Thursday, May 26, 2011

'Hands of Steel': Terminator for Girls

Hands of Steel (aka "Atomic Cyborg" and "Arms of Steel") (1986)
Starring: Daniel Greene, Janet Agren, George Eastman, Claudio Cassinelli, Luigi Montifori, Andrew Coppola, and John Saxon
Director: Martin Doleman (aka Sergio Martino)
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In the near future, a powerful industrialist (Saxon) co-opts a U.S. Army super-soldier program for use as his own personal assassination squad. When the perfect cybernetic super-soldier (Greene) breaks his programming and heads home to Arizona in search of his true identity, ruthless assassins are put on his trail to silence him before he thinks to turn himself into the authorities.

Someone I used to watch crummy movies with referred to "Hands of Steel" as "Terminator for Girls."

I thought it was a funny and very accurate description. The cyborg in search of emotional peace and answers to who he is is played by a very handsome male specimen, and the "lonely woman finds true love and redeems a Bad Boy" is a chick fantasy if there ever was one.

Along the way, there's some violence courtesy of said cyborg bad boy and the assassins chasing him, as well as a subplot involving semi-pro arm-wrestlers that makes "Over the Top" look like a masterpiece, with the only positive thing about it being the contests are motivated by chivalry instead of an attempt to earn the love and respect of a 13 year-old boy. I wish I could say there was much hilarity and/or excitement in watching arm-wrestling battles of Man vs. Cyborg, but no; it's even dumber here than it was in the Stallone movie. But at least the arm-wrestling is motivated by chivalry and not an attempt to earn the love and respect of the cyborg's estranged son. (I realize arm wrestling is viewed as a sport in some of the more bizarre places of the world--like caber-tossing, curling, and, no doubt, pig catching--but was it really so popular in the 1980s that it warranted cinematic treatments?)

Aside from the arm wrestling sequences, the fight and chase scenes are fairly well done, considering what is usually found in films at this level. The Battle Royale from which the above screenshot is culled--when the assassins finally catch up with our hero--is one of the movie's high points. It comes as a near-complete surprise, which I may well have spoiled by mentioning it here. Whoops.

At any rate, that fight kicks off the movie's third act which is little more than chases, mayhem, and violence again goons in black suits and motorcycle helmets (that culminates in John Saxon wielding a weapon that shoots colorful cartoon lines--oh, sorry... laser beams). It's the point in the movie where there's "no plot to get in the way of the action," except for when the "redemption of the Bad Boy" is reintroduced and brought to its natural conclusion. Do we get a happy ending where Cyborg and Girl live happily ever after? Well, I'm not going to be that bad with spoilers, but it was the one point where the film had me guessing as to what was going to come next.

This is a fun, cheesy sci-fi flick that should appeal equally to fans of "Warriors of the Wasteland", "Robocop" and "Terminator". While it's squarely in the territory of Bad Movie Night fodder, it does have good action scenes and it features decent performances by Daniel Greene and Janet Agren. I recommend pairing it with Charles Band's "Crash and Burn" for the common themes of killer cyborgs and evil corporations bent on destroying the environment just for money and the hell of it. (In fact, I continue to be astonished that neither Band nor companies like Mill Creek hasn't taken advantage of the ongoing environmentalist hysteria to repackage and/or retitle some of these B-movies with environmentalist side themes in attempts to sponge a few dollars off the True Believers in the cult of man-made global warming. It might be a little late now, though, as the mass-media seems to be moving onto other topics.)

Trivia: This was the final screen appearance of Claudio Cassinelli, an Italian actor whose face is familiar to lovers of trashy cinema. He died in a helicopter crash during the production.