For assisting a local video store with the collection, transportation, and storage of the dusty, spider-infested inventory of a defunct Blockbuster Video store last year, I was rewarded with stacks upon stacks of neglected, unwanted low-budget movies on VHS. The titles range from brutally obscure to burn-this-immediately; I’m sure most of them will never experience the unbridled joy of a digital remastering or the warm fuzziness of a two-disc special edition DVD release. This treasure trove of pure, uncut B-movie nonsense should provide yours truly with the sort of unhinged cinematic sugar rush that has, in laboratory studies, destroyed weaker men. Here’s hoping I escape the ordeal with my sanity intact.
At the bottom of one of these glorious towers of audio-visual delights was cult director Sergio Martino’s 1986 actioner Hands of Steel (aka Vendetta dal futuro), a film which is, God help us, an unholy amalgamation of James Cameron’s classic The Terminator and Menahem Golan’s cheesy father-son epic Over the Top. What does this exercise in lazy writing mean to the common, everyday layperson, you ask? Well, in short, it means arm-wrestling cyborgs in “the bleak futureworld of 1997.” The last part, of course, is quoted directly from the strange little synopsis slapped absent-mindedly onto the back of the box. To be fair, there is a bit more going on here than simple roadhouse machismo.
The film stars musclebound hunk boy Daniel Greene (Falcon Crest) as the unfortunately named Paco Queruak, a technologically-enhanced assassin who, in a moment of unchecked human weakness, spares the life of a blind scientist who would love nothing more than to solve the world’s increasingly troublesome acid rain problem. As any morally conscious killer would do, Paco flees into the city’s sewer system and takes off for the desert. With the FBI, the local police, and a group of sinister scientists hot on his trail, our mechanical hero decides to lay low inside a mangy flophouse in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Confused romantic fiddlings and some awkward attempts at male bonding eventually come into play. No joke.
Hands of Steel is illogical, nonsensical, and very poorly constructed. To disguise his stale two biscuit budget, Martino cuts away from most scripted special effects mere seconds before they occur, giving you just enough information to process whatever generic event is about to transpire on-screen.The rocket-propelled destruction of one particular trucker driver’s hay-stacked semi is probably the finest example of this technique, though by the time it arrives, you’ll have grown accustomed to this sort of cheap cinematic trickery. Hard to believe this is the same guy who delivered the cannibal classic Slave of the Cannibal God to the entire universe way back in 1978. Tsk, tsk.
The action is admittedly pretty weak when compared to today’s lofty Hollywood standards, but it works. The aforementioned arm wrestling sequences are sloppy yet effective, assuming, of course, that the viewer doesn’t mind the repetitive nature of these moderately enjoyable moments. The last ten minutes are easily the picture’s best asset, including a surprisingly engaging showdown between our good friend Paco and a slutty, poorly-programmed female cyborg that doesn’t take kindly to being unexpectedly shot by the hero’s girlish counterpart. As long as you keep telling yourself, “It’s only a low-budget action adventure flick set in a dystopian futureworld,” chances are you’ll have fun with it. Maybe.
Perhaps the most jarringly disappointing aspect of Hands of Steel is its complete and utter lack of an appropriate conclusion. The film ends on such a sour note that you may find yourself uncontrollably cursing the filmmakers for putting you through all of this silliness for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Was this supposed to be a setup for a sequel? Some sort of skull-scratching twist muddled by shoddy storytelling? Your guess is honestly as good as mine. Mama always said loose ends are the devil’s business.
Considering I paid absolutely nothing to obtain Hands of Steel, I can’t quite say I’m unsatisfied with the exchange. The acting is as wooden as a pair of presidential falsies, the action is mired in extremely poor editing, and the story really doesn’t take you anywhere you’d truly want to do — it’s the very definition of a bad movie. That said, the film is strangely fascinating for someone who enjoys this lackluster brand of mindless entertainment, and it’s certainly several shades brighter than the other Terminator knock-offs we have to choose from today. I’d gladly recommend it to anyone with a deep-rooted hankering for cinematic cheese, but that’s about it.
Raoul, I’m afraid, will never understand.