With a plot borrowed from "Seven Samurai," the witty and surprisingly reflective "World Gone Wild" (citywide) has lots of fun with the post-nuclear holocaust saga. The result is a good little action picture with plenty of smarts and a nonchalant air that deflects its obligatory violence. It represents a happy teaming of debuting screenwriter Jorge Zamacona and genre veteran Lee H. Katzin, who directs a dynamite cast with assured dispatch.
We're a century into the future, and protracted nuclear warfare has left the planet without rain for 40 years. Consequently, the tiny desert community of Lost Wells, composed of a dingy Streamline Moderne Mobil station encircled by beat-up cars, is a virtual paradise, for, inexplicably, it has a water hole. (Never mind that nowhere does there seem to be any aftereffects of radiation; this a film that moves too fast and doesn't take itself seriously enough to let you ponder the credibility of its premise.)
Among the four books possessed by the residents is that beacon of civilization, an unabridged Emily Post, which means that they're unduly polite to the power-mad evangelist Derek (Adam Ant). His text is "The Wisdom of Charles Manson." Derek alights from a tractor-driven helicopter and orders his zombie-like, choir-robed minions to open fire. Ethan (Bruce Dern), a shrewd and resourceful hippie philosopher, and Angie (Catherine Mary Stewart), the village schoolteacher, head for a distant, crumbling city, a dark inferno wonderfully evoked by production designer Donald L. Harris. Here, men duel to the death for two years' worth of water ration coupons. Ethan persuades his pal George (Michael Pare, in the Toshiro Mifune role), a dashing soldier of fortune down on his luck, to line up some scruffy hard cases to help defend Lost Wells against Derek's inevitable return invasion.
"World Gone Wild" is constantly buoyed by Zamacona's knowing sendup of the genre and by Lawrence Juber's sock-it-to-'em score. Dern, the film's linchpin, has an all-too-rare opportunity to play with a light, relaxed throwaway humor in place of the loony intensity that's become expected of him. The rest of the cast, which includes Anthony James as one of the wackiest of the "samurai," is equally pleasing. There's no aspect of "World Gone Wild" (rated R for standard action-picture violence and strong language) that is unimaginative.