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Hipster Holy Grail: Rage (1995)

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

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

Rage is one part terrible movie, one part ironic laughs, and two parts fantastic action scenes.  The enjoyable ultimately outweighs the frustratable, so I'd still recommend this for fans of bad movies.  Just be ready for a lot of downtime and some undeservedly righteous news reporting.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5 (Junior Varsity Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

The movie opens with a sleazy crook - who's name I didn't catch, but I'm going to call him "Javier" since that seems to be the highest-billed Hispanic character on the IMDb cast list - selling fake identities to a bunch of illegal immigrants.  His operation is briefly interrupted when a fat sheriff named Kelly and a few fellow police officers burst through the door.

But it turns out Kelly isn't here to bust Javier - no, he's here to pay for his services.  Kelly is a good old-fashioned corrupt cop, and he wants to take some of Javier's clientele with him for a nebulous job of some sort.  Javier is happy to oblige at first, but then he has second thoughts and asks what Kelly needs the men for.  Kelly then explains that he wants to conduct illegal medical experimentation on some migrants, which is kind of a stupid answer, to be honest.  I mean, he's telling the truth, so, yeah, good on you for that, but if your scheme involves kidnapping illegal immigrants and doing weird experiments, you should keep that under wraps.  Just say that you've got a really big yard you need to have mowed, or some other vaguely racist shit.

Anyway, Javier's not too keen on this particular type of human trafficking, so he refuses.  Then he and Kelly get into a shootout, and Javier narrowly escapes with his life.  The cops round up the survivors and go on the hunt for Javier.

Cut to Alex Gainer (Gary Daniels), a mild-mannered schoolteacher who's in the middle of one of the dumbest lessons I've ever seen committed to film.  I'm not actually sure what the subject is - zoology?  Nutrition?  Shapes?  Anyway, he imitates a monkey and all the kids laugh, so you know he's a good guy.  You get to see him hang out briefly with his beautiful wife and precocious daughter, and everybody's all happy and warm and fuzzy.

I have to give the movie credit here.  This is ordinarily where I'd roll my eye and say, "Yeah, they'll live forever, won't they?"  But Rage never actually puts Alex's family in danger.  They're just props, sure, but they're at least props that are respectably used.

Alex drives his kid to a friend's house, and after dropping her off, he gets held up by Javier.  Javier hops in the passenger seat and holds him hostage, hoping to escape from the cops.  Suddenly, a dozen cruisers swarm Alex and pin him in place.  Alex thinks he's going to get out of the situation peacefully - but then the cops arrest him and knock him out.

When Alex wakes up, he's being transported to a weird lab full of nebulous authority figures and crackpot scientists.  They all say things as if they're going to be big, important characters, but the only one that really matters is an FBI agent whose name I didn't catch.  I see there's a guy named "Parrish" on the IMDb list, so I'll just call him that.

(You might be noticing a theme here.  Rage is not exactly a character-oriented film.)

This scene is where we get the only good insight into the villainous plot, and I have to say, I'm really confused by it.  The description of the movie on IMDb says that a right-wing militia group is trying to clone Alex to make Super Soldiers, but I don't think that's right - for one, nobody ever talks about politics or a militia, so scratch that.  But more importantly: they aren't cloning shit.  Maybe they will later - that could be like "Phase III" or something - but for now it just looks like they're jamming random people with Strength Serum and crossing their fingers that something good happens.

The problem they've had so far, as the scientists explain, is that they keep experimenting on malnourished immigrants who can't withstand the testing.  All of the subjects have died and they're no closer to Super Soldiers than when they started.  They have some misgivings about experimenting on Alex since he's a white guy a legal citizen, but when they realize he's played by Gary Daniels, they all go, "Say... he seems like he'd kill a ton of people.  Let's do it!"  So they jam him full of serum.

Alex gets some new powers now, and I'm a little confused by these, too.  The movie acts like he might be losing his mind and turning into a monstrous murder machine... but as we clearly see from here on, Alex is totally cognizant of his surroundings and is in complete control of his actions.  The movie also acts like Alex is in constant mortal peril, but he never gets so much as a scratch despite the crazy stuff that he goes through.  My guess?  He just became Wolverine, but without the claws.

Anyway, time for the first action scene!  Alex wakes up during the experiment and punches his way out of his binds.  He beats up a ton of scientists and throws them into all their computers and consoles.  Each time he does, something explodes, which is what you really want in a brawl.  It almost seems like he's going to get away until Parrish shows up with a little stun-stick thing and zaps him with it, knocking Alex out again.

When Alex wakes up, he finds he's been stuffed in the trunk of somebody's car out in the desert.  Kelly and Parrish pull him out and rough him up a bit.  They plan to kill him and ditch his body here, but Alex then remembers that he's a Super Soldier and escapes.

We now cut to a busy highway the next day to begin my favorite sequence in the movie.  Kelly and Parrish have roadblocks set up everywhere looking for Alex, and they've plastered his face all over the news, claiming he's a suspect in some murders from the previous night.  Alex hijacks a gas tanker to try to escape to freedom, and the carnage begins.

I don't know if I can adequately describe this scene here.  It starts with the usual car chase tropes - the cops get on Alex's tail, they swerve all over the road, there's a couple of crashes, etc.  But then it just starts to pile on more and more until it becomes glorious.

Alex just starts driving through vehicles with total abandon, and each time he hits one, it erupts in a fantastic fireball.  Keep in mind that he's driving a gas tanker, which is movie language for "temporarily stable explosion," yet nothing ever happens to his truck.  He plows through no less than three roadblocks and blows up more than a dozen police cruisers, and the cops are helpless to stop him no matter how many vehicular acrobatics they attempt.

Eventually Kelly gets pissed off and decides he's going to put an end to the rampage.  His weapon of choice?

That's right: a school bus.  He drives it head-on toward Alex, saying to himself, "I never lose a game of chicken!"  And then he just cackles like a maniac while speeding straight into the tanker.  Alex gets out of his truck and does this crazy somersault maneuver to jump over the school bus, and Kelly laughs his way into an explosion and dies.


Sadly, the rest of the movie is a bit of a step down in terms of action hijinks.  There's still good stuff, but none of it quite achieves the same level of ridiculousness or mayhem as this highway chase.  So, even if you don't have time to watch the full movie, I'd say you should still try to watch this part.  It starts about fifteen minutes in.

Alex spends the next half hour or so just running away from the authorities.  In one scene, he breaks into a rich guy's house and eats some leftover chicken out of his fridge, only to find out that said rich guy is enjoying a BDSM session with his mistress in the master bedroom. In another scene, Alex visits his brother-in-law at a skyscraper and tries to get his help, but he's turned away and winds up hanging off the top of the building while a gunman shoots at him from a helicopter.

That latter sequence ends up being pretty fun when Alex uses a window-washing apparatus to swing up to the helicopter and get into a fist-fight with the gunman.  Then he ends up losing the fight and falls a thousand feet into a skylight somewhere below.  You'd think that would be enough to kill Alex... but not Wolverine, so he's still kicking.

While all this is going on, there's a down-on-his-luck reporter named Harry (Kenneth Tigar) who's been ordered to report on Alex's reign of chaos.  All the other news stations are reporting that Alex is a murderer who killed Sheriff Kelly (I guess either California has a weird interpretation of driving head-first into a tanker, or nobody was there to witness it), but Harry has second thoughts on the story.  He does some digging and realizes that Alex was a totally mild-mannered schoolteacher before the tanker rampage, so he suspects that there's more to the story than "psycho kills people."

I'd like to tell you that Harry's story goes somewhere interesting, but unfortunately, it feels like a lot of padding.  Kenneth Tigar does an okay job with his performance, so I don't think it's a problem of charisma or anything like that.  It's just plain uninteresting.  I mean, I didn't sign up for a Gary Daniels movie to watch investigative journalism, you know?  Worse: it gets strangely indignant and serious at times - as if Tigar thought he was acting in All the President's Men or something.  It all has this totally unearned sense of gravitas that doesn't gel with the rest of the movie.

Anyway, eventually Harry convinces Alex to meet up at a shopping mall where he can give an exclusive interview.  Alex gives a quick recap / reveal of the bad guys' plot, and Harry gets it all on video.  Then they get surrounded by Parrish and his goons, and the final fight begins.

This scene is also pretty good.  Not as fun as the tanker chase, but it's a fine way to end the movie.  I guess the way I'd describe it is "a lower budget version of the mall scene in Police Story."  In other words, there's no amazing stunt to cap it all off, but at least as many windows are broken.

Alex basically just starts taking every opportunity to punch bad guys through plate glass.  Sometimes the bad guys are falling down, but then change direction at the last second just to launch themselves through a window.  At one point, Alex is fighting a dude who's on the other side of a window, and instead of going through a door - or one of the spaces where a window has already been broken - he just jumps through the window to punch him.

It's one of those sequences that's so wrought with glass carnage that you expect there to be a single window still standing at the end of it, and then somebody will sigh with relief, only for it to comically crack right when their back is turned.  Nothing is spared.

Alex dispatches all of Parrish's goons except for one guy, who has a direct line of communication with the governor.  At that moment, the governor - who has seen some of Harry's previous broadcasts and who wants to avoid a PR nightmare - calls his assistant and tells them to back off.  Parrish ignores the order and shoots Alex anyway, so the governor's assistant shoots Parrish.

Alex wakes up in the hospital later and finds out that all the charges against him have been dropped, and Harry's probably going to win a Pulitzer or something.

So... yeah.  After all that, the day is saved by some random dude who showed up literally at the last minute.  Oh well.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

Gary Daniels is a wretched actor.  Maybe he's convincing in some of his later stuff, but here he has all the charisma of an accountant.  His line delivery is stilted, his intonation awkward, and he even seems like he has a hard time remembering his lines because some of them come out in fragments.

He doesn't even get facial expressions right a lot of the time.  When he should look confused and flustered, he looks annoyed.  When he should look angry, he looks scared.  When he should look scared, he looks angry.

But here's the thing.  He's got an amazing physicality and screen presence that come out when the camera needs them to.  When he has a chance to just be himself - that is, when he's just a kickboxer wearing a frayed suit jacket instead of a guy fumbling his way through a one-note schoolteacher act - he's a ton of fun to watch.

So, I finally get it.  I get why they kept putting Gary Daniels in movies.  I was baffled by it when I saw Hawk's Vengeance, because in that movie all the villains are slow and he had to slow down to match them, and I thought he was totally replaceable in Heatseeker even though I kinda liked that movie overall.  But in Rage, you get to see the Gary Daniels that low-budget Hollywood was banking on.

The upshot is that you have to watch Rage the same way you do a Jackie Chan movie.  The plot is garbage and the character is bland, but just look at him go when you put him in a warehouse with some props!

The action scenes save this movie and make it worth your time if you're willing to tolerate the rest of it.  That tanker chase is easily one of my new favorite action scenes.  It's low-budget, so you'll have to calibrate your expectations.  We're not talking about the same sense of spectacle that you'd get from, say, a Terminator or a Mad Max.  But think about what you'd expect a direct-to-video chase to look like, and prepare to be amazed.

I was so won over by the movie after that sequence that I still ended up enjoying it even though the rest fell well short.  I was even willing to tolerate the endless journalism subplot.

But just like last week, I need to be careful that I don't oversell it.  Rage has a ton of fun moments, but it is not an unqualified recommendation.  It's slow enough that it moves past the Novice Bad Movie category and into Junior Varsity Bad Movie territory.  In its favor are a few good-bad moments that will make you laugh, but make no mistake - when it's not giving you an action scene, there's nothing interesting happening.  The laughs don't come fast enough to break up the monotony.  All you can do is just watch the clock until Gary Daniels is running again.

And even the action scenes sometimes let you down.  The one that's most disappointing is the first half of the skyscraper sequence, in which Daniels is desperately trying not to fall.  It should be tense and thrilling, but the movie keeps cutting back and forth too much between him trying to look scared and the bad guys trying to kill him.  The editing drags it out too long and it ends up getting gradually duller and duller.  (Fortunately, he then does that cool pendulum move and swings up into the helicopter so the scene can get interesting again.)

Oddly enough, I wrote about another action movie not long ago that has the exact same problem: The Rage, starring Gary Busey.  That one has a sequence where a car is trapped between the front and rear wheels of a truck, and the editing just ruins it completely.  I wonder if all "rage" movies have shitty editing?

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

You've got a couple of hipster icons here, including Gary Daniels (obviously), director Joseph Merhi (who made like twelve movies with "L.A." in the title), and co-writer Joseph John Barmettler, the author of Skyscraper.  The movie also has less than 500 ratings on IMDb.  That gives it a good baseline of about 35 cred to work with.

But there's more!  Since it's somewhat enjoyable to watch, it gets a bit of a boost, and since it's only the tenth most popular movie named "Rage" on IMDb, it gets another tiny boost.  I'll give this one a total of 55 hipster cred.

Fun fact, though.  There was another Rage in 1995 (not surprising, since there's over 50 of them in all) that only has 17 ratings on IMDb.  It appears to be a well-regarded Filipino crime drama that won several awards in its home country, which means that in the Philippines it has no hipster cred whatsoever, but here in America it's probably worth like 80 or so cred.

Where You Can Watch

Rage is available on DVD, so you can get it from Netflix and other legitimate sources.  Or you can watch it on Youtube.  This copy has Arabic subtitles.