Shitty Movie Sundays: Battletruck, aka Warlords of the Twenty-First Century

When is a shitty Italian Mad Max ripoff not a shitty Italian Mad Max ripoff? When it’s a shitty American/New Zealand Mad Max ripoff!

Battletruck, also released under a number of different titles, comes to viewers from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures stable, although his name is nowhere in the credits. From 1982, it was written by Irving Austin, John Beech, and Harley Cokeliss, with Cokeliss also sitting in the director’s chair.

It’s the near future. After the oil wars have ended and civilization has collapsed, a roving warlord named Colonel Straker (James Wainwright) and his band of toughs tear ass across the post-apocalyptic wasteland in their bitchin’ semi-truck looking for places to loot and pillage. Only one man stands in their way. He is Hunter (Michael Beck) — a loner with a custom dirt bike and something of a chip on his shoulder. There has to be a reason for Hunter to choose isolation when there’s a friendly settlement nearby, but this isn’t the type of flick that has character development, so we never get to see what personal tragedy scarred Hunter.

There’s also a love interest, in the form of Corlie (Annie McEnroe). At first, she’s a part of Straker’s group of bandits, but it looks like she’s only there for the rape possibilities. She, understandably, has had enough of that nonsense, and escapes, eventually finding refuge Battletruck movie posterfirst with Hunter, and then the village. Straker can’t abide this insult to his imagined authority, so he goes to war to get her back.

It’s a pretty simple story, and one that, given more of a budget, could have been lifted into shitty spectacle on a grand scale. But, an Enzo Castellari film this is not. There are no slow motion action shots, not nearly enough explosions or gunplay, and not a single flamethrower.

If a filmmaker is going to make a pageant of post-apocalyptica, they need to go in for more than just a veneer of shitty. The setup is all there. Filming was done on the Central Otago plains in New Zealand, which, although too scenic for the subject matter, fit well with the idea. As is de rigueur for Mad Max ripoffs, all vehicles in the movie have metal and plastic doodads attached to make them look rugged and dystopian — the winner in this one being Straker’s battletruck. But there is a disturbing lack of leather chaps and mohawks.

Because everything is noticeably less than what it could have been, this film ends up being not a Mad Max ripoff, but more of a ripoff of a Mad Max ripoff. It seemed as if Cokeliss and company thought they could gather the pieces of a good shitty movie together, and they would just magically assemble into something entertaining. That plan didn’t work.

Besides the production, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Beck, like in The Warriors and Xanadu, was a case study in lack of range. Maybe he’s a nice guy. I don’t know. It’s impossible to get a read on someone whose facial expressions rarely change. As for Wainwright, during his scenes I kept thinking of other shitty movie stalwarts that would have been better for the role. John Saxon. Henry Silva. Richard Lynch. The list could go on and on. Instead, viewers get a That Guy actor that even other That Guy actors would have a hard time recognizing.

It’s a shame. There was so much unfulfilled potential with this flick. There’s no reason a film like this should have trouble holding a viewer’s attention. When things threaten to get a little slow, all it takes are some fiery explosions to snap a viewer back into a film like this. Alas, all we got from this flick was a poorly-lit sex scene between two leads with no chemistry, with not a single boob to be seen.

Battletruck is a struggle to get through, sending it down into the bottom half of the Watchabiity Index to #181, displacing Chernobyl Diaries. I watched it so you don’t have to.

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