The Film: Firepower (1993)
The Principals: Chad McQueen, Gary Daniels, Jim “The Ultimate Warrior” Hellwig, George Murdock, Joseph Ruskin, Alisha Das, Pablo Marz, Art Camacho. Directed by Richard Pepin.
The Premise: 2007: Los Angeles is an unintelligible mess thanks to a crime rate higher than a combined metropolis of Detroit and Baltimore. The most dangerous area of the city is the “Hell Zone,” a carte-blanche district for criminals of all kind and home to “Death Ring,” which is just a simple name for MMA Night at the Thunderdome. It’s up to bromantically involved cops Braniff (McQueen) and Sledge (Daniels) to bring down the corrupt fighting empire and their role in the production of AIDS vaccines on the black market. Will they prevail?
Is It Good? Quick history lesson for the uninitiated. Back in the 1990’s, the holy alliance of Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi came together for the greatest business venture of our time, hereby known as PM Entertainment. While I have seen far from every one of their productions, I have seen enough of their explosive, high-octane productions to come away with the understanding that any PM production will always involve one or more of the following:
- Quasi-futuristic or fantastical plot elements.
- A distrust of political institutions.
- Stunt work and pyrotechnics that rival Hollywood productions.
- Sir Gary Fucking Daniels.
Firepower meets all of the following criteria, tears a kitchen sink out of a wall Dewey Cox-style, and throws in a few more things for the sake of trying to be as awesome as it possibly can. When it does achieve these levels—and it does within the time the opening car chase happens, hurling cars from the future that would have been passé by 1996 and setting off explosions that would rival Michael Bay on his best day—there is no turning back, and only room for the film to go forward.
The idea of “escalation” that Firepower takes charge of is one of trying to outdo the last action scene or plot point you just saw. After a cool car chase that involves rocket-firing motorcycles, skeptical family man Braniff (Bullittspawn Chad McQueen) and the awesomely named British Broseph Sledge (our lord and savior Daniels, not David Rasche) take in the perp, the Swordsman, played by the often-mocked and possibly insane former WWF superstar The Ultimate Warrior (née Jim Hellwig). The Swordsman, as the police computers reveal, has attained some kind of criminal nirvana, as every possible offense you could possibly think of is attached to his record. Remember when RoboCop brings up Clarence Boddicker’s file in the database and the list of crimes he has is super long? The Swordsman’s list would probably fill a good three pages single-spaced in a Microsoft Word document.
Anyway, coinciding with Braniff and Sledge getting reamed out by their boss (George Murdock, God from Star Trek V) are a small army of men who value the Swordsman, overpower the precinct and take the big guy with them. After the Assault on Precinct 13 stunt makes them look like assholes, the cops have to get on the bro-down offense, and nag their angry superior officer into letting them go undercover on the Death Ring circuit. Off to the “Hell Zone” they go!
The Hell Zone is basically what Hamsterdam would have become in future seasons of The Wire had the initiative not been shot down. It’s like the worst of Alcatraz, Old Detroit, Manhattan Island Prison, and Walmart on Black Friday rolled into one drug-infested clusterfuck of brutality. Throw in a heaping dose of organized Mortal Kombat as the area’s primary capital and you’ve got yourself one prime example of… hell on earth. Once Braniff and Sledge infiltrate the Death Ring, the move turns full video game. All of the fighters use the kind of aliases that 90’s fighting games would relish in—species of snakes and power tools are always great starting points for thinking of this shit. Sledge opts for “Hammer” (get it?) while Braniff is branded with the embarrassing moniker “Alley Cat.”
For your pleasure, Death Ring also offers a full bar and an ample selection of prostitutes to accompany your sick obsession with this Kumite Thunderdome. Death Ring is exactly how I just described it—beat the living shit out of each other with your sweet martial arts moves, and then once a certain point of the fight is reached, the weapons get broken out: nunchuks, sais, a Bo staff, maces, baseball bats—appropriately enough, weapons used by gang members and Ninja Turtles. Naturally, the promotion is also corrupt, given that they’re in Hell Zone, so that means the man calling the shots from a remote area within the building is the ultimate target.
Shit starts to get deadly, the bodies start dropping and the movie makes some unexpected and shocking decisions regarding its story that I would have never thought a 90’s direct-to-video offering would have the guts to take. The true calling of Firepower, however, is that it projects itself as trying to capitalize on so many different genre movements and succeeding wildly in the kitchen-sink approach. In a time where that ideology has become damningly risky, it amazes that a film like this can command such strength.
I wish they made a Sega Genesis version of this movie.
Is It Worth a Look? Duh!
Random Anecdotes: Jim Hellwig legally changed his name to Warrior in 1993. It’s not a first name, or a last name—just Warrior. His reason for pulling a McLovin was to be able to legally retain the Warrior namesake in the face of the litigious World Wrestling Federation. After a horrific stint in WCW back in 1998, Warrior faded away from the wrestling world and began a career as a motivational speaker and currently maintains a blog called “Warrior’s Machete” and has a YouTube channel, where he often torments Hulk Hogan and left-wing politics in the same fashion he would have in pro wrestling. Seriously, would you take advice from a crazy man named Warrior?
Anyway, among the incredible words of “Warrior Wisdom” he has had was at a speech at the University of Connecticut, proclaiming that “queering doesn’t make the world work.” In other words, homosexuality is the enemy of procreation and the population would die out if more gays existed. Yeah, he’s a wonderful dude, that Warrior.
Firepower is the only featured film role Warrior has ever had, other than an unknown role in the little-seen Paul Reiser/Robert Townsend comedy Odd Jobs.
Cinematic Soulmates: Mortal Kombat, Bloodsport, RoboCop, Judge Dredd, Dredd, Best of the Best 2, Demolition Man, Lethal Weapon