Back in the day, it seemed like New York was really going to the dogs, and a few made movies all about how in the future, it'd become a dystopian no-man's-land. Seems kinda quaint nowadays to imagine that nowadays, but it helps that these were usually really good watches! Today I'll be looking at one such movie-Enzo Castellari's 1990: The Bronx Warriors...
The year is 1990, and The Bronx has become such a crime-ridden hellhole that the authorities cordoned the suburb off, leaving the gangs inside to roam free, plundering and killing each-other as they please. In the more affluent New York, young heiress Anne runs away from her home and into the Bronx, almost being captured by a gang of malicious hockey-skaters until she's saved By Trash and the Riders, who take her in. Anne and Trash get to know each-other as time goes by, but her disappearance has not gone unnoticed, and her father (head of the corrupt Manhattan Corporation) desperately wants to get her back, sending in the malicious and nasty operative Hammer, who may well leave The Bronx a charred wasteland when he's through...
1990: The Bronx Warriors is never boring, and thoroughly entertains. The look of the film can be cheap at times, but I don't think that's much of a drawback, as this is meant to take place in a run-down city populated by gangsters with too much time and make-up on their hands, improvising a lot of things. Regarding its roots, Bronx Warriors is definitely inspired by the likes of Escape from New York and The Warriors for its setting, but its plot actually makes an effort to be different from that of those other two movies.
Castellari's direction (as well as the cinematography by Sergio Salvati) is really good, with many scenes that are shot and framed interestingly, such as the gang funeral. Only half of the movie was actually shot in New York, but that's enough. If there was only half a minute's worth of establishing shots and nothing else, this would be unconvincing, but when at least half the movie is out in the streets of the Bronx, while every other scene is in buildings/sewers, where it'd make sense not to be seeing NY landmarks everywhere, then the movie's succeeded at doing its job.
The dialogue is often cheesy, with some lines sounding unintentionally hilarious, thanks to an Italian crew translating their script for the English actors they had. Not technically incorrect, but still amusing to native English speakers.
For a sleazy romp that's mostly action, the backstory behind 1990: The Bronx Warriors, as well as the world everyone inhabits is quite interesting! We're told just enough to make it intriguing, but not enough to over-explain things. There are some spots though where I wish there would've been a bit more depth and exploration, such as Anne.
I'm a little sketchy on why Anne decided to leave her old life in NY. She stood in line to inherit everything. Complete control of not only New York, but of nearly the entire world's arms trade. With the power of dystopian megacorporations fully in the hand of someone who isn't an asshole, she could've just stayed, maybe pretended to be a nefarious businesswoman at first, but enacted sweeping changes. There's a brief explanation in one scene that she didn't want to just be a puppet, which fair enough, but she also says without her the corporation is powerless, which...errr, doesn't quite make sense. They'd just replace her with someone actually on their side, I imagine, making everything worse.
The remaining characters are distinctive. Trash is a decent protagonist, with a great look to him. Witch and Ogre are honourable rulers trying to keep the Bronx as safe and stable as can be, while Hammer is just the opposite. Sadistic, nihilistic, and intent on making everyone in the Bronx remember his name (provided they live long enough), he's a greatly intimidating villain. Not sure why he randomly goes crazy in the end though.
Now we come to the lowest point of Bronx Warriors in my opinion-The ending! It's a miserable piece of work, as downbeat as you can imagine. There are two reasons why I dislike it so much. The first is that it's unnecessarily depressing, and secondly I feel it's a disappointing alternative to where the story was heading. We were going to get Trash, Ogre, Witch, and all their warriors to fight back against Hammer's machinations, possibly even against the Manhattan Corporation itself, but instead they just all suddenly get butchered while eating cake, Trash kills the now-insane-for-no-reason Hammer, then rides off, the movie just abruptly ending at that point. Jeez, The New Barbarians had a lighter conclusion than this, and that movie was literally set in the apocalyptic wasteland after the bombs dropped and wiped out nearly all humankind!
The acting/dubbing varies from good, to over-the-top, to just plain bad. Marco di Gregorio (credited as Mark Gregory) is stoic as Trash, but I'm pretty sure he nails softer emotion too in some good scenes, and he absolutely looks the part! He was only around 16 in this film, but you wouldn't know it it look at him! One thing of note is how amusingly loquacious Trash is given his exaggerated New Yorkah accent.
Vic Morrow makes for a really good antagonist. Unfortunately we don't get to hear him speak in the English version, as he's dubbed over by someone else (Bud Spencer's common dub actor, I think?). Given Morrow is American, I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps the guy could speak Italian and did that in the original language cut, and didn't have time time to do his own dubbing, given his tragic passing?
Fred Williamson is great fun as Ogre! Out of the first 50 minutes, he's only in a scant few, in the beginning. From that point on though, he's a main player in the story. Elisabetta Dessy is neat as the badass and stylish Witch, but doesn't get used a whole lot. Stefania Girolami is a bit milquetoast as Anne, but she doesn't really get much to do, so it's not really her fault. John Loffredo is good as the secondary villain if a bit on the nose at times, while Christopher Connelly is a bit wasted. witch?
There are quite a few familiar faces of 'Italosploitation' cinema present, such as Enio Girolami, Massimo Vanni, the incomparable George Eastman. I suppose I should probably find it concerning that I can't name any big-name A-list Italian performers of the 20th century, but oh well.
The rock/synthesiser soundtrack is quite good, with a great main theme, scored by Walter Rizzati (originally I got producer Fabrizio de Angelies confused with Maurizio de Angelis of Oliver Onions fame, and thought he was doing the score). It really gets you into the mood! The accompanying opening credits are neat too. Silly make-up for sure, but I like how it shows off a lot of the gang designs and weapons we see in the film with the music overlaid.
1990: The Bronx Warriors isn't a perfect film, but it's still got many great qualities, and I highly recommend it! It's a fabulous showcase for Enzo Castellari's skills, as well as his cheesier side, and is sure to entertain, even if it'll leave you needing a pick-me-up by the end...