Skip to main content

Hipster Holy Grail: The Bronx Executioner (1989)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover a hidden treasure. Sometimes I don't. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Aside from one totally gratuitous and repulsive rape scene, The Bronx Executioner is an entertaining bit of misguided, low-budget cheese that epitomizes all the crappy fun you hope for in a good bad movie.  It lags a bit in the third act, but makes up for it with ridiculous dialogue, worse voice acting, and the most incomprehensible politics I've ever seen.

My Rating: 4 / 5

The Part Where I Summarize the Plot

We're in New York City at some undefined time in the future.  The city is a hellish landscape of war and disaster.  Note that I say "landscape" and not "cityscape," because regardless of what the movie and stock footage under the opening credits try to say, not a single frame of this movie looks anything like New York.  But let's table that for now.

The "city" is plagued by violence due to an ongoing war between the Androids and the Humanoids.  I'd like to tell you more about what these two groups are and their bitter history with each other, but I'm afraid I'm at a loss.  Both groups are apparently robots, but as to why they were built, what makes them different from each other, and why they hate each other... dunno.

From what I could gather, the Humanoids are slightly more human-like robots than the Androids, but have unfortunately been subjugated and reduced to living in squalor.  Most of them are holed up in an abandoned(?) factory / quarry at the beginning of the film, although they are routinely hunted down for sport by the ruthless Androids.

Entering this chaos is a new cop, The White Man.  As much as I don't know the history between the robot classes, I know even less about how The White Man figured into all of this.  He just kind of appears and starts talking about how he's supposed to be the new sheriff. (I think normally NYC prefers the term "Commissioner," but whatever.)  Except, that's not really how you become a sheriff.  You don't just get a transfer order put in to go from one precinct to another to take over, much less a major metropolitan area.

Not only that, but he doesn't even enter the city on, say, a train or something.  When the movie first opens, it looks like he's trekking through a jungle of some sort while being stalked by an unseen hunter.  So what are we supposed to believe?  NYC crumbled so badly that NYPD headquarters is now completely overgrown and you need a machete just to get through the front doors?

The White Man soon meets with Warren, aka "The Black Man," the current sheriff.  The Black Man explains the history of the robot war about as much as I just did earlier and highlights the important players: Margie, the murderous leader of the Androids, and Dakar (Alex Vitale, who also played Jakoda in previous HHG entry Strike Commando), the sympathetic leader of the Humanoids.

Then, for about twenty or thirty minutes, we ignore the law enforcement altogether and just focus on Margie and Dakar's escalating conflict.  We're first introduced to Margie via a secretive mission she's setting up with one of her top guys, Shark.  Shark is going to go into Humanoid territory and flush them out into a quarry where the Androids will gun them all down.

Dakar, meanwhile, is on his own secretive mission to... gather beakers or something.  I really have no clue.  It looks like Dakar and his men are grabbing supplies they need to build a bomb, but it never pays off.  The only reason they're on the mission, it turns out, is so that Dakar can return home to find out that virtually all of the Humanoids have been slaughtered.

And he's pretty sad about it.  One of the movie's best laughs for me comes when he sees the carnage, then pouts like a teenager and ponders about the nature of evil.  You pretty much just have to see it, but it's kinda like if Saving Private Ryan came to a halt so Tom Hanks could look into the camera and say, "Why do the Germans hate us?  Why do they kill?"

While I'm on this tangent, let's take a moment to talk about the film's sound mixing, because I glossed right over this.  The movie was an Italian production later dubbed over into English.  I'm not sure if the original Italian language version exists or if it's any better, but it looks like they tried to get the actors to mime English words whenever possible.  They do so with over-elaborate mouth movements, which, when paired with the horrible voice acting, leads to a lot of hilarity.

But it doesn't end there.  Dakar is an enormous body-builder type with massive shoulders, as you might recall from Strike Commando.  The actor who does his dialogue - who might actually be Alex Vitale, for all I know - decided to take this as his one and only character note when coming up with the voice.  So pretty much all of his dialogue is screamed in a thick, meaty patois that bounces back and forth between "dense lughead" and "bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation."

Now, picture that trying to deliver a soulful eulogy for all of his dead friends on an empty dirt field that's supposed to be New York City and you have a pretty good feel for The Bronx Executioner.

So.  Back to the HQ.  The White Man tells The Black Man that he wants to become sheriff, which is really strange because I thought he was sent here to be sheriff rather than applying for the job, but whatever.  The Black Man explains that he has to go through a rigorous process to get prepared, so they get started on a halfway decent training montage where Black puts White through a lot of physical crap while berating him.

It caps off with The Black Man sneering and basically saying, "Get out of here.  You're not fit to be sheriff."  The White Man goes back to HQ, sullenly, and takes a nap at his desk while brandishing his gun (naturally).  When he wakes up, we find out that The Black Man has left a note on the desk saying that he's decided to leave the movie, so The White Man is the sheriff now.

Which basically makes you wonder why we even had the last ten minutes of footage, but who cares.

Next up we have a rape scene.  And it's really a foul scene for reasons I'll talk about later, but all you need to know is that another one of Margie's lackeys, Ralph, beats up, rapes, and kills Dakar's girlfriend, which in turn prompts Dakar to go to The White Man for help.

Together, they lead an assault on Margie's hideout: a swanky south Italian villa in the countryside neo-NYC.  A bunch of people get killed, then Dakar kills Shark, then Margie kills Dakar, and then The White Man kills Margie.  Roll credits.

The Part About Charming Low Budgets

Low budget movies are a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, you get a lot of hilarious moments: the frequent failed attempts to pass off the Italian countryside for downtown New York, the lack of extras, the hand-painted sign on the wall of a garage informing us that the scene takes place at NYPD headquarters....

The budget leads to one of my favorite moments, which is so small and stupid I probably shouldn't even bother.  But here goes.  In the climactic sequence, Dakar and his men sneak through an abandoned warehouse and dispatch Androids as quietly and quickly as they can.  Naturally they do this by snapping their necks, because neck-snapping is super cheap to film - you don't even need props or fake blood.  But one of them gets the drop on Dakar, so he blows the dude away with a shotgun.  Then he makes an annoyed "ugh" face and... keeps sneaking.  As if nobody just heard a shotgun being set off in a confined space.

That kind of stuff is fun to watch and ends up being downright charming most of the time.  But there's a dark side to the low budget: tedium.

The thing is, every low budget director in history has had the same bright idea.  "I know how to pad out twenty minutes or so... I'll set up a big scene in an abandoned warehouse and have the good guy sneak around with a gun.  It'll be tense!"  So they almost all end with this interminable sequence of dudes prowling around a bunch of bland gray-brown sameness and mugging into the camera, occasionally intercut with people dying in identical ways.

It's intolerable.

It always goes like this.  You start watching the movie, not really sure what you're getting.  The first ten minutes make it pretty clear that you're in for a turd, but you're hopeful it's at least going to be a funny turd.  There's some ups and downs over the next hour or so, but eventually you start digging it and having an okay time drinking (if nothing else).

Then that fucking warehouse scene comes on, and suddenly you're just staring at the corner of the screen wondering what you're doing with your life.  Do you need to rethink your priorities?  How much laundry still has to be folded and put away?  How many dishes are still sitting in the sink?  Are you just dying slowly?  And you're just drinking yourself into oblivious boredom while some underpaid actors pretend to be scared of shadows.  What started as a delightful romp has turned into an exercise in insanity.

Low budgets giveth, low budgets taketh.

The Part About Unconvincing Robots

This movie's got probably the worst robots in history.  Not a single thing about them makes any sense.

Leave alone the fact that they don't look like machines.  I'm willing to accept that both as part of the low budget effects described above and the general suspension of disbelief you have to lend to science fiction movies.  The problem is in their behavior.

They emote, move, and react to things the same way normal people do.  (Well, maybe not normal people in our world, but at least normal in their world.)  They eat.  They have relationships.  They die.  They hate.  They love.  They talk about anger, despair, even horniness.

In fact, there's a scene toward the end that kinda captures it perfectly.  Margie is watching a video of Dakar's girlfriend's murder and getting turned on by it.  She stands up and announces to her fellow robots that "violence is a great aphrodisiac."  Then, only a second later, she abruptly switches gears and says she's going to bed, which leads to a gratuitous tit shot as she changes into a nightgown.

So not only does she have a complicated psychosexual background that's led to an uncomfortable and specific fetish, but she also needs to sleep and has a wardrobe?  Why?  Who programmed this thing?  What practical use is a robot that needs its own bed and uses it for eight hours a night like the rest of us?

The real problem is there's no context for anything in the movie.  We just get tossed in the middle of this ages-long conflict between the Androids and the Humanoids with no understanding of their differences or their past.  My best guess is the Androids were all sexbots and the Humanoids were all day laborers, and the Humanoids got jealous of the discrepancies in their treatment by human beings, so they started to revolt.  One thing led to another, and now they're at war.  Except... god, even that tiny bit of logic doesn't work because of the one scene where they actually try to explain things.  Let's get into that.

The Part About Terrible Exposition

This is the most mind-boggling part of the movie. Quite possibly even the most mind-boggling of any movie I've seen in the Holy Grail so far.  Get ready to go down the rabbit hole with me.

The Black Man is telling Whitey all about how the Androids and Humanoids hate each other.  He says that it started when a glitch popped up in the Androids that made them start killing people.  Then White asks, "Why didn't they just shut them off at the source?  Stop manufacturing the robots?"

To which Black replies, "The politicians got involved and said they were too close to human and had rights.  So they gave 'em the same treatment they gave the Indians and put 'em in a reservation."  End of explanation, next question.

Okay.  So.  What you're telling me is that not only did human beings decide not to round up all the defective robots and decommission them, they also continued to manufacture them after learning that they were actually deathbots?  And they have the same legal status as Native Americans?!

How could anyone possibly come to this conclusion?  What kind of politician would make this argument?  It's got to be some party that doesn't exist yet.  I could see some folks maybe trying to defend some robots' rights if they have sentience, but we'd have no problem voting for better regulation of the robot industry - and we certainly wouldn't keep buying the damn things once they start killing us.  Why would anybody keep building them after that?  Was there a huge lobbying effort on the part of the robot industry?

We're too big to fail, you see? Yeah, it's true, sometimes the murderbots are going to go on a rampage, but you're going to have to break a few eggs if you want to keep the economy going.  Nobody likes the murderbots, but we just have to keep building them to give jobs to the American people.  Vote "Yes" on Prop 87.

And the comparison to Native Americans... gah, I can't even try to decipher that.  That's a weird, uncomfortable swirl of Luddism, imperialism, racial superiority, and ideology that I can't even identify.

The real ironic thing about this scene?  You don't need it.  The only reason it exists is so Whitey can ask the question, "Why don't they stop manufacturing the robots," which we as an audience would never ask, because of course would assume you stopped building them.  We can fill in some of the gaps on our own, guys.  This is a scene where you're supposed to ask literally any other question.

The Part About Gratuitous Rape Scenes

So, now's as good a time as any to talk about rape, I guess.  Everybody pull up a chair and settle in for a nice evening.

It's kinda perfect timing that I saw this movie when I did, because I - like a lot of people, as it turns out - was disgusted by the recent "Game of Thrones" episode in which the producers apparently looked at their notes and said, "Well, I'm stuck.  Say... have we raped anyone lately?  Really?  It's been six episodes?  Jesus, we're overdue.  Hey, Sansa, bend over."

I was thinking of writing a more detailed post about it, and I might still, but The Bronx Executioner is actually a great time to set up my soapbox.

Y'see, I'm not against having rape in a story, but it's the sort of thing you have to approach with a bit of nuance, a hefty dose of empathy, and a hell of a lot of discretion.  Rape as a plot point should be treated with the same reservations you would hold for necrophilia and bestiality.

You don't reach for that tool unless you really need it.  It's so specific and has so many real-world connotations that you can't treat it like a hammer or a screwdriver.  It's more like a quarter inch, right-angled, octagonal socket.  It comes in handy now and again, but only in really specific circumstances.  Any other time and you're just putting yourself in an uncomfortable position.

I understand why storytellers want to inject it into their movies - it's horrifying.  Usually folks drag it out for one of two reasons: your story desperately needs a shocking moment and you're out of ideas, or you need to give a hero some motivation / bloodlust, and you're out of ideas.  But again, there's plenty of ways to achieve either of these things without reducing your female characters to literal pieces of meat for the grinder.

With this in mind, the rape scene in TBE is especially disgusting because it's especially pointless.

First of all, Dakar's girlfriend hasn't existed until this point, which means the scene is already weak.  Since there's no context, we don't have time to build up any kind of emotional rise other than the inherent disgust that comes with rape scenes.

But on top of that, Dakar doesn't even need any more motivation - he already has bloodlust because he literally just found all the other Humanoids slaughtered.  And on top of all that, he doesn't even kill the guy who did the actual raping.  In fact, I'm not even sure if Ralph the Rapist even reappears in the climax. If he dies at all, it's entirely underwhelming.

So, to recap: a character is introduced for the sole purpose of being raped and killed to motivate a guy who already had motivation, and any possible emotional charge that might have resulted from her rapist's death is squandered.  Nice job, TBE.

Where You Can Watch

If you have Amazon Prime, you can stream it now, but I actually saw it on my copy of the "A Thin Line Between Life & Death" DVD box set.

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)

Show more