"Hardware" is an MTV movie, a mad rush of hyperkinetic style and futuristic imagery with little concern for plot (much less substance). This makes sense because first-time writer-director Richard Stanley got his start making rock videos, but while he shows moments of inspiration -- usually in three- or four-minute bursts -- Stanley joins a short list of masters of the mini-medium seemingly unable to move into the big picture.
However, Stanley has entered the shock sweepstakes: 36 seconds of "Hardware" had to be excised to get its X rating reduced to an R. Gore aficionados may want to wait for the video version (when the cuts will probably be restored), because the carnage left behind -- both on- and off-screen -- is standard and nowhere near the gross-out level, or body count, of "Total Recall." In fact, a subtext involving a peeping pervert is far more offensive than the violence.
In a familiar post-apocalypse 21st century populated with grungy and depressed humans and high-tech computers and video screens, radiation has made life miserable. Sex is still dangerous, though condoms have been replaced by Geiger counters. The drugs seem to remain the same. It's always 110 degrees in the shade. Little wonder that Jill (Stacey Travis) pulls a Rapunzel, never venturing out of her well-secured apartment.
A desert scavenger uncovers parts of an android, the Mark 13, and sells them to Mo (Dylan McDermott), a fellow scavenger looking for a Christmas present for girlfriend Jill, who obsessively molds metal scraps and found objects into profound artistic statements. She uses the Mark 13 head as a centerpiece, painting it with a stars-and-stripes motif. Unfortunately, while Jill sleeps and Mo wanders, old Mark 13 gets up to no good, rebuilding itself out of the debris in Jill's apartment and feeding off energy sources that don't seem affected by a crumbling social system.
Oh yes, Mark 13 turns out to be some sort of faulty, discontinued population control device, taking its name from the biblical admonition that "no flesh shall be spared" and living up to it with the single-mindedness of the Terminator, whose head it seems to have borrowed. Once again, technology is biting the hand that built it. This, of course, makes "Hardware" a cautionary fable.
Few cliches are spared, either, though Stanley does his best to give "Hardware" a high-tech cyberpunk aura, toned down with the dark Gothic ambience of British horror films from the '50s and '60s and the odd lighting and angled cinematography of modern Italian horror films.
While it's obvious that Stanley has seen a lot of genre films, he's not yet learned how to make one, though his shortcomings are less visual than dramatic and narrative; things look fast, but happen s-l-o-w. This "Hardware" needs a grease job.
Hardware, at area theaters, is rated R and contains graphic violence, nudity and nasty language.