Sunday, April 3, 2016

HANDS OF STEEL (1986)

Rated R
Running time: 94 min.

I'm not sure which title I like better: Hands of Steel or Atomic Cyborg. On one side of the coin, you have hands made of steel, which is pretty cool. On the other side, you have a cyborg who is atomic, which is pretty badass. Of course, I may also be oversimplifying the body of work by dumbing down the film due to it's titles. The movie goes by both names, and each is a reference to the main character, who has the distinction of being named Paco Queruak. Director Sergio Martino (aka Martin Dolman) and about five other screenwriters came up with that name. Nice job; it's unique to say the least. 

Paco is an assassin sent to kill a revolutionary/scientist named Arthur Mosely (played by Franco Fantasia). However, he fails to kill the man, either by choice or just by being a horrible assassin. Later on, we find out it was by choice, so our assassin has a heart after all. When the evil industrialist he works for, Francis Turner (played by the great John Saxon), learns of his failure, he wants to know where things went wrong, because all of his computer printouts indicate that Paco was infallible. Turner wants Paco back, so he sends his goons to find him.

Meanwhile, Paco knows he has failed and immediately decides it is for the best that he skip town. Not only is he not cut out for a job in the hired killer market, but his shortcuts out of town are also questionable:


Paco heads to Arizona, as the bad guys working for Turner go through his computer profile and see that was where he originated from. Along the way, Paco ditches his car for a much older Ford station wagon, which eventually breaks down and pushed off a cliff. Paco finds a diner/motel called the Champions Oasis, which is operated by a woman named Linda (Janet Agren, Night of the Sharks). Paco asks to be put up so he can lay low, but Linda decides to put him to work, which he is quite impressive at. The movie finds a subplot here, as the Champions Oasis is a place where truckers come to perform feats of strength in arm wrestling competitions. Paco runs afoul of Raul Morales (George Eastman, Warriors of the Wasteland), who questions Paco's manhood. Paco goes on to humiliate and defeat Raul in an arm wrestling match, as the film takes a turn into Over the Top territory. 

Meanwhile, Turner's goons have caught up to Paco, and they find out where he's been hiding. Claudio Cassinelli (The Mountain of the Cannibal God) plays Peter Howell, a hired gun who has been charged with finding Paco. A sad behind-the-scenes story of this film is that Cassinelli was killed in a helicopter crash during filming, making this his last endeavor. While waiting for the inevitable fallout from being found, we find Paco being challenged by the Tri-State arm wrestling champ, Anatola Blanco (Darwin Swalve, Police Academy 6: City Under Siege). However, they decide to do it "Indian style", which involves snakes. Paco beats Blanco, but saves him from the snake, which is important later on. 

At this point, Paco reveals to us and to Linda that he is a cyborg, as we get a scene similar to The Terminator, where Paco is assessing the damage sustained to one of his arms, after a set-up by Raul and his gang in the desert. In fact, Raul has helped the bad guys locate Paco, as he is upset at being humiliated. Turner has brought in a female cyborg killer to come after Paco, which leads to a fight scene between Paco and the robotic killer known as Susie. From here, the film turns into a slam-bang action chase thriller, as the bad guys try to hunt him down while Paco tries to save himself and Linda from harm. 

This was really two films in one, with the first two-thirds dedicated to Paco being on the lam and establishing his inner battle between his inner human instinct and his physical cyborg-ness and the various bad guys and authorities who are interested in finding him, coupled with Paco's brief career as an arm wrestling champion. The final third of the film is where most of the action takes place, with the shootouts and chases and explosions. I felt that the film was paced very well from this aspect. The acting was sub-par, but you're watching an Italian b-movie called Hands of Steel, which is about a cyborg assassin with a heart of gold who dabbles in arm wrestling, so what are you expecting, Amadeus? The action scenes were very well done and easy to follow; the unexpected appearance of a bridge set piece was thrilling to see. This movie was made to entertain, and despite it's obvious budgetary limitations, it did the trick.

Hands of Steel was a silly, fun joyride of machismo and mayhem and I highly recommend it.

Score: 4/5




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