Solarbabies (1986)

solar

THE TRAILER

THE DIRECTOR
Alan Johnson

THE ACTORS
Jason Patrick (Jason), Jami Gertz (Terra), Lukas Haas (Daniel), James LeGros (Metron), Peter DeLuise (Tug), Claude Brooks (Rabbit), Adrian Pasdar (Darstar), Peter Kowonko (Gaviel), Richard Jordan (Strictor Grock), Terrence Man (Ivor)

THE CAUSE
Water shortages caused by an event only vaguely alluded to.

THE STORY
“We live in a new time. The year is 41 and The Protectorate controls all the water on Earth, and therefore, all life. I am the warden of Orphanage 43, one of the many orphanages that border the wasteland. Children are brought here at an early age to be indoctrinated, to serve the system. It hurts me to do what I do, but I too must serve the system. Sometimes in my dreams I see the Earth as it was before: green with flowing rivers and mighty oceans. Can it ever be like that again? There is a legend, a tale told by the Tchiganis, that speaks of a visitor that came from the heavens. The people called it Bodhi. The legend says that it has come to Earth to free the waters once again. Is this legend true? Who knows?” - Opening monologue by The Warden (Charles Durning)

THE RUNDOWN
As someone who only managed to see genre staples such as Indiana Jones, The Goonies, Star Wars, and Tron in my late teens/early 20s, I’ve always felt the “you only like it because you saw it when you were a kid” argument is a bit childish and dismissive. Yeah, a lot of nostalgia properties rely on lazy humor, bright colors, and cheesy “cool” set-pieces to get a broader (and younger) audience but there’s a reason why a technically proficient movie like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is lauded decades later while Dungeons and Dragons is only fondly remembered for a scenery chewing performance by an otherwise talented actor.

With that said, I have no goddamn clue why anybody likes Solarbabies. I consider myself a pretty forgiving movie critic, if you read my DVD reviews on this website then you know I usually find something nice to say about a movie even if I absolutely hate it, and I’m going to do my best to find something to say about this, but I just don’t see the appeal of this movie at all.

Grock

Our heroes are a rag-tag group of Burger King Kids Club approved youths in a labor training camp called The Solarbabies. See, Solarbabies is the name of their Skateball (a “futuristic” sport that’s a mixture of roller derby and hockey, using sticks with jai alai baskets on the end. It’s lamer than real-life Jugger.) team and no explanation is ever given for why they have chosen such a goofy-ass moniker. The movie’s villain even addresses this fact, but the issue gets side-stepped.

As our story opens, our young demographic insertion character Daniel (a disgustingly cherubic Lukas Haas) roller skates into a power control room and flips a bunch of switches, turning on some stadium lights which illuminate an arena. Enter our heroes The Solarbabies: composed of Jason (Jason Patric) the leader, Terra (Jami Gertz) the girl, Metron (James LeGros) the nerd, Tug (Peter DeLuise) the big dumb guy, and Rabbit (Claude Brooks) the offensive racial stereotype. Their enemies, clad all in fancy black pads, are the dreaded Cobra Kai… er, The Scorpions.

A grimacing militaristic figure in mirrored sunglasses worn in blatant disregard of the fact that it is night-time watches from a nearby hill and grins grinnily as The Scorpions cheat. Unfortunately The Solarbabies (ugh) win through the powers of teamwork, friendship, and being the protagonists of this movie. That’s when Admiral Badguy orders a fleet of dune buggies and future-cycles down into the bowl to apprehend the 5 children on roller-skates who promptly escape because of cleverness, determination, and the fact that they’re the protagonists of this movie.

Daniel is chased into a cave where a glowing orb restores his hearing. (Oh, you didn’t know Daniel was deaf? That’s okay, neither did I until he said “I can hear!” He had a weird headset meant to be his “ears” but I just though it was some cyberpunk bullshit.) He can talk to the glowing orb and learns that its name is “Bodhi.” Daniel carries this omnipotent glowing ball home, jams it in a footlocker, and goes to slavery class.

Somewhere else, the evil militaristic figure, Strictor Grock (not a joke, the character’s actual name), verbally abuses Charles Durning’s Warden, who already looks embarrassed to be seen in this movie. Durning assures Corporal Dick Dastardly that The Solarbabies (UGH) will be punished for breaking curfew and leaving the prison/school. He sentences them to dig deep trenches whilst The Scorpions’ leader Gaviel (who by the way looks like this:)

Gaviel

decides that this would be the perfect time to hit on her. So he hops down in the pit and sings her the song of his people (his people being the 80s slimeball) which fails to impress her. He grins rape-ishly and hops out. Some unimportant stuff happens, our dumbass heroes argue about whether rain exists and Bodhi makes it rain inside their little locker room area. Some more unimportant shit happens and then they play Skateball with Bodhi which the fine folks at “Worst Movie Scenes of All Time” have cataloged for your dubious viewing enjoyment.

Just in case that got taken down since I wrote this or it’s not working, the scene involves our heroes acting like idiots and knocking Ghost Writer’s lame older brother around with Skateball sticks, only for it to go Rabbit who fucking beatboxes and spins it on his finger like a basketball. If you can watch the whole thing without cringing then you’re a far better person than I.

Here’s a gif, which is moderately more tolerable.

God, WHY?!

Now, I haven’t brought up Adrian Pasdar’s character Darstar yet because I was focusing on more important stuff but, oh my God, fucking Darstar. Look at this guy!

Darstar

Adrian Pasdar would’ve been about 20 when this movie came out but he looks like a rugged thirty-five year old there. That jawline could bring a woman to orgasm if she stared at it for too long. In the opening scene he skates off a scaffolding onto a construction crane and then a fucking owl swoops down and lands on his arm. In a later scene he summons crows by drawing a weird mark on the ground. How is Darstar not the hero of this movie when he is clearly the most badass human being in existence?

So Darstar steals Bodhi and wanders out into the desert to join his people: a group of native American/Gypsy looking people called the Tchigani. He doesn’t know he is one because every kid at the orphanage is taken as a baby and not told about their past but, according Sergent Lasernips McNasty it’s “in his blood.” Darstar finds his people, proving racism right, and they are being lead by Terrence Mann. He finds out that the boy is carrying the savior of the entire human race so naturally he decides to sell it to The Protectorate (presumably for a handful of beads and some fire water). So dune buggies crash through tents and Gaviel shoots down Darstar’s owl because he’s a fucking dick.

The Solarbabies escape the orphanage and go on the road, once again outrunning dune buggies and this time jumping a 30 foot gorge on roller-skates because they’re skilled, determined, and the script says that they’re the good guys. They arrive at the destroyed Tchigani camp and bury Darstar’s owl (neglecting all the human corpses that are surely littering the landscape). With nothing really left to do, they wander further into the desert to Tiretown.

Tiretown is one of the few interesting ideas in this movie. Its infrastructure is entirely tire based: they use them for building materials, fuel, they melt old ones down to use for various things. It’s an interesting set design but doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than a cool place to crash dune buggies through when Lieutenant Prick Stankovich and Gavial the Boy Mullet Wonder arrive to get Bodhi.

All the heroes except Terra escape, only to be caught by some bounty hunters that are thwarted when Terra shows up dressed like a be-skated Saracen with an army at her back. Turns out her father is an Eco-Warrior who has fought The Protectorate for years and he’s been quietly biding his time in the desert and letting his army grow. Terra tells them that Captain Felch Needledick has Bodhi, but it’s cool because her dad has a lot of water and everything will be just fine now. Jason disagrees, because he’s the hero, and says they have to go get Bodhi back, that’s fine though because they have an army of Eco-Warriors to help! Nah, just kidding, they go into Major RC Hole’s doom fortress to fight off an army of E-police, our two principle villains, and a giant evil robot armed with nothing more than spirit, pluck, and the knowledge that the script says they win.

Terra

There’s another cool idea at play in Grock’s doom fortress, he has a torture machine that exposes the victim to their greatest fear. Terrence Mann is afraid of being eaten by ants, Gavial is afraid of his flesh falling off his bones. It’s pretty intense for a kid’s movie, but then they start doing nonsense with gravitation fields and a giant Nazi surgeon robot that’s trying to kill Bodhi and I lose interest again.

The Solarbabies (UGH!) arrive and save the day in a dumb fashion. Corporal Jackass C. Fuckwad has his arm squeezed super hard by the robot, making him dead. Gavial looks really scared and straight up disappears from the movie, the evil doctor lady who was using the robot gets her hands set on fire and the day is saved. Hooray!

The plot has points that could be interesting but it’s poorly written, the characters are goofy, the lines are goofy, this is a stupid movie. It wants to be a a movie about oppression and fighting for freedom, it wants to be a movie about the environment, it wants to be a movie that kids can enjoy, it wants to be a movie about rollerskating. Solarbabies is comically inept at all of those things but you can’t glean enjoyment from it because it’s just so uncomfortably embarrassing to even watch by yourself, let alone with others.

The DNA of this film is good and there are a lot of talented actors involved (sorry Claude Brooks, you are not one of them) but none of them get to use that talent. Charles Durning sounds tired and bored, Richard Jordan rivals Jeremey Irons’ performance in Dungeons and Dragons, Jason Patric is asked to give a long nonsensical monologue to a giant pink ball, Peter DeLuise gets sidelined because he looks too much like Jason Patric and the makers of the movie obviously realized this and gave him very little screen time, Adrian Pasdar mostly just stares at things and looks chinny.

And then there’s the costuming! The Solarbabies are dressed in cut-off shorts, t-shirts, and knee socks. Darstar looks like a bad cosplay of Nightwolf from Mortal Kombat. Grock appears to be wearing an old-timey pilot’s outfit made out of treaded powder-blue floor mats. And lets just say I am now way too familiar with what Terrence Mann’s thighs look like.

Solarbabies is a mess from top to bottom and all the soon-to-be famous people just make that much more depressing. It’s not even “so-bad-it’s-good” entertainment unless you have a high tolerance for cringe-worthy stuff. I don’t get why anyone would like this movie under any circumstances so feel free to swear at me about it in the comments.

Canyon

THE SHILL
Should you embark on the fool’s errand of tracking this movie down it can be had on DVD or Instant from Amazon.

NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
“This is Angry Bob, the man with the industrial dick, coming to you loud and clear on W.A.R. Radio with the good news and the bad news. Bad news is the heatwave’s not going to let up. It’s expected to hit ninety downtown before nightfall, although weather control keeps promising that rain is on the way. The foul up on the launch pad at terminal eight doesn’t look like it’s gonna clear for another half hour and holiday air traffic is still stacking up over the CBD and all outlying districts. But traffic control promises that if you all keep cool they’ll get you home in time for Christmas. As for the good news – There is no fucking good news! So let’s just play some music! ”