Wheels Of Fire

Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Gary Watkins, Laura Banks, Lynda Wiesmeier

I have to admit that while I consider myself a pretty good and knowledgeable movie critic, there have occasionally been glaring questions or flaws I have not noticed until someone mentioned them to me. For example, there is the movie Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Until quite recently when a friend mentioned it to me, I hadn't noticed that in the movie, Indiana Jones' efforts are pretty much useless - the Nazis all the same get the ark and open it while Jones finds himself tied up and helpless. Yeah, after all that, Jones does get the ark to the United States' government, but it would have been much easier in the long run for him to just let the Nazis find the ark and open it, and retrieve the ark right afterwards. But there have been movies where I have noticed things that others have not. One such movie is Waterworld. Now, I don't think that Waterworld is a bad movie - though it sure as heck isn't also a great or even movie - but there is one thing about the movie that has bothered me for many years. It's something about the movie that I haven't seen anyone, whether it be a critic or an ordinary Joe, notice about the movie. That happens to be the fact that the movie blatantly rips off the movie The Road Warrior. Just think about it a little. Both of the movies involve a loner who is travelling around a desolate world and trying to survive. Both movies have the hero entering a crudely built community, and in short notice is held captive by the inhabitants of the community. Both movies have a crazy individual who has his own flying vehicle. In both movies' climaxes (spoilers here), the chief bad guy is sandwiched and instantly killed when his vehicle and another vehicle violently collide together. And subsequently in both movies, the loner hero has a chance to be in paradise, but decides against it for mysterious and vague reasons, and heads off in his own direction.

While I am talking about Waterworld, and making my way eventually to the movie being covered in this review, I would like to talk about the fact that most post-apocalypse movies frequently have the same particular glaring flaws that few people (critics or ordinary Joes) bring up that would show that these worlds are very unlikely to be similar to what our world would be like after some kind of major world holocaust. For example, in many post-holocaust movies, the characters choose to wear clothing that seems straight out of an S&M store. Why they don't dress in something more practical is a mystery. Another thing that puzzles me about these movies are the crude homemade armored vehicles the characters drive. Why they were unable to find leftover military vehicles or other pre-armored vehicles is a mystery. For that matter, there is often the question where the drivers of the vehicles are getting all of their gasoline. It can't be from ruins of gas stations, because I learned in the cancelled way too early TV show The Last Man On Earth that gasoline will eventually spoil in even the best storage, and subsequently become unusable. Then there is the question of how the bad guys or the good guys in the movie are able to find enough nutritious food in the wasteland to keep them healthy and still having all of their own teeth. And since most post-apocalypse movies set their movies after a worldwide nuclear war, there is the question as to why the characters have not died from all the radiation that must be flying around even years after the bombs were dropped.

But at the same time all of these questions (and many others) fill my head when I watch a post-apocalypse movie, there is a larger part of my brain that simply tells me to not dwell on these questions for too long, and just to sit back and enjoy these movies. I admit that Wheels Of Fireeven if I think at the end of one of these movies that what I saw was overall not very good, I think about the good elements of the movie that make me partially glad that I watched it. So I am always up to watching such a movie, no matter the budget or the country of origin. Wheels Of Fire seemed right up my alley and perfect for my web site when I was given it as a gift for my birthday, so I had two good reasons to sit down and watch it all the way through. At the start of Wheels Of Fire, we are introduced to two of the movie's protagonists, a scruffy fellow named Trace (Watkins, Johnny Dangerously) and his younger sister Arlie (Playboy Playmate Wiesmeir), who are travelling across a parched and desert world many years after there has been a nuclear holocaust. But they quickly get into the territory of a real lout of a dictator known simply as Scourge (played by Joe Mari Avellana, Bloodfist), who loves among other things kidnapping and imprisoning women for his expected sick and twisted desires. He manages to get his hands on Arlie, and naturally Trace is desperate to get his sister back. During his quest to get Arlie back, he is joined up by a woman warrior by the name of Stinger (Banks, Demon Of Paradise) and another woman named Spike (Linda Grovenor, Die Laughing) that happens to have psychic powers. And since no Filipino post-apocalypse movie can be without a little person, one such little person also joins the team. But can four people take on Scourge and his entire army?

As I just revealed, Wheels Of Fire is a Filipino exercise, so if you are familiar with how the Philippines typically looks in movies shot there, you might wonder how on earth director Cirio H. Santiago found locations in the Philippines that look like the landscape of a nuclear holocaust. Well, he somehow did it one year earlier with Stryker, perhaps by filming long beaches, gravel pits, and areas of strip mining. And I must admit Santiago manages to do it again, probably by filming in the exact same areas as the earlier film, as well as throwing in some new locations from ruined buildings to caverns. Making the look of the movie even better is the fact that Santiago apparently had more money to spend this time around, so the props and other production niceties he brings into this desolate-looking world look appropriate. For example, there are scenes with dozens of extras milling around in the background, expansive shots of entire villages, and everything looks dusty and worn out. There are even a few instances where it appears matte paintings were used. To sum up, Wheels Of Fire has one of the best looking worlds when it comes to Road Warrior clones. However, as good as this world looks, it all the same has a lot of mystifying elements. There is no clear explanation as to how anybody in this parched and burnt world manages to get enough food and water to stay healthy, nor is there any mention on how the inhabitants manage to get the gasoline for their vehicles. For that matter, this world comes across as so brutal and full of danger everywhere that quite frankly it's a miracle that many years after the somewhat undefined holocaust that ravaged this world, there would still be quite a few people going around doing day to day things instead of being in a constant struggle of survival.

I admit that Wheels Of Fire does show that various bands of people (good and bad) have got and worked together to survive, but even these people are vaguely sketched out. The band of good guys ("The Ownership") that eventually appear don't really get enough detail to explain how their system of government works, nor for their long-term plans. The bad guys just want to rape, pillage, and kill the good guys. Surely in real life they would have some long-term plans. So it probably comes as no surprise that the bad guys' leader Scourge is a bland figure. There is at the beginning some interest in that he looks like Charles Bronson's distant cousin, but the fact that he does one bad thing after another for little to no purpose defeats any attempt actor Avellana tries to punch up his character. There isn't really much to say about the protagonists for that matter. The main protagonist Trace is mainly hurt by actor Watkins' stiff performance, which shows very little emotion in almost every situation you can imagine his character gets into. His companions on his quest don't get a lot to do that makes them either stand out or contribute reasonably to the cause. While Trace eventually gets into a love scene with the character of Stinger, you might think that this would put some emotion and motivation in the rest of the movie. However, immediately after the love scene ends, the movie completely forgets about this moment, and the rest of the movie goes by as if nothing happened before. The only real sparks to come from the characters is found in the character of Arlie, Trace's sister. The fact that the actress playing her is a former Playmate may have you not expecting much, but actress Wiesmeir actually puts in quite a bit of effort in her scenes. Yes, it's a little rough around the edges, but in a post-holocaust world, her not quite polished acting does fit fairly well in her surroundings.

Speaking of Wiesmeir, you probably are expecting that she shows off what made her a playmate in the first place, and you would be right, with her being topless for most of her scenes. That's pretty welcome stuff, but director Santiago doesn't just stop there in Wheels Of Fire with his aims to please his audience. For starters, the movie almost always moves along very swiftly. At a lean 81 minutes, there possibly wasn't enough time to punch up the aforementioned weak characters and setting, but the movie hardly takes any moment to let you breath and make you able to think deeply about its flaws. More importantly, Santiago seems very interested in this movie to deliver the goods with the movie's biggest selling point: its action sequences. While you may occasionally see that the action isn't perfect, such as with a few car chase sequences where it's clear that the vehicles are not going all out with their speed, generally the movie gives what you want in a post-apocalypse actioner. There's some decent hand to hand combat, there are satisfying machine gun battles, and there are vehicular stunts and crashes that get the blood churning. There's even a flamethrower brought in several times to barbeque the evil minions. While all this action may not be top notch for its genre (or with any other kind of action movie), it all the same comes off as serviceable at its worst, and pretty exciting at its best. Best of all, after each action sequence, you only have to wait a very short time for the next action sequence to come up. Though I would have preferred the movie to have made stronger characters so that seeing them in action would have made the movie more nail-biting, Wheels Of Fire still manages to be an above average example of 1980s post-holocaust cinema, and is well worth tracking down if this kind of movie is to your liking.

(Posted March 15, 2020)

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See also: The Muthers, Stryker, Warlords 3000