Steel (1997) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Shaquille O'Neal, Annabeth Gish, Judd Nelson, Richard Roundtree, Irma P. Hall, Ray J, Harvey Silver, Charles Napier
Director: Kenneth Johnson
Screenplay: Kenneth Johnson
Review published August 23, 2004
Unintentional humor abounds, in this very poor attempt at trying to start up another franchise superhero (based on an actual DC Comics character spun off of Superman) with Shaquille O'Neal in the lead role. The biggest problem from the outset is that it's just far to silly to suspend disbelief, and even if the acting were to sparkle and the script were to shine, without a solid foundation of believability, there's just nothing that can be done to save it. In a way, this film is so bad, and perhaps knowingly so, that there is a certain charm in seeing everyone involved try to deliver an earnestly sincere attempt at a fun superhero romp. However, with a meager $16 million budget, and a laughable plot, you can rest assured that Steel is D.O.A. before ever watching a single frame.
Shaq (Blue Chips, Kazaam) plays John Henry Irons, an army specialist who designs and tests hi-tech weapons for the military. He leaves his position due to a lack of sensitivity to his new ideas for safer weapons that don't rely on killing people, only to find that these weapons end up flooding the streets of Los Angeles so that gangs can use them to commit crimes. With some help from some talented friends, Irons dons a suit made to withstand the attack of the new weapons, while also utilizing some weapons of his own to counter the threat, and soon he takes to the L.A. streets to stop the proliferation of the weapons and try to make a safer place for the citizens.
There are only two things that keep Steel from falling into the abyss to become one of the worst major studio releases of all time. It has a few in-jokes that are genuinely amusing, including a running gag on Shaq's inability to shoot a free throw, and there are occasional moments of surprisingly witty dialogue that are a breath of fresh air amid the otherwise inept plotting. Writer-director Johnson (Short Circuit 2, D3: The Mighty Ducks) also does a remarkable job with a relatively small budget in making the film look good, with colorful costumes, good sets, and special effects galore.
Unfortunately, neither of these attributes can keep this production from collapsing like Grandma Odessa's soufflé. The plot makes very little sense -- if you have hi-tech weapons, why bother trying to sell them on the black market to gangs in Los Angeles when foreign countries would pay millions for such technology? Also, it's never clear how Steel and his assistants can afford all of the research and development to put forward their plans for a cutting edge, technologically advanced superhero vigilante, especially since only one of them has a job (and not a high paying one at that). There's a curious lack of plausibility and motivation that permeates each scene and character, and at no time can we ever take any of the confrontations seriously.
I haven't even mentioned the weak acting job. I doubt many expect basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal to deliver anything that would earn him any awards (save perhaps the Razzie), but Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) is just god-awful as the villain, and his hired henchmen fare little better.
On a certain level, I was modestly entertained by the shoddiness of it, with its simplistic ideology and some real doozies in the laughable lines department. It's shamefully corny, with its overtly phallic symbolism, and Shaq looks so downright goofy in his costume, this one does merit a viewing for those who typically enjoy so-bad-it's-good type fare. For everyone else, you'll probably dispose of this trash in a Hefty Steel Sack immediately after use.
©2004 Vince Leo