Neon City (1991)

After an environmental disaster, the world has turned into a barren wasteland. Bounty hunter Harry Stark catches wanted bandit girl Reno, and is tasked to bring her from frontier town Jericho Station to the last stronghold of civilization, Neon City. Together with some other travelers they take on the dangerous route through radiation storms, mutant raiders, and toxic clouds in a fortified truck. Having no to rely on one but themselves, the travelers learn to trust each other, and together struggle to survive their journey to Neon City.

Neon City came a few years late to the post-apocalyptic party started by the Mad Max movies, and is full of the tropes you would expect from a movie of this kind. The movie has a few things going that prevent from being a complete rip-off of its genre-defining predecessors, though. It’s not the story line, as there’s not much of it. The main part of the movie consists of several unrelated incidents along the journey, and a lot of interpersonal drama. The action scenes are shot very choppy, with a bad choreography (not in a charming kind of way). Then we have main protagonist Harry Stark, who is played by action movie veteran Michael Ironside. Mostly known for his passionate portrayals of movie villains, he tries his best to play the good guy for a change. It works pretty well, save for the occasional grim face and irritated deep breath. The rest of the characters are a collection of movie stereotypes, where nothing really stands out except the excellent condition of everyone’s hair. There must be a lot of conditioner left after the end of the world.

A third or so of the movie is shown from inside the truck, where the passengers typically engage in pesky exchanges. As time goes by, the characters learn to trust and help each other. There is one really weird scene in the movie where the group discovers a deserted bathhouse with a fully operational hot swimming pool, where they relax and forget their worldly troubles for a short while. This almost seems like some sort of divine favor to reward them for their upright behavior in a depraved world. That’s the best I can make of it.

Another thing that sets Neon City somewhat apart from its genre buddies is the blending of western elements into the post-apocalyptic setting. While this is understandable due to the overlap of themes between these two genres (survival in a frontier wasteland, mental and physical desolation etc.), there’s not too many movies out there that showcase these elements so directly as Neon City with an almost delightful naivety.

A fairly decent amount of time is spent on elaborating the origins and consequences of the environmental catastrophe that took place in the world of Neon City due to tinkering with the atmospheric conditions of the Earth. While in the movie it’s mostly just a bunch of techno babble, this is a topic that is currently of interest again in the real world. Scientists are considering to shoot sulfur bombs into the atmosphere that may counteract the effects of global warming, while no one really knows what bad stuff may happen when doing this. At least the movie got me thinking about this, which may also be a sign of it not really grabbing my attention while watching it.

Despite some scenic photography and a few wacky scenes, Neon City is a rather mediocre entry to the post-apocalyptic genre. Meandering without much of a plot, and rather sparse action sequences, it still provides enough enjoyment to be watchable, and provides an awkward but stark reminder of the environmental catastrophe that may lie ahead of us.