The Road Warrior; Hanky Panky; Wrong Is Right


From Australia comes a saga of such violence that even those who have been anesthetized to violence by overexposure may be somewhat sickened by it (though most of the audience apparently loved it). Apart from that, however ("Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the theater?"), The Road Warrior is an intriguing story and extremely well told. Like a New Zealand film a month or so earlier, Battle Truck, it is a futuristic tale of struggle and savagery: with most of the human race decimated by war, what remains of society consists of a small number of armed enclaves, each at odds with the other for scarce resources, except for a loner (Mel Gibson) who is the hero of this tale. It shows in chilling detail what life is like without the amenities to which we have become accustomed and that trust and benevolence in dealing with people one doesn't know well is a luxury that may cost one's life in a situation of privation and danger. Filmed in the Great Australian Desert, this production makes these points as subtly as a ten-ton truck.

One naturally expects that a film entitled Hanky Panky and starring Gene Wilder will be a raucous comedy. And indeed there are some very funny scenes in it: one heated argument in a plane going berserk over the Grand Canyon is one of the funniest scenes in recent films. But, as the strains of the solo clarinet during the opening credits should have warned us, this is not primarily a comedy at all. It is a thrilling suspense film, in which very little but loose ends appear at first, and gradually the pieces of the puzzle fit together in a very orderly and satisfying way, quite worthy of Hitchcock himself—only the director this time is Sidney Poitier.

The results are entirely worthy of his efforts. Involved are chases, murders, computer technology, government attempts at mind twisting, and the deciphering of a painting by a man recently murdered who in death holds the solution to the mystery. No great social or political implications are apparent, though they could have been drawn; it's first and foremost suspenseful entertainment, a goal that is amply achieved. As a part of the mix, the feelings of an innocent bystander who inadvertently gets caught in the midst of a situation involving imminent death, with national implications before it's all over, are projected with considerable skill. This one is very much worth seeing.

When the film Network appeared a few years ago, to high acclaim, it was hard for a thoughtful viewer to figure out what it was all about. There was lots of action, lots of aggressive talk ("I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!"), but it was never very clear against whom or what all this anger was directed. In the end, it was a pointless picture without thrust or focus.

The same is true in spades of Wrong Is Right. There is such constant action as to result in sensory overkill. There is also lots of killing—with machine guns, with acid, with poisoned pen-knives, with chemically treated light bulbs, even with atom bombs. But what is the theme of it all? Is the CIA the villain? the Arab sheikdom? the Arab rebels who take it over? No group presented has much in the way of redeeming virtues. Or perhaps it is the medium of television itself, which by presenting the gore, spawns more of it. Yet the only character that isn't portrayed as despicable is the television newsman (Sean Connery). It's hard to know what to make of all this meaningless nonstop action. In the end, this too is a pointless, stupid film, without clear direction or focus. If only five percent of the money spent on it had been spent on a decent script.

John Hospers is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California.