The Omega Man 1971 ***

omegaBack in Victorian times, there were no videos, trailers or DVD’s to remind us of great films; kids read books, and the description of The Omega Man sounded amazing to this kid. A future in which only one man survives, using unlimited weapons, any vehicle he wanted, living with extraordinary means as he battled an army of vampires for the planet’s future? It came as something of a shock to finally see Boris Sagal’s sci-fi thriller and register just how 1971 it was. The casting of Charlton Heston as Neville positioned Omega Man amongst a dystopian series that included Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, but his larger-than-life persona also engendered a certain dated political view. The term ‘white saviour’ probably wasn’t minted back then, but Heston’s love of weapons, alpha-male preening and portrayal of himself as a messianic figure sit uncomfortably with the groovy décor and Rosalind Cash’s portrayal of the last woman on earth. ‘ Are you a god?’ a child asks Neville; today’s audiences may be than less impressed, but Sagal’s film leans into such criticism. A scene where Neville sits in a cinema and watches his favourite film, Woodstock, which he sees as a comedy and enjoys in the company of his machine gun, suggests we’re meant to find his retro-conservativism amusing, but his willingness to shack up with Cash seems like racial opportunism and doesn’t strike sparks. And yet such miscalculations don’t stop The Omega Man from having a cult appeal; there’s a James Bond-ian elan about some of the short-lived bursts of action, and a haunting appeal in the narrative tropes; the deserted city, the one person who carries the plague antidote in their blood; many of the clichés of dystopian future-worlds since find an early embodiment in this reactionary, yet entertaining film.

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The Order 2001 ***

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Sure, Jean-Claude van Damme can do the splits on a kitchen cabinet, or trace a consignment of exploding pants through Hong Kong (Knock Off); but have you ever wondered what his writing would be like? The Muscles from Brussels admits that he’s had significant drug problems during his career, and his script for Sheldon Lettich’s The Order suggests a star way out of control. JCVD kicks things off by imagining himself as a knight at the First Crusades in 1099, sickened by the violence of the age and having an epiphany that involves looking directly at the camera and widening his eyes as a Pino Donaggio score swells. Jump forward to the present day and JCVD is an Indiana Jones figure in the world of stolen artefacts, complete with a father (Vernon Dubtcheff) who has access to the original knight’s enlightened scrolls. The scrolls are stolen, and Rudy heads for Israel, where The Order considers cultural differences by disguising van Damme in beard and ringlets as a Hassidic Jew and having him shout ‘Oi Vey!’ as the cops chase him around New Jerusalem. If this doesn’t sound bad enough, Charlton Heston turns up looking rather less than fresh and mumbling about knickers before taking an early bath to allow the kickboxing to get into gear. The Order asks far too much of the star, with abrupt chances of tone between murder, comedy, travelogue and philosophising that require the kind of charm that Cary Grant couldn’t make run smoothly. As a ludicrous romp, however, The Order has a few choice moments; as Rudy notes with gravitas, ‘Laughter opens the soul’ and there’s lots of accidental merriment to keep your inner-being well ajar here.