalypse movie, seeing that there are in it references to radiation and when the bomb dropped. It's not only a post-apocalypse movie, though. It's also a special breed of movie, that being that it is a movie from PM Entertainment. As you may know by now, PM Entertainment was responsible for a number of high-quality made-for-video movies like Last Man Standing, The Sweeper, and Executive Target. And if you've been reading this web site for some time now, you will know that I have been trying very hard to convince you to give these movies a try, even getting nose to nose to you and screaming in your face! As you might have guessed, my reviewing of Steel Frontier is another attempt to inform you of the virtues of PM Entertainment movies. I'm not giving up, so you should surrender yourself once and for all and start watching these movies.

Steel Frontier takes place in - duh - a post-apocalypse world. It is a desert world, where you are just as likely to get attacked from roaming mutants as you are to succumb to the intense heat. Some survivors have managed to band together in an attempt to rebuild civilization; in the community of New Hope, the citizens have managed to partially rebuild what was once lost, and thrive by converting old tires into fuel. The peace is broken one day by the arrival of General J. W. Quantrell (James, Blade Runner). He has also managed to partially rebuild what was once lost, though what he has rebuilt isn't as peaceful. He has managed to rebuild an army, a motley crew of crazed and bloodthirsty soldiers driving around in a motley assortment of armored vehicles. Quantrell and his ragtag army (named "The Deathriders") invade the community and conquer it in short order, adding to the number of communities they have managed to capture and control. It looks hopeless for the citizens of New Hope, but there is new hope for them on the horizon. Shortly after the capture of the community, a mysterious stranger (Lara, Tarzan: The Epic Adventures) arrives, a modern-day gunslinger. And while he joins The Deathriders in short notice, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to this stranger than he's letting on...

In a movie like this, much is riding on the portrayal of the protagonist. In most cases he's to be a strong, silent type, in the best western tradition. Steel Frontier James only gave this movie two stars...tries to make its hero into another example of this kind of hero, but it falls short in several ways. The first and most immediate stumbling block is how lead actor Joe Lara immediately comes across to the audience. It is unfortunate, because he has the physical characteristics of Lorenzo Lamas - among other things, the unshaven look, big lips, and blank expression in his eyes. It's bad enough having just one Lorenzo Lamas around, as I've argued in previous reviews, and it's even worse to have a clone around. And what's even worse is that this clone's acting ability matches that of Lamas' in several aspects. First of all, he's soft spoken. I know I mentioned just a few sentences ago that a movie like this needs a strong silent type, but the problem here is that he's too soft spoken. You don't sense strength or confidence in the few words that he utters. In fact, he wears something resembling a worried expression on his face hen he's not looking blankly into the distance. He also fails to generate chemistry with anyone in the cast, whether it's with Quantrell and his cronies, or with the woman (played by Stacie Foster) who appears to be his future love interest, but actually isn't.

In fairness to Lara, it should be pointed out that his character has been written mostly in a way that makes it difficult to penetrate. We learn very little about this fellow who likes to dress up as a cowboy and play a few notes on his harmonica. Questions keep coming up about this fellow that make him a mystery even further. For example, early on in the movie he is seen setting up a small satellite dish. Where did he get the dish? Who is he communicating with? The movie doesn't bother to tell us. Why does he get involved in the situation in New Hope in the first place? We do find out at the very end, but the reason turns out to raise just as many questions as it answers. It's not just Lara's character that is shallowly written, but pretty much everyone else's. It turns out to be the actors who decide if their characters sink or swim. None of the New Hope residents manage to stick in the mind. Most of the underlings of Quantrell are just as forgettable, but Brian Huckeba is memorable as "Chickenboy". The role mainly has him cackling like a chicken and repeating what his fellow gang members say, but he at least performs with gusto. Bo Svenson (Breaking Point) is on had as Quantrell's right-hand man, and he's surprisingly good. His performance gives his character an effective weariness of the constant battles involving his fellow Deathriders. As for Brion James, he isn't given much to do, which can't be helped when his character is made to abruptly disappear after the conquest of New Hope and to not return until near the very end.

It probably would not only have helped James had he stayed on during the middle of the movie, but it would have helped the movie as well, seeing how the plot comes to a near standstill during the time James is absent. ...and so did SvensonDuring this time, we are treated to a number of tired situations like the widow with a spunky young son, gambling clichés, and attempted rape of the widow with the spunky young son - none of which advance the plot to any significant degree. Besides these scenes, all that is there in the meantime to try and keep things likely are the sporadic action sequences. But the action is a mixed bag, sometimes working, sometimes not. On the good side, there are some exciting hand-to-hand combat sequences, one involving the aging but still surprisingly agile Svenson. But there is also a hand-to-hand sequence with Yuma early on in the movie which is difficult to make out since it takes place in the dark of the night. The car chase sequences are pretty well done as well, though they are hampered by the obstacle of wrecked cars lying on the road that suddenly pop out of nowhere. There is the explosion of a concrete tower that is so spectacular that it goes on my list of top 10 movie explosions. But there are also several shootout sequences that might appear on a "worst" list, because you cannot tell who is shooting at who in these scenes, or even why in one particular sequence.

The whole movie is slickly made; it's obvious that a lot of time and expense went into making it a good-looking movie. New Hope is a vast collection of wreckage and ruined buildings all put together to make something resembling a community. The collection of souped-up vehicles on display would fit comfortably with the altered and armoured vehicles found in any of the Max Max movies. And the cinematography is, as it is typical for a PM Entertainment movie, first rate, lensed by PM  co-founder Richard Pepin. All this slickness only goes so far, however, and it's not enough to save Steel Frontier from being a mediocre movie. You may be wondering why I reviewed it then, if I have been trying so hard over the years to get you to watch PM movies. Well, one reason is that even a mediocre PM movie still beats a lot of movies out there. Another reason is that it gives me another excuse to sing the praises of the PM movies that deliver the goods - movies like The Sweeper, Last Man Standing, and The Silencers. I'm in your face again, screaming about the sheer entertainment found in these movies. So what are you waiting for? Watch PM Entertainment movies. Watch PM Entertainment movies. Watch PM Entertainment movies. Watch PM Entertainment movies. Watch PM Entertainment movies. Watch PM Entertainment movies. Don't make me repeat myself.

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See also: Survivor, Warlords 3000, Warriors Of The Apocalypse

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