Solarbabies

In a far distant dystopia (weirdly, in the Year 41), the world’s water resources are being tightly controlled. And it’s up to the the rebellious young residents of an orphanage/prison, the Solarbabies (not the Aquababies, mind you) to do something about it, and wrest control away from the villainous, jack-booted Eco Protectorate.

Yep, we’re in post-apocalyptic territory again. Except this time, it’s youth-friendly.

Still, Solarbabies has all the genre’s hallmarks: an oppressor class, enslaved people keeping society (what’s left of it) functioning; a quest for a water-drenched paradise; terror-drome combat sports; an antediluvian oracle who makes Dumbledore look spry by comparison; dune buggies, and of course, a barren, sandy wasteland.

Solarbabies (1986) has two pop culture cash-ins: The Walkman, (whose popularity peaked between 1987 and 1997) sported by young star Lukas Haas (Witness) and a cast of roller skaters. How this footwear is appropriate for a desert landscape is never explained, but luckily, the Eco Protectorate, for all its turpitude, has paved much of the misbegotten landscape for easy escape.

In a nutshell: the powers that be are fighting over a supernatural omniscient orb, Bohdai, who can make it rain like it’s a gentleman’s club.

Somewhere along the line, we veer into Mad Max territory with a bunch of indentured servitude water processors (who are predominantly Aussie) and the Solarbabies get assistance from the Eco Warriors to help turn the tide…this may sound like a cheesy premise, but the inconvenient truth is, this mega-bomb is a hella-fun flick!

With a budget of $25 million plus, this dud earned back under $2 mil.

And the flick wasn’t exactly the toast of critic town, with the likes of the Washington Post saying, it’s “a hilariously bad movie that doesn’t make much sense and isn’t much good when it does.”

Much to our delight, Solarbabies is a rip-off extravaganza, with nods to E.T., The Road Warrior, Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, and Rollerball. Director Alan Johnson keeps things movie with chase scene after chase scene (and even an Dukes of Hazzard-style gorge-jump for good measure).

*** (out of 5)

Conan the Barbarian

Sword and sandals, vixens, Vandals…however, Conan the Barbarian is more than just Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a broadsword to baddies…it’s a bundle of thrills, stuffed to the brim with as many ancient myths as humanly possible.

At its heart, it’s a son avenging the death of his father, which we can trace back to Homeric times (Orestes) and all the way up to The Princess Bride (Inigo Montoya) or The Godfather 2 (Vito Corleone).

And when pops is killed, mom shepherds Conan away to safety like the Arthurian legend of Lancelot (and that’s just one of the innumerable Knights of the Round Table nods).

The culprits? A vicious army of black-clad cavalrymen who look like they’ve got horseshoes on top of their heads, led by the one, the only, floor-shaking CNN voice, James Earl Jones (sporting a ludicrous Planet of the Apes mullet-extension wig). He plays Thulsa Doom, a wham-bam villain name if there ever was one, which could easily double as a death metal act or a motorcycle stunt driver.

The village’s sons/daughters are sold into slavery, and Conan is put to work as a mill grinder (which accounts for his ridiculously pumped up physique. Queue the latest late-night infomercial fitness fad: Grain Mill Pushing DVDs?).

Conan grows up to become a gladiatorial warrior, besting all the competition in pit fighting clashes to the death.

After he’s accidentally released, he connects with a couple of thieves (Subothai and Valeria), turning Conan the Barbarian into a buddy pic. Together, they help our heroic strongman solve the mystery of exactly who the black-clad villains were who killed Conan’s father.

This involves a sinister snake cult and its white-shawled acolytes (and Egyptian myths aplenty) and lots of ass-kicking by Conan.

Co-written by of all people, Oliver Stone, Conan the Barbarian wears its heart on its jerkin arms, celebrating its pulp origins.

*** 1/2 (out of 5)

[Be sure to check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast for a discussion of Conan the Barbarian]