Gunhed (1989) Movie Review

Whenever you see the credit “directed by Allan Smithee”, you know you won’t be experiencing life to the fullest for the next hour or so. Like the names Titanic, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl, Alan Smithee has come to be associated with a cataclysmic disaster. In the case of “Gunhed”, the trend continues.

Set in the year 2038, “Gunhed” introduces us to the supercomputer Kryon 5, which apparently suffered some sort of malfunction, resulting in the artificial intelligence declaring war on humanity. After a pitched battle with no discernable victor, Kryon 5 is confined to a secluded island. There, a band of scavengers arrive hoping to salvage valuable computer parts, and all but one is killed by the island’s defenses. The lone survivor must team up with a Texas Air Ranger, and together they discover that Kryon 5 is trying to obtain Texmexium, a powerful energy source that the computer plans to use as a tool for world domination.

The main problem with “Gunhed” is the script by Masato Haruda and James Bannon, which is highly derivative of “Terminator 2”. Except that “Terminator 2” was an expertly executed thrill ride, and “Gunhed” is the polar opposite. Mainly, “Gunhed” is a long stretch of monotony occasionally interrupted by an action sequence.

The screenwriters also show an unhealthy fondness for the letter “B”, as many of the characters have first names that start with the letter. There’s plenty more letters in the alphabet, guys, feel free to use them. And why did they name the fuel “Texmexium” anyway? It sounds like an energy source made by Taco Bell. Not that the dialogue will have anyone doing cartwheels either; mostly it’s just bad.

“Gunhed” originated as a rejected pitch for the 17th Godzilla film, so now we know where unused Godzilla plots go to die. Under the direction of Haruda, hiding behind the pseudonym Allan Smithee, “Gunhed” plods along like a snail on Valium. There are occasional bursts of action, but mostly the film looks murky and dull. A bigger problem is that it looks like the whole film was lensed inside a giant factory, and to save money the director had the cast run through the same places over and over again, hoping the audience wouldn’t catch on. A very talented director could pull off this bit of subterfuge, but Haruda doesn’t have that kind of talent in him.

Fortunately there are a few silver linings in this cloud. Brenda Bakke is good as the Texas Air Ranger, but she’s woefully underused. She looks tough and is great in a fight, but “Gunhed” gives her little else to do. Mashahiro Takashima is also good as Brooklyn, the lone surviving scavenger. He’s got the confidence of a leading man and handles his action scenes well. It’s too bad he’s not in a better film to showcase his talents. The special effects by Koichi Kawakita, veteran of the Godzilla series, are terrific. The robots are realistic looking and fun to watch, but even they can’t save this movie.

“Gunhed” may have been a good idea on paper, but on celluloid it’s a mess. It’s boring, unoriginal, and visually depressing. Godzilla fans should say a silent prayer of thanks that the producers of their favorite monster series were wise enough to pass this concept by.

Alan Smithee (director)
CAST: Masahiro Takashima …. Brooklyn
Brenda Bakke …. Sgt. Nim

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