Sunday, July 02, 2006



Dir: Kenneth Johnson (V [writing and directing]; Lots of other TV work, first feature film)

Let me quote Ron; "The value of superhero films (comic books, etc.), at least the good ones, is that they operate from a spectacular premise that provides the intellectual and narrative space to ruminate over more complex ethical and social issues." Then I guess Steel is not "one of the better ones," unless space age sonic pulse military weapons manufactured by a video game company and placed in the hands of Los Angeles gangs so that they can defeat a seven foot tall motorcylcle vigilante dressed in a home-smelted steel suit is a "complex ethical and social issue."

In somewhat belated honor of his NBA championship, and in the interests of bad movie night, I watched Shaquille O'Neal's third film. He is D.C. comic "legend" Steel, a former weapons designer for the military (work with me here) who resigns after his sort-of love interest is paralyzed by the negligence of a rival designer. The bad guy gets a job with an arms dealer, who has a front business making aracade games, but at night hires gang members to rob banks for him. Shaq figures out what is up when the weapons make the news, and with the help of his friends becomes the armor wearing vigilante. His character name is John Steel, and his mighty hammer (which he never hits with anything, I am incensed to inform you) that becomes a laser gun blows up lots of stuff good.

Obviously, the story is dumb. My favorite part is how no one in the government really seems to care that their top secret weapons are now being used by 18 year olds to rob the Federal Reserve. It's up to Shaq to save the day, because the NSA can't be troubled to track down the only three people in the world who can build these things. But we don't watch bad movies for good plot!

The film becomes Robocop in the second half, as the metal encased Shaq starts dispensing one liners while kicking ass. Is it bad when you are getting out acted by a cyborg? How could Peter Weller be more human playing a robot than Shaq is playing a human? Everyone else in the film is acting up a storm, though. Judd Nelson (yes!) is our villian, just sinister enough to make you think twice about having a beer with him. Annabeth Gish is the friend interest, and does everything her role calls for without cracking up at playing opposite Shaq.

The best part of the film was definitely watching Shaq's image managment. The bad guys get to kill people, but Shaq does not. I keep alluding to the weird status of his relationship with Gish. They are very close, he has deep feelings for her (at least the script implies that, of course Shaw can't quite communicate an emotion, any emotion, through his acting) but nothing remotely sexual is allowed to take place. Where every other movie would have them kiss, here they hug. Is Shaq not allowed to fall in love with a wee white woman in a wheelchair? Clearly the PG-13 rating does not preculde a little deeper intimacy between these two. Or are they really only supposed to be good friends? Is the spectre of hulking O'Neal swallowing up the white woman just too much for Peoria?

Shame on this movie for balking at such a plot point. Shame on Judd Nelson for acting like he does. Shame on the movie for thinking that Steel and half of the L.A. underworld can find the bad guy's hideout by looking on the internet, but the entire US military can't figure that out (they literally advertise an auction for the weapons on a webpage; I guess the Special Forces don't have Google). And shame on this movie for not being quite bad enough to really be a great bad movie night experience.

For those really interested in the cultural constuction of race only. Wait a minute, maybe Steel is a place to work out social and ethical issues; it is a great movie!



Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 7/03/2006 02:51:00 PM that...


i saw this movie once. it was hilariously terrible. in particular, the drive by scenes with the rail guns and the gang members going "yea booooy" were too priceless.

and poor Judd Nelson. thank god for Suddenly Susan.