Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mad Max

The Action Mutant…
knew Mel was always a lil’ mad.

Mad Max

review by Joe Burrows

Funny thing: During the past five years, Mel Gibson’s actions and words have reduced him in the media’s eyes to the moniker of “Mad Mel”, which is also a takeoff on the title of the film reviewed here. When this all started to go down, I was shocked…shocked that no one saw the signs coming before! Aside from diseases that no one can really cure (alcoholism, bipolar disorder) and a highly publicized father with questionable leanings (Mel once said, “My dad taught me my faith, and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life.” Yes, and the Holocaust never happened like your Dad said. Big fakers!), his career has basically been one, big drawn out bloodbath after another that started even before the monstrously criticized The Passion of the Christ. The Lethal Weapon films show his Martin Riggs to be almost an extension of himself; a passionate, whacked out loony that has a martyr complex. Sure, the man has done his “lite fare” (Bird on a Wire, What Women Want, etc.) but that’s because he knows where the money is, like a stock broker banging out big deals so he has the funds for the coke & whores later on. The Mel I will always remember is the one that had deficiencies (The Man Without a Face) or with a cross to bear, figuratively I mean (Braveheart, The Patriot). And the “martyr complex” always seems to be in play, whether its being stretched on the rack in Braveheart or throwing his and Gary Sinise’s bloody carcasses through windows in Ransom. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mel didn’t want to take Jim Caveizel’s place on the cross or in taking the cat o’ nine tails to the lower lumbar. And where did it all start? Why, in the land of Yahoo Serious and Outback Jack, of course!

The Plot, as it was:
Mad Mel is Max Rockatansky, an Australian highway patrolman that scours the country’s desolate roads in the not so distant, dystopian future. During a high speed chase, Max takes out an associate of a biker gang that’s headed up by the eccentric Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). The gang, when they aren’t terrorizing other motorists or townspeople, focuses their intentions on Max. After killing his partner Goose (Steve Bisley), Toecutter and his boys target Max and his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) & kid. What's Aussie for “wrong move, assholes!”?

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
From the crazy opening chase to the inevitable, grisly finale, Mad Max is just like one of the many muscle cars (or “interceptors”) on screen. Its powerful, brutal, unsettling to the unsuspecting and ultimately rousing entertainment. Writer/Director George Miller paints a portrait of the outback as a place time forgot; droll townspeople that are hopeless and lacking anything on the horizon, which leads some (the gang) to embrace carnage as their savior. Max’s superior Macaffee’s (Roger Ward) echoing of the public’s statement “People don’t believe in heroes anymore” puts Max in the role of the Old West gunslinger that’s ready to rid the town of evil. That description certainly makes the viewer aware that this isn’t anything new, story-wise. What sets this apart from other revenge fare is the unending air of meanness that surrounds the film, as the ending shot basically insists Max is riding off to his next kill; never to come back to normal society or experience total catharsis. This is greatly realized by Gibson (23 and fresh faced) as he runs though the gamut of emotions that us Yanks would see in greater numbers in the Lethal Weapon series, only there’s no comic tone to his descent here. The other memorable performance is by Keays-Byrne, who has a certain inflection or twist to nearly every line he mouths. He looks as if not only time forgot him but society as well, as his scraggly dress makes for a great contrast to his Machiavellian personality (he also resembles star wrestling heel Raven. Google it!). I only wish more was done with his performance, as more focus is seemingly put on his right hand man Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns). To use another wrestling comparison, it’s like booking a feud between Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair and deciding to focus more on Arn Anderson as the enemy (grappling fans will get what I mean). Aside from those odd character directions and being a bit dated looking, Mad Max is one weird, vicious ride that has enough action and atmosphere to make it more entertaining than its megabuck counterparts of today.

Body Count/Violence: 11. Though not an overly bloody spectacle, Mad Max has a mean streak in it almost second to none. The many car chases provide several spectacular crashes, which were actually done with decommissioned police vehicles to keep the budget down! Along with the nasty results of said damage, we also see bloody shooting, explosions, people being burned alive, people run down or dragged behind by motorcycles, vehicles run off the roads, etc. The best has to be when Max explains the best way to get out of handcuffs using a hacksaw (it’s not the best case scenario).

Sexuality/Nudity: We see a couple cavorting in a field from very far off, so anything seen is blurred. There’s also a guy running through a cornfield with his bare ass visible (aka my Saturday nights).

Language/Dialogue: Very little of it, though some of it may by Aussie terms that I’m not familiar with.

How bad was it?:
A lot of people consider this the film to popularize the whole “post apocalyptic biker” genre so it’s generally looked at very favorably. I’d say it’s about as universally revered as you can get, with Sci-Fi/Action critics heaping more than the usual praise.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Mad Max had an interesting box office history going for it, proving once again that sometimes American studios are the last ones at the dinner table. Roadshow Entertainment released the film in Australia on 4/12/79, with it sporting a budget of merely $350,000! It would make 5.6 AUD in its homeland and would get a limited run in America a year later when it debuted in New York City on 6/13/80 under the American International banner. It finished its American run with a gross of $8.8 million and that seemed to be that. However, Warner Bros. took a gamble and bought rights to market the sequel The Road Warrior in 1981. The success of that film ultimately led Mad Max to gross $100 million worldwide by the end of 1982 and receive a re-release in America on 5/13/83. Of course, the American releases initially dubbed most of the Aussie audio track over with more Americanized voices (including Gibson, who’s star didn’t really rise up worldwide until after The Road Warrior) and replaced a lot of the lingo. Thankfully, MGM re-re-released the film in 2000 for a limited time with its original Australian audio track intact (note: The “Special Edition” DVD from MGM includes both audio tracks as options).

Film: ****/*****
Entertainment value: *****/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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