This post-apocalyptic film would appear to have an embarrassment of b-movie riches. Where else can you find two kickboxing heroes, a one-armed Chris Mitchum, and Michael Berryman in leather, eyeshadow, and hot-red lipstick? Unfortunately, 1990’s AFTERSHOCK is an example of what happens when there are too many ingredients in the cinematic stew for any cohesive flavor to form.
In the future, as it is today, shit has gone bad on planet Earth. There are no suggestions of mutant viruses or radioactive gas clouds that turn people inside-out to confirm this, but we can see from the arid fields and junkyard wastelands that we’re in the aftermath of a seismic shift in modern living. The buildings are dilapidated and people live in communal enclaves. It’s overcast all the time, like London or Seattle. There are really only two remaining classes: those scrounging for a dignified living, and the military fascists who shoot at them.
Heading up the authoritarian death squad is Quinn, a security force commander played by John Saxon. He runs a tight ship, regularly dispatching his second-in-command Mr. James (James Lew) to apprehend (kill) suspected rebels. Batting cleanup in the order is Brandt (Chris DeRose), a pony-tailed mercenary for hire who brandishes a six-shooter somehow capable of getting off 10 rounds without being reloaded. Their latest haul includes a blonde woman named Sabina (Elizabeth Kaitan) dressed like an elementary school-teacher who has a strange habit of materializing in a hazy glow in the middle of the slums. She doesn’t communicate verbally but even worse for the fascists, she doesn’t have the forearm barcode with which all civilians are branded for easy identification.
So what does the citizenry do to cut loose besides dodge bullets? Most folks in search of a good time gather at Franklin’s Bar. The clientele is a mix of losers, loners, and punks, but Hank Franklin (Russ Tamblyn) keeps the moonshine flowing. Among the regulars are Cassidy, a muscular hulk played by Matthias Hues, and his friend Queen (Michael Berryman), a biker adorned in a wig and lipstick. Thankfully, there are a few forces for good still fighting the fight. The central hero of the film is Willie (Jay Roberts Jr.), a dirt-bike riding martial artist with skills nearly as impressive as his feathered hair. Even better is his braided rat-tail, which might be glued to his shoulder — it’s hard to tell but the rat-tail is rarely out of frame when Willie is on-screen, which leads me to believe this was a term of the actor’s contract.
Willie is also a bit of a creep, and he tries to put the moves on a lady handing out fliers for the anti-security revolutionaries. After some resistance, he mentions that “if you ever decide to be the mother of my children, look me up.” Now, you can give Willie credit in the most generic terms possible for wanting a stable home life during such a dreary sociopolitical climate. But that’s probably the worst pick-up line I’ve ever heard. What kind of weirdo wants to have kids with total strangers in the post-apocalypse?
Included in the resistance force is Danny, played by actor and stuntman Chuck Jeffreys. As part of a security sweep of the bar hangout, he and Willie are brought to Quinn’s detainment center. The latter is brought directly to Quinn’s inner office for a violent interrogation. It’s during these and other confrontations with the rebels that Quinn really shines as a total prick; he doesn’t stand for back-talk and is happy to assert his authority with a pair of brass knuckles. Shortly thereafter, Willie and Danny manage to escape the facility with Sabina tagging along.
Her escape is of greater consequence than Quinn first realizes. His superior, played by Richard Lynch, shows up to deliver the news that Sabina is a high-risk detainee with an I.Q. twice that of any previously recorded and that her clothing — literally just a flannel shirt — is unlike any material known to man. Shocking news, to be sure, but not nearly as jarring as Lynch sporting a pair of late-80s Oakleys and holding a puppy for no particular reason.
The trio of escaped detainees hook up with Danny’s crew, led by veteran Col. Slater, played by Christopher Mitchum. It’s around this point in the film where things grind to a halt; nearly 25 minutes worth of people sitting around talking about hacked computer files, democracy, and other undercooked ideas. There are movies that can afford to move away from action set pieces in order to develop the characters and plot, but AFTERSHOCK is not one of those films. There are simply too many characters to emphasize any one (or two) of them for any meaningful period of time. The result is an incoherent mess; characters vanish and then reappear without explanation and we never really get a grasp for which supporting characters are important or why. Sabina reveals to the group that she’s an alien researching Earth, but you get the feeling that there was a better film hiding in here if only director Frank Harris had cut away some of the bloat. The worst example of this may be the scene where Willie and Sabina hitch a ride with Hank Franklin. They break into a sing-along with Jay Roberts Jr. “jamming” on the harmonica. This scene comes out of nowhere, it made no sense in context, and it was awful to watch. My dogs hid behind the couch and my eye started twitching.
There’s a solid climax involving a few hilarious dummy falls as well as two decent fight sequences between Roberts and James Lew and then Roberts and Chris DeRose. Unfortunately, this comes a bit too late to compensate for the big sag in the middle of the film. The cheesy-good end only underscores how scattershot the film is overall, and while there are definitely glimpses of a fun action b-movie here, it just doesn’t come together the way it should have.
— This content was originally posted at The Gentlemen’s Blog to Midnite Cinema