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Hipster Holy Grail: America 3000 (1986)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

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

A lot of the central ideas of America 3000 are pretty stupid.  Fortunately, that just adds to the fun.  If you could find a way to edit out the narrator, you'd have just about the perfect cult classic to serve as a cheesy appetizer for your post-apocalyptic movie marathon.

My Rating: 4 / 5 (Novice Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

There's a brief text crawl that tells us the world descended into nuclear war some time ago and the Apocalypse has come and gone.  Society is rebuilding, but now things are "woggos," which is New Speak for "crazy."

This is the first exposure you'll get to one of America 3000's favorite quirks, which is that the characters all talk with a nonsense dialect that's basically modern English with random ass words changed or thrown in.  So, aside from woggos, people will say "nega" instead of "no," or they refer to their ancestors as "Amerkins."  I hope you're onboard with all this, because they sure as hell don't lay off.

We then get a prologue sequence, paired with some voiceover narration, to explain to us how the world works now. Somewhere along the way, a female-centric fascist movement took over, and people now live in small tribes that are all dominated by warrior queens.  They primarily follow the guidance of a single head of state, the "Tiara."  And they treat men like crap.

All men are slaves to the Tiara and they are divided mainly into three groups, starting at boyhood: physical laborers, breeders, and "other."  The "other" group is castrated and mainly services the women - who are called "Fraus" - as personal assistants, caretakers, cooks, or miscellaneous.

When the movie opens, we see some boys escape from a Frau camp and run off into the wastelands to cut their own path in life.  Along the way, one of them finds an alphabet book and the other finds a top hat.  The kid with the book grows up to be Korvis (Chuck Wagner), an educated, idealistic leader who has taught himself to read and forms a group of freedom fighters to liberate men everywhere.  The kid with the hat grows up to be Gruss (William Wallace), his sidekick and comic relief.  Gruss also narrates the film and is not very funny.

While all that's going on, we find out that there are pockets of other liberated men wandering the wastelands, but they're not as smart as Korvis and his crew, so they usually just wind up dying.  One of these groups attacks a caravan that's protecting the current Tiara.  They all get into a huge fight and the men are all killed.  Just before the last of them dies, though, he delivers a mortal wound to the Tiara, and she dies as well.

Her successor, Vena (Laurene Landon, sporting big enough '80s hair to prove that product will survive well past nuclear war), learns of the attack and is sworn into office through an overly long ceremony.  She's competent and capable, but not entirely sure of herself.  This insecurity seeds doubts among some of the more aggressive women, such as Morha (Sue Giosa), who immediately starts thinking of ways to subvert Vena and either become Tiara herself or help another, more impressionable friend to take power instead.

So while Morha plots and Vena second-guesses herself, everybody else throws a big celebration in Vena's honor and drinks like crazy.  During their ensuing drunk sleep, Korvis leads some of his men on a stealth mission into Vena's camp to steal supplies and liberate some of the men.  The raid is a success for the most part, but then they accidentally unchain a monster (there's a monster in this movie, by the way, and it looks like a weird interpretation of Bigfoot) who wakes up all the Fraus.

Korvis leads a retreat with their newly-gained stuff and personnel, and the men are able to get away.  Korvis himself, however, is tracked down by some of the women and shoved off a cliff.  He seemingly falls to his death...

...only to crash through the roof of a hidden bunker.  He wakes up bruised and alive inside the shelter, which has automatic lights that come on and trigger an emergency generator along with some gizmos and computers and other fun stuff.  A video plays on a nearby monitor and we find out this was meant to be an emergency shelter for the president of the US, back when America was still around.  Korvis digs around some lockers and finds all kinds of cool goodies, like laser guns and grenades and a spiffy foil outfit.  And since he taught himself to read, he's able to go through the instruction manuals that were left behind and figures out how to operate everything.

Korvis puts on the foil suit and emerges from the bunker with a stockpile of weapons and technology.  He crosses paths with an elderly academic type whose name I never caught, and this guy recognizes the technology as being from the Olden Tymes.  There's also apparently a mythology in this world around "the President," who is a Christ-like figure that is promised to come back some day and save everyone.

Korvis realizes now that he can pass himself off as "the President" and use that mythology to his benefit.  He takes some of his men back to Vena's camp and uses a combination of flares, fireworks, a boombox playing the 1812 Overture, and a dummy that's wearing the foil suit to put on a big presentation to the women announcing the return of "the President," who demands that Vena meet him - alone - to discuss plans for managing the world.  Vena agrees, partly because of the spectacle and partly because the men have also kidnapped one of her officers and are holding her hostage.

The next day, Vena goes to meet Korvis at the spot they agreed upon, and the hostage is released.  Then Korvis takes Vena to the bunker to show her all that cool shit and negotiate a peace between the men and women.  They hit it off and start making out, then have sex on that awesome emergency presidential bed.

While that's happening, Morha sows more discord among the women by saying how weak it is that Vena gave into the President's demands.  She knows where the men's camp is and gives a speech about how they should just go kill everybody now and be done with it.  Next thing you know, Morha is leading a raid on the men's camp, and there's a big, violent battle full of explosions and knife fights and widespread death and pain.

It's a Pyrrhic victory at best for the women.  The men's camp is mostly destroyed, but Morha has been killed and the few women who return are badly injured and deflated.  Although they killed some of the free men, most are still alive, and they're thirsty for blood.

When Korvis and Vena finish their negotiations - which are going well, by the way - they return to their respective camps and are horrified to see what happened in their absence.  Korvis leads his men on one final, desperate attack on Vena's camp, but she stops him at the camp entrance to apologize and offers peace.

Then Korvis and Vena start making out again, and everybody decides they'd rather just have some sex.  So they toss their weapons to the ground and the credits roll.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

This movie's all over the map.  There's the good, the bad, and the stuff that gets simultaneously worse and better the more you think about it.

Let's start with some unironic positives in the movie's favor. Although the budget constraints show from time to time, it has a cohesive style and tone that feel charming at the worst of times and downright absorbing at best.  It is paced pretty well and never feels slow. And even the worst special effects still work for what they're trying to accomplish.

It also deserves kudos for handling gender roles and politics in a surprisingly decent way, given the era and the production studio.  Think about how bad it sounds: it's a movie about ultra-empowered women in the apocalypse who have enslaved men, and the rise of independent male thinkers who fight for their freedom.  Yikes.  Maybe it's because I'm watching it with the jaded, angry eyes of somebody who's had to suffer male rights advocates and Trump's election, but that just sounds like a recipe for disaster.  I hear that premise and I'm picturing a bunch of shit-ass Last Man Standing idiots shoe-horning their pathetic ideology into a bad action movie where they'll end up raping their way to freedom and getting the women back into the kitchen where they belong.

That doesn't happen.  That's not what this movie is and that's not the message they're trying to go for.  The women aren't heartless - they're just blindly following an aggressive system that ironically has the same base, imperialistic values that those led by men in the pre-Apocalypse had.  Gender has nothing to do with it.  And they aren't saved by being "broken in" by men or any crap like that - they're strong fighters at the beginning of the movie, they're strong throughout, and they're strong in the end.  They're just more agreeable to peace.

You could easily see something like this losing steam along the way and turning into an alt-right rant.  And considering how much loose comedy they try to pack in, you might even expect there'd be some shitty joke about how the women get sidetracked when they discover the remains of an old clothes store or whatever the fuck.  But, no, America 3000 is committed to its premise and never stoops to throw in a dig at either sex.  (With one possible exception; there's a part that might be implying that the men are happy to go for weeks on end without bathing, but the women are more obsessed with cleanliness.  I'd more readily chalk that up to class, though.)

Now, for the bad news: although there aren't crappy "men do this, women do this" jokes, that doesn't make the other jokes any better.  America 3000 really wants to be a lighthearted romp, but that's not where its strengths lie.  Any time it goes for a laugh, it falters.

The main problem is the narrator. Gruss is telling us the story after the fact, which is intrusive and annoying in and of itself - he basically just speaks over what's happening to remind you that it is, in fact, happening.  The annoying thing, though, is that his way of speaking is nothing like what you hear in the main movie.  Movie Gruss is one of the liberated men and uses the same weird dialect and nonsense words as all the others.  Narrator Gruss is (allegedly) hip and snarky and edgy and speaks like some asshole from white bread America talking down on all the idiots on screen.

I fucking hate Narrator Gruss.  He sucks on so many levels.  First he's interrupting the story.  Then he's being unfunny.  But then you start to think about what must have changed for him to speak the way he does now, and you realize he's totally lost touch with his roots.  How dare he sneer at those brave men and women of yesteryear who risked their lives for his freedom?  Fuckin' snotty ass white boy.

Then there's also Bigfoot.  I'm not 100% on why he's in the movie - I think it's supposed to be a thing where radiation from the nuclear war that caused the Apocalypse led to mutations in the wild, and now there are giant hairy ape-men wandering the wastelands.  But wherever he came from, he shows up in a prison in the women's camp out of nowhere and then starts following the men around after their raid.  Bigfoot ends up being their mascot and arbitrarily walks in and out of scenes to flip out and be manic, and I guess that's a joke?  I just find him exhausting and confusing.  I mean, given what you've read up to this point, did you think this movie needed Bigfoot?

Now, that's the good and the bad, so what about all that other weird shit?  Well....

Let's talk a bit more about the dialect.  On the one hand, I respect America 3000 for its consistency.  I appreciate that they cared enough to make everybody talk in New Speak and they don't do any one-off things.  Nobody calls something a "fire stick" in scene one and then a "Winchester rifle" later, or anything like that.  On the other hand, I kinda got sick of that shit by the end, and some of it just plain doesn't make any sense.

Like, they use the word "scan" to mean almost everything.  It means, at various times: see, think, understand, know, approve, accept, believe, and confirm.  But why?  Where did "scan" come from?  Or consider the other big one - they use "nega" to mean "no" or "not."  But "nega" is twice as many syllables as either "no" or "not."  It's more work.  And how exactly does the word "no" go out of fashion?  It's been in our language since the beginning.  You almost can't have a language without having "no" in it.  It's sort of a cornerstone word.  How exactly does a society stop using "no" long enough that a new word that vaguely means the same thing, but longer, can take over?

Or maybe consider how the main throughline of the movie is that people have forgotten what passionate love is.  Everybody's differences are resolved when Korvis and Vena fall in love and their followers realize that men and women can make out with each other.  This was apparently a mystery to them?

How?  How does that happen to anybody anywhere?  Their society understands how babies are made - there's a sequence where one of the women is put into a "mating tent" where she is strapped down to a bed (which is a little strange, since you'd think they wouldn't want to put women in a position where they could be rendered powerless) and one of the men selected for breeding has sex with her.  It's a mechanical, almost frightening process for both of them.

...yet she ends up enjoying it, and later she realizes that the man who was selected to impregnate her is a dude with whom she's had a mutual crush for awhile.  So, clearly people do still have feelings of affection for each other and they know that sex can be pleasurable... so where exactly did they forget that you can just have fun sex?  Why is everybody so fucking stupid, pun very much intended?

The more you try to make America 3000 make sense, the more it seems like you probably shouldn't have watched it in the first place.  And despite all that, it's a ton of fun.  That's the sign of a true masterpiece of trash.  I would recommend this one - it's bad in all the right ways and never feels dull.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

No obscurity bonus this week; although America 3000 comes in under the 1,000 rating cap, it's got a reasonably high profile among the types who you'd be looking to impress with your hipster cred and currently has north of 750 ratings on IMDb.

I'll give it a thirty point recommendation bonus, plus a ten point pedigree bonus since it's a Cannon Films production.  I'll also give it a fifteen point "you've probably never heard of them" bonus for the cast.

That adds up to a middle-of-the road total of 55 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

If you go before it gets pulled for copyright violations, you can watch America 3000 on Youtube.