America 3000 (1986) (92 minutes)
Directed by David Engelbach.
Written by David Engelbach.
Starring Chuck Wagner, Laurene Landon and William Wallace.
Let me just preface this article with the acknowledgement that I loved this movie way out of proportion to what it probably deserves. If you’ve seen it or do so in the near future, it’s a tossup as to whether or not you’ll feel the same way about it that I do. You might gag and roll around on the floor foaming at the mouth miming, “My eyes, my eyes!” But seriously, have you seen it yet?
Another movie that’s so good at being bad that it surpasses all expectations, America 3000 is the work of writer-director David Engelbach. You’ll join me if that name doesn’t ring a bell, as this movie was his single directorial credit. Which is a downright dirty shame; somebody should have written him a check and let him do the sequel. Still, don’t cry for Mr. Engelbach because his credits as a writer include Over The Top and Death Wish II.
Released in 1986, America 3000 stars Chuck Wagner. A soap opera star from the early 80s, Wagner is picture perfect as Korvis, the escaped slave with an unexplained higher IQ than seemingly everyone around him. Interestingly, another of Wagner’s credits was as Automan, the 80s science fiction television series. He also apparently won some money on the game show Password Plus and has been the ringmaster for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus for many years. But like Engelbach, his resume is surprisingly short.
Surely one of, if not the, more experienced actors in America 3000 is Laurene Landon, who will be very familiar to Attack from Planet B fanatics. Her filmography includes such notables as Maniac Cop, Full Moon High, Hundra, The Stuff, Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold, Airplane II and Samurai Cop II, among many others. A movie with her in it titled Future Punks is due to be released soon; that title intrigues me, but I have no idea what it’s about or if it even has any potential. We shall see. In America 3000, Landon’s acting can only be described as wooden. But, then again, how easy is it to deliver the line, “Wow! I…I’ve never scanned anything like this before.” I must admit that while watching America 3000, I was fascinated by her facial features. In combination with the outrageously 80s hairdo (maybe it’s a wig or extensions?), it’s nearly impossible for the eye to not be drawn to her. Not to be mean, but she just doesn’t look real, her face is not the sort of shape you’d find just walking down the street (unless you’re in Hollywood, of course). Check it out for yourself and see if you don’t agree with me.
The movie opens to the dulcet tones of…chimes…soothing synth waves…the cracking of a whip…the neigh of horses…and then the 80s rock and roll explodes! It’s glorious, I tell you, just massive. Soundtrack wise, this is classic 80s hair metal in all its glam-orific glory. It’s utterly heartbreaking that it’s not easily available. Somebody somewhere surely has it but good luck tracking down a copy of it, if it even exists. This is one that I’ll definitely keep an eye and ear open for. I’d be willing to pay good money for it, say ten bucks? That would be $21 [or approximately £14.50] in today’s money…still worth it. Producer Tony Berg created this period masterpiece; you know his work (intimately, I’m sure) as a soft-rock guitarist with Debby Boone and Air Supply. He later moved to the production side and worked with musicians like Bruce Hornsby, Squeeze, Aimee Mann, Edie Brickell and John Lydon’s PIL. The music for America 3000 sounds like Berg is exorcising his soft-rock roots with a vengeance, 80s style.
There’s not a lot to tell you about the premise of this movie, which cost $2 million to make. Or rather, I don’t think it’s a great idea to review all of the details because this is the sort of movie that’s so much fun discovering for yourself. Giving a detailed breakdown of the characters and the plot would result in spoilers. But if you need more information to decide if you should check it out or not (don’t you trust me yet?), here are some basic points. It’s the post-apocalyptic world where everything is dry (it was filmed in Israel, which is stunning); check. Out of control smoke machines (outside!); you got it. The inhabitants wearing costumes that are more Conan/Xena than Mad Max; you betcha. Dialogue that’s not only humorously painful to listen to but equally difficult for the actors to deliver with a straight face; present and accounted for. Plot wherein the world is ruled by warrior women and a majority of the men are not much more than cavemen…that’s a little more complicated and you’ll have to watch it to see how that’s explained. We’ve also run out of fuel and there are no more mechanized means of transportation, nor the ability to product energy of any sort. Guns are gone, replaced by tiny hand-held crossbows and spears…again, unexplained and inexplicable. Also, the past has now taken on mythical status, which makes perfect sense. I find myself making those connects these days, as I find more and more gray hairs on top of my head. But that’s a whole other discussion, now isn’t it.
By the way, did you know that American box office revenues were $3.78 billion dollars in 1986? In 2015 that number rose to $11.13 billion. It’s hard to imagine that it’s just the higher price of tickets and more population that caused profits to nearly triple, with the closing of many local theaters and generally lower attendance numbers.
Back to America 3000; who is this movie NOT for? If you love lots of gore, forget it. If you like any movie that flaunts a big budget, skip it. There’s practically no nudity, that bastion of the B-movie. Why, you may ask? Who knows! If you like complexity built into scripts that tickle your inner hipster, move on. For the rest of us weirdos, this is a MUST SEE.
America 3000 will change your life. It can make short people taller and taller folks shorter. It will cause money to magically appear in your bank account and every restaurant bill vanishes. Well maybe it can’t do those things, but it sure is entertaining! “Hot scan what I say!” and pop this VHS tape into the machine today.