Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.
Budget science fiction from the 1980s and early 1990s is always interesting to me. In the case of Hardware, we have an interesting premise that suffers from some significant issues. The first issue is the $1.5 million budget for a film that has a great deal of ambition. Particularly for a film that wants to show off a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the budget just wasn’t there. A bigger issue is that the plot has holes big enough to drive a train through. I can live with the small budget. The bigger issue is that this really needed to spend another couple of weeks in rewrites.
We’re thrust into a post-apocalyptic world where, at least for the first few minutes, everything is red. A scavenger finds what looks to be a robot of some type, but he is unaware that the robot was moving slightly before its discovery. He picks it up and drags it back to what passes for civilization where he sells it to Moses “Hard Mo” Baxter (Dylan McDermott). Mo keeps the head of the robot and sells the rest as scrap to Alvy (Mark Northover). He gives the head to Jill (Stacey Travis), his reclusive artist girlfriend, who incorporates the head into a piece of art.
What they don’t know is that this was the head of a new prototype robot called a M.A.R.K. 13. It is, of course, a military device designed to kill with a variety of spinning blades, chainsaws, knives, drills, and even a syringe-y bit that injects people with an overdose of a hallucinogenic. And, because there wouldn’t be a movie without this, the robot is self-repairing. This means that after Jill has incorporated the head into her sculpture, it’s going to repair itself using all of the scrap metal from Jill’s other metallic sculptures and it’s going to go on a rampage, trying to kill everyone in the vicinity, especially Jill.
Okay, so that’s the basic plot, and there really isn’t much beyond that. Dylan McDermott’s job in this film is to look tough, which is difficult because he’s remarkably reminiscent of David Schwimmer in this film. Stacey Travis’s job is to be attacked a lot and to get naked a couple of times, even if the bulk of that is seen through infrared cameras. There are four others I want to mention here. First is John Lynch, who plays Shades. We never see Shades without a pair of sunglasses on. His role in the film is to be the drugged out sidekick of Hard Mo and to not-so-secretly pine for the sexy Jill. Second is the great William Hootkins, career bit-player and one of the only people aside from Harrison Ford to appear in both the original Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hootkins plays Lincoln Wineberg Jr., Jill’s pervy and foul-mouthed neighbor who peeps on her with a camera while she’s having sex with Mo. He also seems to have a latex glove fetish, which makes him straight up creepy. Third and fourth are Iggy Pop as the voice of the radio DJ and Lemmy as the taxi driver. Both have small parts, but it’s fun to see (or hear in the case of Iggy Pop) them.
Hardware reminds me of both Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Death Machine. However, it came out before both of them, so it can’t be accused to trying to copy either of them. In fact, Death Machine seems like a straight rip-off of this movie. The whole self-repairing robot thing, though, is going to give anyone memories of T2, even though this was released in the year previous.
The film does what it can with its budget by keeping most of the action limited to Jill’s apartment and keeping the effects to as much of a minimum as it can. Again, this is something I can live with. There are plenty of low-budget science fiction movies that I’ve seen and enjoyed quite a bit. The real issues with Hardware come from a story that wasn’t thought through very well. First is the machine itself. It’s a self-repairing machine, but somehow it is able to replicate all of its intricate parts from the junk lying around in Jill’s apartment, including fully functioning hands and parts. It does this remarkably quickly, too. It’s not like Jill has robot hands and gears just lying around.
And what’s with its weapons? No, really, what’s with its weapons? It’s a machine designed to kill people, and all of its weapons are essentially useful only for up-close combat. No guns, no missiles, no lasers. It also seems to be designed not to kill people quickly, but to do so with an element of torture involved. If it’s intended to be a terror weapon, that works, but it’s never suggested that it’s anything other than just a murderbot. And on those lines, why the hell does it have a hallucinogenic injector? Like chainsaw blades and drills aren’t enough, so sometimes it gives people a fatal LSD trip?
Along the same lines, there are rumors throughout the film that the M.A.R.K. 13 is designed to help control the population. There are also mentions throughout the film about new legislation designed to keep the population under control. And yet the country is at war and suffering massive casualties, which would seem to mean that population wouldn’t be a serious problem, right? And why the hell would a government create a machine designed to kill its own people indiscriminately?
The biggest issue, though, is the robot’s weaknesses: water and moisture. Its various parts aren’t shielded well, which means that if it walks out in a rainstorm, it will short and be destroyed. Consider this, and then remember that this is a machine designed to kill people up close and personally in a way that will almost certainly get it splattered all over with blood. In fact, this happens and the machine suffers no ill effects even though it is doused in a couple of gallons of blood.
There are some nice gore bits and it really attempts to set a mood, but ultimately, there are just too many problems with the story that the whole thing pretty much fails. Too bad, because the central idea is good.
Why to watch Hardware: Great ideas.
Why not to watch: The plot simply doesn’t work at all.