Big Awful Friday: 'Hardware' clunks out

By Ed Robertson, atomictown.comOctober 18, 2012 

It's rare that the opening credits get me excited about a movie. Unless there is a surprise dinosaur, or it's an apocalypse movie and the credit sequence is where they show everybody getting disintegrated by the aliens, credits are mostly there to meet various guild rules and then be over.

But there are always exceptions. Such as the credit "And Iggy Pop as Angry Bob." That one belongs to 1990's Hardware, offering a promising start to an iffy-looking movie.

Dylan McDermott lives in a post-apocalyptic world, scavenging to get by. Out on his runs, he finds the head of a ruined robot, which he brings back to girlfriend Stacey Travis. But the robot isn't dead. Once it puts itself together, it resumes its programming: the killing of humans.

Unfortunately, Iggy Pop's credit is the most exciting thing to happen in Hardware for some time. Besides Lemmy's cameo as a riverboat cab driver, that is. Whatever else you want to say about director/cowriter Richard Stanley--like, for instance, that he's good at making boring movies--you've got to give him credit for his taste in rock stars.

I'm less impressed by Stanley's taste in getting to the point. The hook of Hardware is that McDermott unwittingly unleashes a killer robot on the populace. Including credits, Hardware is a bit over 90 minutes long. Do you know how long it takes for the robot to actually start piecing itself together? 42 minutes. Even then, the main conflict isn't between a killer robot and less-killer humans, but between Travis and the overweight pervert who loves her.

That is, after all, what sci-fi fans flock to the theaters to see: hefty men with questionable fashion portrayed as horrible creeps that send the pretty girls running. Way to speak to your target demographic. For Stanley's next feature, he went on to make Ha Ha, People Who Like Romantic Comedies Spend Their Nights Crying Alone in the Dark.

This lapse in focus is just one of many miscalculations in Hardware. This movie doesn't even know who its main character is. It starts off as McDermott, then becomes Travis. Things only get more confused during the finale, when the script apparently nods off and starts dreaming it's an opera or something. I don't know.

All of this is too bad, because while Hardware looks cheapish, in that grimy, early '90s movies way, that actually supports the post-apocalyptic setting. It could have made for a nice B-movie Terminator ripoff.

Instead, a dubious sensibility and some core story problems earn it a much more distinctive honor: a new place on the shelves of Big Awful Friday.

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and elsewhere.

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