“You Can’t Stop Progress”
Director: Richard Stanley
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch
Synopsis: The head of a cyborg reactivates and rebuilds itself and goes on a violent rampage in a space marine’s girlfriend’s apartment.
Going into Hardware, you could be forgiven for initially thinking you were watching something of substance hiding within a challengingly structured maze of half-revealed plot points and semi-cryptic conversations. But the truth is that what you’re watching is actually an undisciplined exercise in style which uses padding and ambiguity in a futile attempt to con its audience into believing its bag of tricks isn’t as light as it truly is. There’s a half-decent short movie here, but a running time of 94 minutes reduces it to a muddled mess.
The action takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which survivors live in run-down cities while marines wander the red-tinged deserts doing who knows what. Moses (Dylan McDermott) is one of these marines, and one day he buys some robot parts from a drifter who also wanders the deserts looking for such junk to trade. Mo has a girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis), who works as a sculptress, making works of art out of scrap metal and obsolete machinery and he gives her these scrap pieces as a Christmas present. Quite what sort of market there’d be for Jill’s work in a post-apocalyptic world is open to question, but director Richard Stanley gives us little insight into the realities of this dystopian society, choosing instead to confine most of the running time to Jill’s cluttered, dimly-lit apartment.
In a typically obvious piece of symbolism, Jill paints the stars-and-stripes on the metal headpiece Mo gives her and welds it to the other parts to create some weird industrial sculpture before turning in for the night with Mo. Later, Mo leaves her alone in the apartment, and just as he’s discovering that those pieces he gave her were from a prototype military robot which is programmed to kill indiscriminately, Jill’s waking up to discover that it has reassembled itself from the various pieces of junk lying around her apartment and seems intent on ripping her to shreds. Even worse, she can’t get out of her apartment because it’s one of those high-tech automated jobbies into which the robot has inserted a virtual screwdriver…
For a movie which is essentially nothing more than a robot-killer-on-the-loose B-Movie, Hardware takes one hell of a long time getting its act together, and it’s a good half-hour before the story really starts moving. By then we’re thinking that, after that tasteless starter, it’s really going to have to serve up something choice for the main course, but confining the action to one cramped apartment really stifles Stanley’s creative options, and he finds it difficult to overcome a number of questions we need satisfactorily answering in order to persuade ourselves we’re not watching a shapeless mess. Early on, we see a pervy neighbour (played with entertaining relish by William Hootkins) spying on Jill and Mo while they’re getting it on, and after Mo has departed he continues admiring Jill’s form — until, that is, an imposing skull-head obscures his view. Why then, does he choose that moment to pay a visit on Jill? And why does the robot hide behind the window blinds like some Agatha Christie villain during his visit? And why is it so difficult to pinpoint the robots whereabouts when it whirrs and clatters as it moves around?
There isn’t much to recommend about Hardware, a British movie which tries hard to fool us all it’s American. It’s noisy and derivative, borrowing liberally from the usual suspects — Terminator, Mad Max, Alien and Blade Runner, to name but a few — and always leaves you struggling to get a grasp on who is where and why they do the things they do. There are some neat ideas, but for the most part they’re poorly explained. Had the budget been greater and Stanley a more experienced writer and director, Hardware could arguably have been a much better movie. It looks great, with nice use of rich, vivid colours, albeit in a world depicted as dingy and depressing, but other than that Hardware just looks like a pale copy of much better movies.
(Reviewed 22nd December 2013)