Hey you. I wrote this Review Just for You because I like you.I also like pizza.
The 1990 sci-fi/horror hybrid Hardware was the big screen debut of writer/director Richard Stanley. Why might that name sound familiar even if you’ve never heard of Hardware in your life? Because you might remember the 1996 fiasco The Island of Doctor Moreau.
Think back. I’ll wait.
Yes. That one.
And yes, it’s still as awful as you remember. Marlon Brando in that white sheet with his little midget alongside him. Val Kilmer doing whatever he was doing and just acting like a fool. It was and still remains a trainwreck of a movie, albeit a compellingly watchable one.
Richard Stanley was originally slated to direct Island based on the cult status of Hardware and his other film Dust Devil. He got kicked off the project and was replaced by John Frankenheimer and to this day Island remains one of the worst movies ever made. You can see the details in all its gory glory by watching the amazing documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s the movie that made me want to check out Hardware.
Does Hardware deserve its cult status? Did it ever?
Read on and you’ll find out and I promise there’ll be no mid-90s Val Kilmer involved in any of this and Marlon Brando will not raid your fridge.
The year is sometime in the distant future. We’re in some generically post-apocalyptic future because there are people wearing gas masks while the air looks reasonably clear. It’s the future from a 1990 perspective so there’s still big hair and flannels. We seem to be in the middle of the desert, or are we where cities used to be and due to death and decay, they’ve just turned into desert?
We won’t get answers to any of that.
A man walking around looking for junk to sell finds what looks to be the head of a robot amidst the detritus. He picks it up and shoves it in his bag. Must be worth some money.
While we’re in this future, whatever’s left of the government is mandating sterilization for everyone because population control is good. Population control is our friend. Wonder if this little tidbit is important later in the movie. Also, temps are expected to reach 110 degrees. Brrr.
Unnamed man brings robot head to a local junk shop.
There we meet our main characters Mo (Dylan McDermott) and his shades-wearing sidekick, um, Shades (John Lynch). Mo and Shades are back from fighting in “the Zone”.
Mo is going to home to see his girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis). She’s really into machinery and has it all over the apartment. Mo buys the robot head from unnamed man because he thinks Jill will like it. We wonder how and why Mo has a metal arm like Ash Williams. We’ll keep wondering because that question will be left unanswered.
We ponder how Shades is still alive since he likes to wear a leather jacket with fleece lining in 110-degree weather. We muse if he keeps his shades on even if it’s dark. Well, we won’t get answers to any of that either.
Mo and Jill have a wonderful reunion. He gives her the Robo-head. Jill finds a wonderful place for it that is not at all creepy and foretelling. They have sex in the shower. They have sex in the bed.
Meanwhile, someone (William Hootkins) is watching Jill and Mo copulate through a telescope and providing personal direction as well as giving his own graphic commentary.
In the morning, Mo leaves to find a job. Jill is all alone in the apartment, surrounded by all her equipment.
It’s going to be an eventful morning because it turns out the robotic head belonged to a Mark-13 model cyborg. You remember them. They were designed to be killing machines of the most efficient order. It turns out the one Mo got Jill isn’t really deactivated and was never really dead. It was designed to kill humans and it’s really good at its job.
But the Mark-13 is only just a head. If only there were other gear around in which to build itself a new body…
A peeping tom pervert is the least of Jill’s worries as her new robot head may have a mind of its own.
What Works With Hardware
- When fully, um, assembled the Mark-13 is a pretty intimidating presence onscreen. The movie’s darkly lit for most of its running time. This aids in the mystery of the Mark-13s true from. So much so that it looks like the original Toy Story borrowed the concept 5 years later in 1995.
- After an extremely slow first hour, the movie you might have been expecting finally delivers with a stylishly violent and gory 3rd act. You wish the entire movie was as well rendered as the last 30 minutes.
What Doesn’t Work With Hardware
- As I stated earlier, the first two acts are a slow build of almost nothingness. You wonder if you’re watching the correct movie because you just don’t understand how what you’re seeing onscreen could attain such a cult status. By the time the gore and mayhem actually arrives, you’re questioning if the payoff was worth such a long wait.
It’s really not.
Hardware’s cult status is mildly understandable on a feeling level even if on an intellectual level you know the movie isn’t that good. Not recommended, just like I’d recommend a character not wear football pads throughout the movie. You should watch Lost Soul instead. Mark (13) my words.