Bargain bin finds: The Gladiator

Carl checks out a film on the strength of its association with Quentin Tarantino's Deathproof: it, too, contains a death car! That's where the likeness ends, though

Abel Ferrara's The Gladiator

This week’s Bargain Bin find is The Gladiator, and no, that isn’t the film with Russell Crowe. It is, in fact, a film about a man in a “death car” attacking and killing Jeff, who is the brother of Rick, a master mechanic, who then decides to take the law into his own hands. After catching a showing of Grindhouse last week, a film that included “death car” in the synopsis just seemed unmissable. Could this be the 80s Death Proof? Lakeshore entertainment sure thought so, even although they weren’t exactly right.

Monobrowed mechanic Rick is the “dashing” lead in this film, which is about a mechanic looking after his brother Jeff, without any other relatives around. He starts teaching Jeff how to drive, when a car with blacked-out windows sends them crashing into a truck. This crash is utterly hilarious, as we actually see the camera drive into Jeff’s mouth in slow motion, while Rick cowers in fear.

With his brother dead and the police unbelieving, you can almost see the vengeance on his face, even if it looks like nothing’s happened. He heads off to the Citizens For Highway Safety, and learns that it isn’t just him, and that on average of 21 minutes, someone dies due to reckless driving. When someone says “Somebody should do something about it… tonight,” it hits him hard. He looks thoughtful at this statement and goes home to compile data from newspapers on a map, then takes that data on the road, to look for the death car. When he thinks he sees it, he’s soon in hot pursuit, only to see it is a fat lady, at which point he dismisses it as the wrong car, even though he never saw the killer. But of course, fat ladies could never kill.

Nothing much happens for a while, and then he is back out on the road the next night, listening to the exact same song. I suggest he gets a new tape, as that one is rubbish. He stops for some take out, and is attacked by some drunken thugs in a car. Using his truck to retaliate, he is commended for being a hero, and the ideas start to form in his mind. He goes home, so determined he forgets his take out, and starts tricking out his truck with cool gadgets, army headlights, and a new paintjob. Unfortunately this cool tricking out of his truck is ruined by said job, as it is painted a rather lame and unthreatening grey.

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While informing the police of his good deed attacking some dragster boy racers with a huge harpoon, he gives himself the name The Gladiator. We hear stories from cops explaining how no one can truly identify him, not even with his defining feature, the monobrow! Because of this, he is left to do his thing, never being truly acknowledged for his deeds.

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, we get various car related incidents, including the death car making a car explode from a burst tyre and The Gladiator following a drunk driver home just to harpoon his car and drag it through his garage door and smash it to bits. That’ll teach him! Still, it’s not all fun and games. He almost kills an expectant mother in labour, and starts to think he might be in the wrong. While on his way to hand himself in to the cops, who were getting worried that maybe The Gladiator and the killer were one and the same, the Death Car drives by and they decide to take each other on.

Now, I’ve explained this film in pretty much full detail, because I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t a total career ruiner. In the end, most of the cast have had successful, if shameful, careers. Ken Wahl, who looked bored the entire way through being Rick the mechanic, starred in ‘Wiseguy’, a semi-successful crime drama in the late 80s, before giving up his career and “the limelight” to spend time with his family. His brother Jeff, played by Brian Robbins, has had an interesting career. Firstly, he was a producer on Smallville and One Tree Hill for years, and even a few episodes of The Amanda Show and Kenan and Kel. Secondly, as a director he has had quite a few ‘successes’ (if you can call them that) with The Shaggy Dog, Norbit, Good Burger and the upcoming Meet Dave. Even if Good Burger is a passable Sunday afternoon film and Smallville is alright on occasion, I hate this man for the wealth of crap that makes up his other efforts.

The rest of the cast includes Nancy Allen as a radio reporter, who played Officer Lewis in the Robocop trilogy, Robert Culp as Detective Mason, who has since had a full career including Spy Hard and Dr Breen in Half Life 2, and Stan Shaw as a fellow mechanic, who’s had parts in Snake Eyes and Rocky. Not all the most successful people, but it’s not the worst selection we’ve seen.

All that aside, the film is pretty rubbish. Which is a shame, because about 20 minutes of the film is hilariously salvageable. It isn’t the worst film of all time (as that credit goes to Edge Of Terror) but it is watchable in a crap sort of way. There isn’t much else to be said, as when all it comes down to it, nothing that can be said is worth saying now. Even if some plots are dropped half way through, the acting is awful, and the car fights are less than insane, the movie is alright for a laugh, and that’s about it.

So, avoid it if you can, but if you have to see it, enjoy what is salvageable.

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Next time: Hopefully something better than this.