Being basically a western with a post-apocalyptic setting, Neon City stands out as a somewhat original Mad Max ripoff. I didn’t know it at the time, but the script for this movie was written with that in mind. Ann Lewis Hamilton wanted to update John Ford’s classic from 1939 Stagecoach with a lead female protagonist and a different setting. Producers okayed the script but changed the lead by casting Michael Ironside whom you might remember from Scanners, Top Gun and Highlander II. The characters are stereotypical and the story is a familiar one. However, I still remember this movie.
I first saw it towards the end of the nineties and ever since then I had this memory of a cool post-apocalyptic movie with a bus driving through the wasteland. The only other thing I knew about it was the lead role so it was fairly easy to find. At that time I craved science fiction movies, especially ones where there has been an apocalypse. Neon City offered all this plus doubled as a driving movie. Watching it some twenty years later (geez am I old or what), I have to say it’s still pretty watchable. However, if you’re not really into this subgenre, it might be a bit boring. To remedy that, I have prepared a couple of interesting observations but first, we feast. I mean, here’s a short synopsis.
It is the year of our lord Satan 2053 and Earth has become a dreadful place. The wasteland is full of mutated bands of misfits hellbent on killing and robbing anyone they see. And the environment is also deadly with toxic dangers. From poisonous gasses to blinding flashes, it’s like the Earth is trying to get rid of all living things. Here, we find Harry M. Stark, a bounty hunter on a trail of a dangerous criminal that goes by the name of Reno. He captures her relatively easily and all Harry has to do now is get to the Neon City to collect his bounty. As it happens, an armored bus is about to start a treacherous journey to that very destination…
I can’t remember when I have written a more inspiring synopsis for a movie than this one. This is the effect that eighties and nineties post-apocalyptic movies have on me and Neon City is sure as shit one of them. I would first like to talk to you about the cast. This is a low-budget Canadian movie with one hell of a cast. I mean, Ironside was just a year prior with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone in Total Recall, well before he started acting in every movie they offered him. This is one of the few roles where he played a good guy for a change.
Next up we have beautiful Vanity, model, singer, dancer, and a dangerously fun actress. She dated Billy Idol, Prince, Nikki Sixx (check out The Dirt) and enjoyed life to the max, struggling with drug addiction. Playing Bulk in Neon City was the last acting role for former NFL defensive linesman Lyle Alzado. He died just five months after the release of the movie following a battle with a brain tumor. Alzado claims that his anabolic steroid abuse led to the illness, something that was later disproven. Either way, it’s sad to see such a naturally talented actor go so soon.
Neon City features a fully fleshed out world that really helps with the immersion. Visually, it reminds me of Screamers on a budget. The script was relatively good although I really didn’t like the comic relief guy who was incredibly irritating. The rest of the characters were well developed albeit too familiar. I mean, any movie with a line: “Fuck you and the law” is a good one. The atmosphere is positive and exciting with an adventurous vibe to it. It reminded me of a seventies movie Damnation Alley with the whole journey across the wasteland aspect. That Landmaster vehicle looked fucking awesome.
Since they’re driving an armored bus, I expected more chases and fights. But I guess they tried to avoid Mad Max vibes too much. The pacing is rather slow and it feels like they were going for that big-budget movie vibe. I mean, you can imagine how all the scenes would look like if they had more money, time and other stuff.
I hope I enticed you to check out this nineties oddity and if you’re looking for movies similar to Neon City check out Mindwarp, Cherry 2000, Hell Comes to Frogtown and of course, the best one of them all Mad Max: Fury Road. Oddly enough it features an armored bus with a trailer behind that also gets detached eventually. But, I suppose that’s obligatory with this setup.
Director: Monte Markham
Writers: Buck Finch, Jeff Begun, Monte Markham
Cast: Michael Ironside, Vanity, Lyle Alzado, Valerie Wildman, Juliet Landau, Arsenio ‘Sonny’ Trinidad, Richard Sanders, Monte Markham