Sunday, 29 April 2018

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: NEON CITY


68. “Actually, I’ve been in Switzerland the past few years. It can’t be that bad.”



29/04/2018




In choosing a film at random, I have come upon “Neon City.” It stars Michael Ironside, and I appear to have chosen the better of the two films in which he starred in 1991: the other was “Highlander II: The Quickening.”

I didn’t know post-apocalyptic films were still being made in 1991, as “Neon City” feels like it was made five years before – that film was “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” as “Neon City” intends to use that type of setting, although to tell a different story. However, the story is that of “Stagecoach,” the 1939 John Ford film that Orson Welles famously watched forty times in preparation to direct “Citizen Kane.” The director of “Neon City,” Monte Markham, was an actor that also appeared in westerns like “Hour of the Gun” and “Guns of the Magnificent Seven,” but by 1991 was appearing as Captain Don Thorpe, the senior lifeguard in “Baywatch.”

The plot of “Neon City” involves a truck carrying a motley collection of passengers to the relative safe haven of, well, Neon City, but instead of the Apaches of “Stagecoach,” the eminent danger is acid rain, “Xander clouds,” and the mutated survivors of the apocalypse that took place, known as “skins.” The first act takes its time in immersing you in this setting, with life pretends to carry on as best it can, as an ex-cop, Harry Stark, kidnaps a woman he saves from mutant outlaws, with the aim of taking her to Neon City to collect a bounty – they are only riding the truck because Stark’s own is blown up.


The rest of the passengers feel like a carefully chosen cross-section of society – Stark’s ex-wife, a doctor, a clown, a former friend of Stark’s that he once arrested, a politician’s daughter, and an old man that keeps to himself. They all have their parts to play – the doctor uses his job to disguise that he is a serial murderer, a kind of prototype of the TV series “Dexter”; the clown is there seemingly to be murdered by the doctor; the ex-friend is given chances to redeem himself by protecting the others; the ex-wife reminds Stark of the son he could not protect; the politician’s daughter smooths things over with the police when they enter Neon City; and the old man needs to reach a laboratory to fix the climate, having caused all the problems in the first place. However, Stark’s bounty, Reno, played by Vanity (real name: Denise Matthews) just comes across as someone who, as a woman without status, is not to be trusted, and needs to be saved.

It didn’t need to be like this – Michael Ironside’s character was originally written as female, but was cast as male, so unless Stark’s later relationship with his bounty was to be a lesbian one, I don’t know, but I am guessing that this was from later rewriting on the script. The original script was by “Buck Finch,” an obvious pseudonym, used by writer Ann Lewis Hamilton to counter sexism she previously found in the film industry, before later working on “thirtysomething,” “Party of Five,” “One Tree Hill” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” TV shows that involve far less apocalypse, and far less neon.

“Neon City” is an OK film to watch if you are a fan of post-apocalyptic films as a genre, or if you happen to come across it as something to watch at random – otherwise, you may be better off watching “Mad Max” or “Stagecoach.”

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