Hands of Steel (1986)

A cyborg is programmed to kill the one man who can save all of humanity from total ecological collapse! But while they may have replaced his wimpy meat hands with awesome metal hands (that look exactly like wimpy meat hands), they forgot to replace the one thing that matters most to a man! No, not his dingus! You’d have to ask his girlfriend Linda about that, you perv!

He still has his heart! And that is how he explains why when he delivered his patented death punch to the blind Al Gore-esque eco messiah, he eased up just a bit so that the ruptured spleen the poor bastard suffered didn’t immediately kill him! Uh thanks for having such a big heart, I guess.

In the gloomy almost apocalyptic world of the 1990s where cities are overrun with extras pretending to be bums and the damaged environment necessitates dryer hoses be attached to windows for no discernible reason, evil businessman Turner (John Saxon, providing the sole mainstream “name of the film) sends Paco Queruak (Daniel Greene, providing one of several Italian trash legend “names” in the film) to kill the green guru and then sends some more equally incompetent people to kill Paco after Paco fails in his mission.

But Turner discovers Paco won’t die easy (toward the end of the film, Tuner acts like he just remembered that Paco is an unstoppable mechanical killing machine and comically announces that it’s finally time to use the laser!) because Paco’s titular hands of steel have given him abilities far beyond those of mortal men! And we aren’t talking boring upgrades like the Six Million Dollar Man had like a bionic eye (wouldn’t binoculars be cheaper?) or the ability to run really fast in slow motion!

There was one thing no one could have expected when they took an injured soldier and rebuilt him with the best special effects a 1980s Italian movie could provide! No, it wasn’t that this machine who had once been a man could still love or feel or have a moral compass. Or even might still possess something that the religious among us might dare to call a soul. It was something far more important than any of that. Something that could possibly get his picture up on the wall of the dive motel/diner he was staying at with the rest of the legends enshrined there! Something that might take this whole freaking movie… over the top!

Yes, Paco’s new life as a bionic bad ass also blessed him with championship arm wrestling ability! Even as great as the first two Terminator movies were, I never understood why the T-800 didn’t just drop everything and sit around proving himself on the amateur arm wrestling circuit! Was he scared that a guy like Tri-State Champion Anatola Blanco would beat him? Paco wasn’t scared! Even after a fellow arm wrestler he defeated proved what a sore loser he was and attempted to sabotage the big Blanco-Paco bicepocalyspe by dragging him behind a tow truck, beating him mercilessly with a metal pipe and then leaving him to die in the desert on the day of the match!

Jumping motorcycles off overpasses and sacrificing yourself in hot molten steel to save the future is such an easy way to get accolades for a robot killer. Hooking up with another monster in an Indian-style (loser gets bit by a rattlesnake!) title fight and putting another man’s arm down in the heat of battle while throngs of 5-10 dudes are breathing on your neck cheering? That’s a Joe Sixpack cyber assassin any of us can appreciate.

But it is Paco’s very success at arm wrestling that puts him and Linda’s lives and happiness at risk. Raul (the very sweaty and delightfully unhinged George Eastman) used to be the top dog until Paco beat him and took Linda away from him. While attempting to murder him in the desert was a pretty good day’s work, Raul really, really holds a grudge so he has no compunction about working with Turner’s hitman to try and finish him off for good. But just like the Force, even though there is Dark Side to arm wrestling, there is also a Light Side and so Blanco will sacrifice himself Obi-Wan style to give Linda and Paco a chance!

It’s a weird story to be sure. Despite the beginning making a big deal about this environmental collapse, once Paco begins his arm wrestling career, it’s never mentioned again and the Arizona locations look pretty much like you expect Arizona locations to look like. (He did have to drive through some acid rain that messed up his car’s paint job though.) Likewise the whole reason Paco is back in Arizona (because he remembers something from his past life about it) is barely mentioned again and doesn’t play any part in what happens.

Despite Paco hiding out in the middle of nowhere to lay low, he instantly sticks out like sore thumb by beating everyone up in a bar fight and then even more so by beating the big names in arm wrestling. So it can’t be too much of a surprise to him when he gets attacked by other cyborgs, has professional hitmen sent after him, has the FBI closing in and even has to put up with Raul again trying to kill him by ramming a semi into his car!

If only they had replaced his crappy musclehead brain with a cutting edge CPU brain that could analyze billions of facts and weigh innumerable options instantly! Oh wait – that chunk of skull missing at the end of the film shows he does have a computerized brain. They must have scrimped on the RAM.  (I guess this was supposed to pass for a shock ending that maybe he wasn’t at all human anymore and to be sure I was a bit surprised since I chalked up Paco’s bland mostly emotionless presence more to Daniel Greene’s absolute lack of acting prowess than to Paco being a wholly mechanical construct.)

It might have just been director Sergio Martino thinking that mixing killer robots, arm wrestling and putting them in a neo film noir setting (“sweaty drifter with a past hooks up with woman at a dusty dead end diner who will likely be his undoing” just screams 1940s film noir, doesn’t it?) was somehow going to satisfy at least some people who were fans of at least one of those things, but much like what surely made up the inside of Paco’s head, instead felt like a messy rat’s nest of disparate components that never reliably connect with each other.

It’s quite telling that actor Claudio Cassinelli who played the main hitman for Turner was killed during the filming in a helicopter crash and the way the movie played out (Turner unceremoniously killing Cassinelli’s character long before the climax), you would have never guessed that Martino was forced to redo the script to account for Cassinelli’s death. It just came off as another random choice that didn’t make a lot of sense story wise, but you barely paid it any mind because well, it was a movie about a killer cyborg who in the middle of being on the run for attempting to kill the one man who could save the entire planet, started an arm wrestling career.

© 2017 MonsterHunter

2 thoughts on “Hands of Steel (1986)

  1. Boyd

    I never saw this movie, but I recall seeing the VHS box many times and laughing at how exaggerated was the cover, compared with the painfully cheap production exposed by the stills on the other side.

    Don’t know why we didn’t rent it. We preferred the Philil-Nam movies, because in our experience they used to be funnier than the Mad Max knock offs. Possibly we discarded it because it was obvious from the beginning it was too cheap even for our pathetic standards, and there is no fun in a “sci fi” movie with no sci fi and barely a movie. Sad to learn John Saxon ended working here, too. I liked the guy, but his career ended up pulverized.

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