By the early 21st century things have really gone miserably down the tubes: mass unemployment, never-ending ongoing wars, no rainfall in many a moon, the government sponsors mass sterilization, a dense cloud of radiation hangs heavily in the air, hard drugs have become legalized, that sort of hopeless, bummed-out stuff. Rugged mercenary Moses “Hard Mo” Baxter (toughly interpreted by Dylan McDermott) and his wastoid pal Shades (a marvelously manic, motor-mouthed dope-head turn by John Lynch) purchase some “junk” from a laconic, enigmatic “zone tripper” nomad (a creepy cameo by Carl McCoy, the vocalist for the British punk band Nephilim) to give to Moses’ withdrawn, introverted recluse sculptress girlfriend Jill (superbly played with admirable spark and passion by the ravishing, flame-haired Stacey Travis) as a Christmas present. Said trash turns out to be a lethal, almost unstoppable android called Mark 13, a relentless killing machine specifically designed to curtail the teeming population. Mark-13 gets reactivated and goes on the expected grisly murdering binge. It’s up to Jill to come out of her protective shell and fight back in order to defeat it.
Despite being met with an avalanche of extremely negative reviews by the mainstream press, I nonetheless actually ventured to a theater to catch “Hardware” during its fleeting theatrical run and found it to be pretty good. Yeah, the story is slavishly derivative and hackneyed, blatantly cribbing bits and pieces from “The Terminator,” “ALIEN,” “Predator,” “Blade Runner,” and practically every other post-nuke sci-fi/action picture made in the 80’s, the pace tends to drag in spots, and it does indeed get very heavy-handed at times, with the labored use of slow motion proving to be especially clumsy and disruptive. However, the film’s unflinchingly bleak, nihilistic tone, Simon Boswell’s twangy, harmonic score, a wonderfully repulsive performance by the late, great William Hootkins as a vile, obese slimeball voyeur (in a nice touch of irony Mark-13 gouges his eyes out when it gruesomely kills him), the admirably frank depiction of the emotionally unstable relationship between Mo and Jill, the generously bloody and excessive gore set pieces (one luckless fellow gets messily bisected by a malfunctioning mechanical door), nifty bits by Motorhead’s Lemmy as a coarse, crusty cab driver and the almighty Iggy Pop as the voice of profane, sarcastic disc jockey Angry Bob (“the man with the industrial d**k!”), Steven Chivers’ bleached, smoke-streaked, dusky reddish-hued cinematography, the incredibly vivid and expansive set design, and director/co-screenwriter Richard Stanley’s flashy, hyper-kinetic, raw-edged style, with a noted emphasis on bravura, Dario Argentoesque visual pyrotechnics (Stanley previously helmed a few music videos before making his directorial feature film debut with this movie), are all so expertly done that they almost manage to fully compensate for the crippling dearth of originality. Still, there’s more hopped-up style than actual substance on display, so “Hardcare” doesn’t completely cut it as a total winner. Nevertheless, said style is just dazzling and arresting enough to make this not half bad try a fair degree better than its largely crappy critical reception would suggest.