1990: The Bronx Warriors/1990: I Guerrieri del Bronx (1982/1984) -***
I tell you, there is nothing quite like watching a post-apocalyptic movie whose apocalypse is a decade late. There’s a proud tradition in low-grade science fiction, which sometimes rears its head in more respectable circles, too, of slapping a far-flung date on your movie or book or TV show, I guess to give it that extra ring of authenticity. But think about this for a moment. Most of the time, this means setting the story far enough in the future that one might reasonably hope said book, movie, or TV show will be safely forgotten by the time that date rolls around, or even better, that you the author will be too dead to be embarrassed by your predictions. Remember all those movies that were made in the 50’s and set in the 80’s or 90’s? What about 2001: A Space Odyssey, written in the 60’s, or “Star Trek”-- also of 60’s vintage-- set some time in the 2200’s? Or that God-awful turn-of-the-80’s version of “Buck Rogers” set all the way in the 2400’s? Alright then-- so against that background, consider 1990: I Guerrieri del Bronx, set a mere eight years after it was made! And by the time the movie had secured American distribution, becoming 1990: The Bronx Warriors, the deadline was only six years off. Now, admittedly, Reagan was in the White House, and Andropov was General Secretary, but did the people who made this really think that 1990 wasn’t going to get here and make their movie look ludicrously anachronistic instead of simply ludicrous? Talk about bad planning, man! Even the folks responsible for 2020 Texas Gladiators showed more foresight.
This one’s Italian, and you know what that means. The opening scene says it all. A pretty blonde girl (Stefania Girolami, from Great White and The New Barbarians) runs across a New York bridge that I should probably know the name of. It’s the dead of night, and nobody at all is on the street. On the other side of the bridge, she is attacked by a gang of street hockey players! I’m not even exaggerating. These guys are on roller skates, dressed in fiberglass safety gear, and are wielding hockey sticks as weapons. They chase the girl into a dead end and surround her, but then they are themselves surrounded by a much tougher-looking gang who at least have the self-respect to ride motorcycles. The Riders (for that is what the hockey players conveniently tell us they are called) proceed to kick the asses of these rejects from The Warriors (shit, the Baseball Furies would have eaten these guys for breakfast, too), and rescue the aforementioned blonde for no readily apparent reason.
But let’s back up a bit. Between the opening credits and the scene I have just described to you, there is a title card, which tells us that “In 1990, the Bronx was declared a high-risk district,” which means that the authorities have washed their hands of it, and have given up even pretending to enforce the law there. The result is that “The Bronx now belongs to the Riders.” This should be sounding a bit familiar, putting you in mind of a certain John Carpenter movie in which Kurt Russell had to rescue Donald Pleasance from a guy who called himself “the Duke of New York.” If it isn’t reminding you of that movie, maybe the fact that 1990: The Bronx Warriors spawned a sequel called Escape from the Bronx will. If that doesn’t help, then you must not have seen that John Carpenter movie. Forget about watching 1990: The Bronx Warriors right now, and go see Escape from New York instead. Come back when you’ve finished.
As it happens, these Rider guys have bigger problems than some bunch of cheesedicks on roller skates. In particular, there’s another gang, called the Tigers, which consists of a core group of black pimps who seem to have gotten frozen in time somewhere around 1971, and their honky retainers who drive them around the city and have names like “Leech”. You can tell immediately that the Tigers are tougher than the Riders, because the Tigers get chauffeured around in swank 30’s hotrods while the Riders just have run-down Japanese motorbikes. Not only that, but the leader of the Riders is called “Trash” (Mark Gregory, from Thunder Warrior and Adam and Eve vs. the Cannibals), while the leader of the Tigers is called “the Ogre” (Fred Williamson, who’s been in just about every movie ever made-- maybe you’ll remember him as the black biker in From Dusk Till Dawn, but believe it or not, he was in M*A*S*H*, too). And not only that, but the Tigers all have matching gold rings that look like a tiger’s-head door knocker. The Riders don’t even have a secret handshake.
It seems that the Tigers killed one of the Riders because he was carrying a “gizmo,” which, from the sound of it, is some sort of homing device used by the Manhattan police force-- like a higher-tech version of wearing a wire. Trash and the Ogre argue for a while over which gang is spying for the cops (wait-- didn’t they “give up on enforcing the law”?), and then the Tigers all drive home. I should probably mention that this scene occurs in an abandoned lot by the side of the river, and that some random guy just sits there playing his drum set the entire time, not 50 feet from two hostile street gangs and a dead body. The Italians, man... the Italians. Anyway, it is gradually revealed that Ann, the girl whom the Riders rescued, is the heiress to the presidency of the Manhattan Corporation, which “controls 60% of the world’s arms production.” She’s about to turn 18, at which time the presidency would officially devolve to her, but she’s a pacifist or something, and would rather live in the Bronx with a bunch of piratical thugs who look like they failed an audition to be in Ratt or the Scorpions than take her place at the head of the company. Again, the Italians... The reason the authorities are paying attention to the Bronx again is that the Manhattan Corporation’s board of directors wants Ann back. (Why? Wouldn’t that just deprive them of most of their power? All throughout history, regents have done everything within their means to prevent the monarchs in whose name they theoretically ruled from gaining the throne. You’d think that the board would be happy to use Ann’s defection as an excuse to install one of their own in the presidency.) To that end, they have somehow induced the police to commission this sleazy thug from the Bronx, a guy named Hammer (the late Vic Morrow, of Message from Space and Humanoids from the Deep), and to give him basically free reign to do whatever he sees fit to bring Ann back across the river. Most of the middle part of the movie concerns Hammer engineering an elaborate series of double-crosses and false suspicions among the various gangs of the Bronx. His best shot is to turn Ice (Gianni Loffredo, from Hitch-Hike and Lady Frankenstein), Trash’s right-hand man, against his leader in the hope of gaining power over the whole of the Bronx once the Tigers are destroyed by another element of Hammer’s plan. (Again, wait a minute-- doesn’t “the Bronx [belong] to the Riders”? And isn’t Ice the number-two Rider? So why does he need to get rid of both Trash and the Ogre? Because the Ogre is the King of the Bronx, of course. But then, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the Bronx belongs to the Tigers? Stop thinking about this right now. It’s bad for you.)
There are two snags, though. Number one, Trash and the Ogre both know that somebody is playing dirty in the Bronx, and Trash knows it’s because of Ann. Number two, Ann has been abducted by those hockey hooligans (who we now learn are called the Zombies), so Hammer’s plan isn’t going to work very well unless Ice can get her back while Hammer gets Trash and the Ogre to kill each other. The final half-hour or so of the movie swings madly between ripping off The Warriors and ripping off half of the kung fu movies ever made, and then Hammer arrives at the head of a battalion of flamethrower-armed cops on horseback (wait a minute-- aren’t horses famously terrified of fire?) to lay siege to the Tigers’ headquarters. See if you can spot why he fails in his mission long before he himself is killed, and then see if you can figure out why this doesn’t strike anyone in the movie as being the slightest bit important.
You probably need to develop a taste for bottom-of-the-barrel We Have Seen the Future and It Sucks movies before you’ll be able to appreciate 1990: The Bronx Warriors fully. Its pacing is very uneven, and less devoted fans of the genre may well get bored enough to turn it the hell off during one of the longer dull parts. (This may not really be director Enzo Castellari’s fault; I’ve heard that the original Italian version has eight more minutes of action and graphic violence, and that the cuts in the American version entirely eliminate a whole aspect of the story involving a fourth gang. If that much is missing, it could easily affect the flow of the movie.) Try to stick with it, though, if for no other reason than to witness the funeral rites of the Riders, and to see the Ogre’s girlfriend, Witch (Betty Dessy), dressed in a leather dominatrix outfit, fighting off those flamethrower-packing equestrian riot cops with a bullwhip. That is worth 91 minutes of your time, I promise.