Sylvester Stallone is perhaps one of the most iconic movie stars in American history, the kind of hitmaker who can stack blockbusters so high that a few get lost in the shuffle. Not everything it touched turned to gold, but there’s at least one film that managed to combine stellar action and hilarious social commentary without getting the credit it deserves.
the wrecker was a 1993 sci-fi action blockbuster starring the aforementioned Italian stallion and Blade starring Wesley Snipes. The film was the first feature film project of director Marco Brambilla, who has become a groundbreaking contemporary artist. He directed exactly one other feature film; it’s hard to believe, but the director of the wrecker continued to create almost exclusively works of art worthy of museums rather than movie theatres.
the wrecker is the story of John Spartan, a classic badass cop on the edge, ripped straight from a dozen other action movies. Spartan has a nemesis relationship with an eccentric supervillain named Simon Phoenix, until his failed loose cannon attempt to resolve a hostage situation results in massive collateral damage. The cop and the criminal are tried for the needless death of a bus full of people and the couple are sentenced to the same sentence, incarceration by cryogenic freezing. Decades later, Phoenix is Thawed for a parole hearing but easily escapes his captors, leading the people of 2032 to Thaw Spartan to hunt him down.
The couple are reborn in San Angeles, a repressive nanny state where anything considered harmful, from swearing to red meat, is illegal. The advantage of this dictatorial regime is that the violence has effectively ceased to be, but it makes future cops unable to deal with the unfrozen criminal. Spartan must defeat his former nemesis, while adapting to a future doomed to the complete annihilation of everything he loves and stands for.
Obviously, the action is the draw here. It’s not really comparable to modern John Wick aesthetic, nor to the standard of the superhero movie. The closest comparison would certainly be any Schwarzenegger vehicle, from Commando at Total recall. the wrecker is an action comedy, but it really doesn’t mix the two very well. Both frontrunners spit one-liners around the pace most people breathe and perform athletic feats far beyond human capability. The two main characters are like cartoon reissues of classic tropes; everything a fan of the genre could expect turned into 11 with fantastic results. Buildings explode, sci-fi weapons are hurled with wild abandon, and its bombastic presentation perfectly matches the over-the-top performance and absurd setting.
The package that surrounds the thrilling action scenes is also a bizarre and wonderful choice of cinema. The film posits a future bent around the often misunderstood concept of political correctness, elevated to the status of state-sponsored dogma. San Angeles is a strong crackdown on personal freedom, seeing fit to restrict people’s actions for their own supposed good. Beneath the city lives a contingent of dissidents led by Dennis Leary with the exact opposite ethos, an almost self-destructive edict of liberation.
San Angeles’ dictatorial public safety is matched if not offset by its extremely crass consumerism. Its radio stations play only brand-approved jingles, cabaret artists sing commercials and, ironically, the film features one of the most egregious examples of product placement of all time. Taco Bell enjoyed a branding deal with the film, being tagged the winner of the “franchise war” and thus being the only restaurant available in town. In a way, it is both a criticism and an example of mainstream advertising.
The movie has its issues, even amidst all of its cheesy ’90s glory. Conceptually, a movie about a cop with a history of civilian casualties being the only thing that can save the world, exclusively due to its willingness to shooting and killing people hasn’t aged well. In less serious issues, however, the story is one of the most predictable narratives in modern cinema. There are absolutely no surprises, every character does exactly what they seem to do on first glance, from heroes and villains to comic relief and random extras. Its imagery, while fun to watch, flies all over the place and seems a little obvious in its copycat homework from other films. Ultimately the wrecker is silly, but it’s as much a point of pride as condemnation for the film.
movies like the wrecker don’t come often anymore; ready to combine the era’s action blockbuster with bizarrely focused social commentary. Despite the myriad ways it shows its age, like a relic that hoped to portray the future, the wrecker still worth a visit. The film is available on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
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