Looking for Mr. Goodwrench? "The Road Warrior" is not for you. Even the best guys are bad guys in this hell-on-wheels sequel to "Mad Max," progenitor of the Australian combustion epic, a non-stop demolition derby set in a post-apocalyptic junkyard.
"Max" and "The Warrior," both starring Mel Gibson as their reluctant, loner lead, are structured like samurai movies or all- American cowboy classics. They're really universal myths, says director George Miller, citing Carl Jung to back up his assertion. Max, however, is less like Odysseus than Lee Iacocca as he tracks across the purplish macadam, pursued by savage nomads in dune buggies, checkered cabs, recreational vehicles and one pale pink convertible.
The plot, with Max as a motorized Moses, is little more than an excuse for playing bumper cars for keeps. There are more than 200 high-speed stunts in the film -- head-ons, rollovers, a gyrocopter crash, cannonballs and cartwheels. And that's not including the road-tanker roll or the 65-foot cycle jump. Naturally, there's more action than acting.
Most of the script is spent by the end of the prologue, narrated over film clips of World War I tanks and the Kaiser's troops storming Belgium. There was an oil crisis, followed by cannibalism, it says. "On the roads, it was a white-line nightmare...only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage, would survive."
Max, once a highway patrolman, is a sullen survivor with a brace on his leg, a fuel- injected Interceptor V-8 and a dog with a bigger speaking part than his. Right off, they get into a chase scene, outrunning a gay couple on a souped-up chopper. The duo's dressed to kill in chains and arrows, with the rugged Wez -- played by injured rock star Vernon Wells -- in leather pants with see- through pockets.
Wardrobe -- vicious, delicious and punk -- is characterization in "Road Warrior." We recognize a good guy in Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), who wears fleshy pink ski underwear, goggles and a leather aviator's hat. His only weapon is a pet snake, coiled around the prop stalk of his quakey copter.
Max captures the Captain, who, in exchange for his life, takes him to an oil refinery. Gas is golden. Squad cars, their sirens wailing, circle the site like Indians around huddled prairie schooners. Dark smoke billows from car carcasses. The besieged fire crossbows at the invaders, as Max crashes through the mobile blockade. Visually, it's a scene to rival the excess of "Blade Runner."
Inside, Max meets the last of Outback's polite society, mostly WASPs wearing white, with Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey) in a sweatband and a football player's plastic chest guard. Their blond leader Pappagallo (Mike Preston) -- lamely sincere -- persuades Max to help move his people to the coast 2,000 miles away.
But The Humongous (Kjell Nilsson), "the ayatollah of rock 'n 'rolla," and his unholy hordes, bar the way. That is, until Mad Max drives a truck over their faces. Whew. It takes 13 minutes to rout these slime bags. That's the longest chase scene that stunt coordinator Max Aspin has ever masterminded. Buzz off, Burt Reynolds. It's tanker-topplin' time.
Max, half-blind and more crippled than ever, drives a big rig through a sea of cyclists to let his people go. Here you can't tell who's who, except when they're squashed to death close-up on a crankcase. After about five minutes, it turns into a crashing bore.
Clinging to the rig all this time is the film's best grunter: The eight-year-old Feral Kid (Emil Minty), bearing his bloody, well- used boomerang and emoting his little furry booties off. The kid's a weird treat; he's like a little bitty Mick Belker, the guttural cop on TV's "Hill Street Blues." But don't expect cute from this battle-weary wild child. He's a killer.
Like the Feral Kid, "The Road Warrior" is ferocious and unpredictable. It's energetic. It's peculiar. It's big and it's dirty. But mostly it's cosmically irrelevant. Hey, but, one thing's for sure, we are driven. THE ROAD WARRIOR -- At area theaters.