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Movie Reviews : 'Hardware': Relentless High-Tech Blood Bath

September 17, 1990|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"Hardware" (citywide) isn't a movie that can be comfortably recommended to anyone but hard-core sci-fi movie violence buffs: people for whom the sine qua non of cinema is "The Terminator," "Blade Runner" or "RoboCop." But they'll probably like it, perhaps even elevate it to minor cult status.

It's a relentless, banging, slashing, robo-trap of a movie: a lady-in-distress thriller about a dystopic future Britain, in which the world has succumbed to nuclear holocaust and lies submerged in eternal reddish dusty haze, in which scavengers prowl deserts, while a scabrous radio deejay (the ferocious Iggy Pop) screams out cynical diatribes. People huddle behind triple-locked metal doors and barter the shards of a smashed society. And the wreckage that one scavenger brings back to his junk-artist wife proves part of a self-repairing military robot, which has become that horror movie staple: the bogeyman you can't kill.

That's what limits the movie: the whole over-familiar form of the unkillable monster-splatter-thriller. Though it works here, it constricts the story. "Hardware" isn't long on ideas, emotions or character; it degenerates into a mindless slaughterhouse crescendo.

But, given obvious limitation of means and budget, it's executed with murderous kinetic intensity and considerable mean, glitzy style. Writer-director Richard Stanley is someone to watch. He gets impressive performances from his beleaguered heroine (Stacey Travis) and one fat sybarite of a voyeur-villain (William Hootkins) and he creates a consistent grim, paranoid tone, a world almost as all-of-a-piece as the post-Apocalypse desert of "Road Warrior."

The flaws of "Hardware" are the inherent blemishes of the techno-thriller genre: It treats its blood baths as if they were endless choruses in a Rolling Stones rocker, it reduces life to rhythm, event to a crushing cataract of images.

You have to be somewhat inured to its all-out violence: the accelerating assaults, cliff-hangers and gory decapitations that initially earned this R-rated film (for extreme violence, language, nudity and sex) an X. But it's not without ideas. "This is what you want, this is what you get," drones under the credits, obviously Stanley's point. Insane exaggerations and all, this barbarous hell of wanton destruction and bleak post-industrial Darwinism is what may face us. That nasty notion pulls "Hardware" up above all but a fraction of its competition in the techno-thriller blood-bath sweeps.

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