Mad Max (Jan. 21/02)
The second half of Mad Max is so much more exciting and compelling than the first half, it's easy to wish that it's all there was of the film.
Though it was most likely incredibly daring and different upon its release in the late '70s, the post-apocalyptic world inhabited by the various Mad Max characters is now commonplace amongst these sorts of films. The twist here is that it's never made clear what exactly happened to the world we know. So-called normal people are completely absent from this universe, with rebels and cops the only remaining citizens (with an occasional family passing through). These future cops, decked out in menacing black leather, spend their days patrolling the various highways on the lookout for trouble. Max, played by (of course) Mel Gibson, is the best officer there is; as the movie opens, he stops a seemingly unstoppable villain by playing a deadly game of chicken. We soon meet Max's family - his wife and young son - and discover that his tough-guy exterior is merely a façade for a caring husband and father. Until Max is forced into a mission of vengeance, the film doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Car chases upon car chases are all well and good, but without some sort of a context to put them in, they tend to lose their meaning after a while.
That's not to say the car chase sequences aren't good; far from it. Despite an incredibly low budget, director George Miller infuses each chase scene with an energy that's unparalleled even today (Ronin is the only recent movie to sport a similar high-octane feel). By mounting cameras to the cars, we're put squarely in the action (and there's no trickery here, either - one motorcycle's speedometer can be glimpsed hitting a speed of over 60 miles per hour).
It's these car chases that make the first half of the film tolerable, which is devoid of any interesting characters or situations. We're dropped right into the middle of the action, without an explanation of why the world is the way it is or why the police now sport all-leather uniforms. But no matter - once the revenge plot kicks in, Mad Max takes off.
*** out of ****
© David Nusair 2002