Shitty Movie Sundays: Neon City

According to the internet, so it must be true, screenwriter Ann Lewis Hamilton, in penning Neon City, was crafting an updated telling of Stagecoach, set in a time and place similar to Mad Max. George Miller’s epic dystopian/post-apocalyptic films are big hits here at Missile Test, so much so that any Mad Max ripoff, from any source, will get a viewing. Truth be told, they’re all basically westerns with combustion engines instead of horses. Even Mad Max 2, the best of Miller’s bunch, and the one that gets ripped off the most, has more in common with a classic western than its own source material.

It’s the future! 2053! Environmental devastation has led to the collapse of civilization. The world has been rendered mostly desert, subject to random extreme events that kill those caught in them. There are something called Xander clouds, which are areas of noxious gas, and Brights, which is when particulates in the atmosphere focus, rather than scatter, the sun’s rays, cooking anything in sight. As if that’s not bad enough, roving bands of Skins, savages clad in animal hides, attack all travelers, and occasionally lay siege to humanity’s remaining outposts.

Into this hell comes Harry Stark (Michael Ironside), a bounty hunter who has snagged a real prize in Reno (Vanity). He takes her into the lonely outpost of Jericho (played by the Saltair Pavilion in Utah, last seen in Carnival of Souls). There, the local uniformed authority, Captain Raymond (veteran television actor Monte Markham, who also directed the movie) tells Harry he has to take his charge to the titular Neon City if he wants his bounty paid. Meanwhile, Monte uses this setting to introduce the rest of the principal players. Keep in mind that this movie is drawn from westerns.

There is the wise and weary hooker in Sandy (Valerie Wildman); a down on his luck vaudeville performer in Dickie Devine (Richard Sanders); a clueless aristocrat traveling from more pleasant climes in Twink Talaman (Juliet Landau); a doctor with an opiate habit in Tom (Nick Klar); a mysterious Asian stereotype in Wing (Arsenio ‘Sonny’ Neon City VHS boxTrinidad); and the stagecoach driver, ahem, truck driver, in Bulk (Lyle Alzado, in his final film role).

Once Harry and Reno pile with the others into the transport, it’s off across the wastes to Neon City. Viewers get a whole bunch of characters talking about themselves, revealing personal dramas, interspersed with action set pieces. Eventually we get to a climactic chase scene. A handful of Skins on dirt bikes chase the transport on a stretch of Utah desert road that featured heavily in the movie. It’s similar to the final chase in Mad Max 2, scaled down to fit this flick’s meager budget. After, the transport pulls into Neon City, sans a couple of sacrificial characters, and the movie’s main plot, and some underdeveloped side action, is resolved.

Neon City is the type of low budget action fare that flows past the viewer like a babbling brook, leaving only an impression of what one just saw. It was a movie, and things happened in it. The boilerplate nature of it all means that nothing stands out. This was the rare film where Michael Ironside was the lead, and while he didn’t seize the role with gusto, his was the most professional performance. Unfortunately for the plot, and for the viewer, he and Vanity had little chemistry. A side plot featuring history between Harry and Sandy was introduced, but, again, was left too undeveloped to contribute anything more than a little running time during the slow spots.

Alzado, on the other hand, was made for crappy films like this. He had an imposing physical presence, and while his acting was wooden for the most part, his was the only character that had actual, human emotions. With his death, b-movie fans were robbed of another decade, at least, of Alzado showing up in flicks with this kind of pedigree.

Neon City will scratch one’s Mad Max ripoff itch. This subgenre of film is surprisingly rich, with offerings running the entire gamut of quality and watchability. This isn’t one of the more offensive ones. In fact, despite all the gunplay, Neon City is rather milquetoast. It lacks the ambition of Miller’s work, which is understandable, but it also lacks the reckless abandon of something from Enzo G. Castallari or Cirio H. Santiago. Even with its miniscule resources, this is a movie whose ideas are better than its execution. Everyone involved should have been able to do better, but something appeared to be holding the movie back. Neon City enters the Watchability Index at #316, taking the spot from Detention.

Genres and stuff:
Tags , , , , , , ,
Some of those responsible:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,