Radioactive Dreams (1985) Review by RevTerry

Ever since its introduction in 1945, science’s most notorious contribution, the atomic bomb (and its after effects) has been fuel for a wide range of fiction-- some inherently more positive than others. I personally have the irreversible, devastating weapon to thank (at least in part) for a substantial amount of my favorite things-- for instance post-apocalyptic movies.  No matter how bleak it may appear on the surface, the idea of mankind having a future of any form after a world erasing event (such as a nuclear fallout) is inherently optimistic, if not narcissistic. It's an extension of classic escapism--a concept set forth by the same generation that trained for nuclear attacks by hiding under door frames. The somewhat encouraging outlook has stayed buried inside the subgenre, even through its repurposing, multiple resurgences, and many iconic moments up to this day. It's at the core of the trope, man's remnants wake up sparse but scrappy, after truly fucking everything up, and begin to scrape together a new society, starting again from the wreckage. Even if that future begins with eccentric gangs and wars for water, that's still an upswing from the much more plausible outcomes of self-induced ecological remixing. But a plucky can-do attitude about the destructive tendencies of the human race isn't the only thing that has held over from the nuke-related fiction of the 40s. Somewhat inexplicably, the dapper sepia tone of the times has ingrained itself to the subgenre as well. There is a certain aesthetic appeal to the specific pairing of atomic bombs and the outward ideals of that generation. I'm not super sure about the reasoning behind it, but the look and feel of the early nuclear era managed to stay somewhat in fashion for genre fiction. Even as we sit in a future that would surely blow anyone from that era’s fucking head up, the slightly misinformed alternatives the people of the past dreamt up are just as interesting to us (if not for completely different reasons). The most obvious, and currently popular example, would be the Fallout games. Debuting in 1997, the game series features a wide range of references to other classic works and time periods, but its overall motif has come to be a mix of old-timey radios and the Duck and Cover cartoon. Twelve years before Interplay Entertainment put out the first Fallout game for PC (and long before they got their own game repoed by Bethesda), Albert Pyun put together his own ambitious tale about a possible 1940s influenced post-nuke lifestyle -- Radioactive Dreams (1985).
In 1986 the nuclear shit hits the fan. Somehow, during a worldwide incident, almost every atomic bomb in the world was launched, effectively hitting the global reset button on society and plunging the world into dusty chaos. The remaining nuke, which needs two separate keys to be armed, becomes the stuff of legend among the dystopian cities that remain. The idea being-- whoever held control of the remaining weapon would be the ruler of the new world. We know all this because it says so on bumpers before the movie starts. Sooner or later, we meet Phillip (John Stockwell) and Marlowe (Michael Dudikoff) who have survived the nuclear fallout by being locked away in a bomb shelter for the last fifteen years with nothing but a stack of detective novels for an education. Longing to make it in the outside world as “big dicks” and maybe score a few “dames”, the two hit the road in a classic convertible after tunneling their way out. Unbeknownst to them, while the duo had been safely locked away, practicing narration and nifty dance moves, the rest of the world has plunged into a radioactive wasteland ruled by warring gangs. In no time the boys are faced with obstacles that vintage pulp fiction did little to prepare them for, including armed, foul-mouthed children, enterprising glam cannibals and more than one attractive, double-crossing siren pretending to be a tour guide.
  For some, the name Albert Pyun might bring up certain expectations about a post-apocalyptic film. The man that gave us Cyborg (1989), Dollman (1991) and the Nemesis (1992) has a few favorite concepts that come up frequently in the bulk of his work. In fact, many of his films seem to thematically share the exact same futuristic setting. From what I understand, classic Pym is somewhat of an acquired taste, or at least that's what I have gathered from forcing everyone I know to watch Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995). Personally, I have nothing but love for the cyberpunk wonderlands he is known for, and that goes double for anything with Tim Thomerson in it.  Radioactive Dreams (1985), however, is something of an anomaly. The setting is still the dusty sci-fi wasteland, but it strays away from the cyberpunk aspects for somewhat symbolic anachronisms. In several ways, it comes closer to the mood behind his more ambitious fantasy or drama films (think, Alien from L.A. 1988 mixed with The Sword and the Sorcerer 1982), feeling closer to a straight-up adventure tale than a series of action sequences tied together by the central character. It also leaves behind the normal machismo for silly doe-eyed innocence and feels like a more earnest attempt at engaging the audience on levels outside of his normal tricks. It's still a Pyun movie (especially towards the end), and detective-noir is a theme he would visit again (and again), but it's fun to see him come at it with a more adventure-centric, almost family friendly attempt.
While the characters, Phillip Chandler and Marlowe Hammer, are undoubtedly influenced by Bogart era cinema, every other wasteland character or group has their own generation that they represent as well. The 40s influenced duo meets representatives from each following time period with a focus on the youth and music of the time. I can only speculate on the meaning behind it, but as the boys clash with greasers, hippies, punks and even disco, they openly try to avoid adapting each group’s cynicism. Before starting their path, the two make a pact to reach their goals without compromising their outlook, which essentially becomes the film’s theme throughout. Each new group brings with it a moral degradation, and the main conflict at any moment is surviving each encounter, using stand up “dick” style problem-solving, in a world that has moved on. It's not a deep movie, but there is some stuff to pick at, if you have the time, and it can do well as simple entertainment otherwise. Like its main characters, the film has a certain naive air to it that sticks around till the end and creates some of its charms. There is little realism to any of it, the logic is borderline cartoon, and the surreal nature of the world becomes apparent early on. There is a comfortable layer of whimsical cheese throughout, as if it's the post-nuke answer to The Wonder Years. In the best way possible, it never lets you forget that it is fiction. The storytelling makes attempts at a “classic” approach, sprinkled with 80s ridiculousness. It never really decides what type of film it is and could only be put in some kind of unnamable subgenre next to Circuitry Man (1990) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). The film’s action exists at some kind of strange three-way stop between films like One Crazy Summer (1986), Tuff Turf (1985) and Battletruck (1982). It's almost always light-hearted, even when the cannibals show up,  making stops for things like blossoming young love (wasteland be damned). Setting wise, it's a pretty general post-nuke landscape, with a pop-up-society of scoundrels per the usual, but they are less The Warriors (1979) and more Adventures in Babysitting (1987).  The villainous, eccentric groups that make up the dirty-ass new world are closer to the surreal foes of the 80s “teenage” romantic comedy than our usual Mad Max clone. It is quickly paced and somewhat bubbly, so it has no real lulls, just a few awkward moments that take the cute culture clash thing a little too far. The characters stumble from one encounter to the next--the entire timeline of the film taking place on the main character’s first day outside. The method of effectively falling into each scene reminded me of After Hours (1985) but mixed with the inventory system of an RPG video game (like Fallout for example, where key items can open new encounters).  In the tail end, the film shakes off most of the slapstick and takes on a more serious attempt at a final battle. It's kind of abrupt and on first viewing can feel a little lost, but it makes up for that by closing the movie out with a full-on dance number.
John Stockwell plays lead and part-time narrator Phillip Chandler. Stockwell pulls off the boy-in-his-dad's-suit-look well but could have benefited from watching The Big Sleep (1946) a few times to get ready for the role. Michael Dudikoff (aka the motherfucking American Ninja) appears in a rare, humorous part as Marlowe Hammer. It took me a second to even realize it was him, as he is the film’s main comic relief, and I don't think Cannon had taught him any martial arts yet. Despite being completely outside of what he would be known for, and employing a slightly obnoxious voice, it works out pretty well for some reason. Lisa Blount plays one of the romantic interests, appearing later the same year in the (much) more violent exploitation flick Cut and Run (1985). Veteran Don Murray makes a somewhat brief but important cameo, and even George Kennedy shows up to bookend the film. Keep an eye out for the demonic paperboy from Better Off Dead (1985, and his name is Demian Slade, which is kind of fitting) as one of the foul-mouthed greasers.
The film’s cinematology (Charles Minsky) is somewhat inspired, if not a little torn apart, by editing. Most Scenes are set with intent, either pulling heavily from one of its influences or to create a unique contrast of elements. There are some color effects tied to certain locations, but most of the film’s shots bounce from fittingly bright desert landscapes and naturally dim underground layers. If anything, the camera work falls apart during the heavier action sequences, not quite knowing what to do with the comedic tone it has cultivated. There is a small range of practical effects, all of which work within the reality of the film. It all holds up today, in part, because it never tries to be too gritty or flamboyant.  There is definitely a ceiling in its special effects budget, but Albert Pyun can stretch with the best of them, using the restraints to create a style of sorts. The film’s cut-up seems a little broken and could possibly be damaging some memorable camera work. You get the feeling there may have been more there originally, and that it has been shaved for time. Music is a big part of the film and without legally having access to some actual classics from the time periods, it still gets a lot of the moods right. The bulk of the soundtrack is made up of some awesomely electrifying 80’s jams that seem to be written for the film, including the titular track by Sue Saad that has been stuck in my fucking head for three four days now. 
Radioactive dreams is a fluffy, post-apocalyptic ride through the history of American pop culture with mutants and extra cannibals. It was born from a sense of nostalgia, and here in the actual recycled future it definitely provides some--whether that's for vintage storytelling or zany 80s antics. If either of those things sounds appealing at all, I recommend giving it a try, even if you never really dug Cyborg. It's a different kind of Albert Pym grimy apocalypse movie, and honestly, it's a wonder it hasn't found a real fan base yet. Especially since some extremely popular mediums are currently playing with a similar blend of themes. The threat of fallout begins in the 40s, so it's only natural that our fictional depictions would return to it from time to time. Something about the “can do”,” future on the horizon” aesthetic just goes really well with a self-inflicted near-extinction.  We should be so lucky. If you think as a species we are going to pop back up after turning the whole world into a chemically induced Arizona (let alone have any kind of fashion sense), you are giving humans too much fucking credit.
1h 38min | 1985
 Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: Albert Pyun
Review by:
RevTerry


Share:

No comments:

VIDEORELIGON

tumblr

Facebook

New Shit!

Werewolves on Wheels (1971) Review by RevTerry

News and Quick Reviews on Tumblr

All Time Favorites

Search This Blog