JULY 15 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : ROME 2033 : THE FIGHTER CENTURIONS AKA THE NEW GLADIATORS (1984)
A ruthless ‘futuristic’ media organisation gathers ‘futuristic’ gladiators fight in a deadly ‘futuristic’ battle to be shown in “Globalvision” in an effort to win viewer ratings in a ‘futuristic’ media war. ‘Futuristic’ TV star ‘Drake’ is framed for murder and forced to train and then fight with a ‘futuristic’ motley crew of ‘futuristic’ death row convicts. Big, gay bike fights or “no-holds barred motorised combat” – you decide.
Rome 2033 – The Fighter Centurions is a pretty bad film. But you probably knew that already. The question is, does it entertain? Affirmative. The fact that it comes across as a poor man’s Rollerball, featuring a poor man’s James Caan (Drake, played by Jared Martin) and a poor man’s Chuck Norris (Kirk – played by Fulci veteran Al Cliver), only serves to heighten the pure entertainment value of this endearing ambitious Fulci outing. It also comes across as a poor man’s precursor to The Running Man, but let’s not even go there…
The budget shows in Rome 2033 – The Fighter
Centurions. The ‘futuristic’ Rome cityscape tries to emulate that Blade Runner look, but instead looks like someone’s been having loads of fun making miniatures with the help of sticky tape, glue, shoe boxes and fairy lights. The same shot of the cityscape is used repeatedly throughout the course of the film – sometimes the camera moving from left to right, sometimes vice-versa, and you know what – it looks pretty cool, even if its an obvious miniature.
I think we were all somewhat disappointed by the lack of actual fighting in this flick. Sadly, when the fights do happen, they’re either done in a strobe effect (eh? why?) or they’re just a bit rubbish, relying on a few too many bike explosions for my liking. Most of the film takes place inside the gladiator’s training base, focusing on the victimised fighters, the evil corporation (I love a good evil corporation in a movie!), and the ruthless trainer – Raven, who gets a kick out of disciplining his gladiators with his big green laser gun.
I’d love to mention the magic coffee bean that Drake swallows to enable him to disable computers and melt steel walls, but will leave that to my co-zombies.
“Ok, Raven, now you can zap me with your magic stick.”
Yes... It's like this - Monk turns up half way through the movie with a weird magic bean thing that Drake swallows and then melts the prison bars using the power of his mind, so they can escape. Right...
What initially comes across as one of the most obscene plot devices ever witnessed, ends up being just one ridiculous moment in a movie simply brimming with absolute absurdity. The big gay bike fight opening gives us a good idea of what's to come ("This is going to be shit, isn't it..." – Zomblee) before the plot dives into extensive futuristic gladiator death camp training stuff. This section bangs on a bit but is still funny – Fred Williamson looks like he’s walked in off the set of Bronx Warriors, Al Cliver similarly looks like he’s running late for Zombie Flesh Eaters while Jared Martin (Drake) must be wondering how he went from Dallas to this. That or his ears are still ringing from his fight with the bizarre whistling gang, or perhaps it’s the overuse of strobe lighting, either way the poor man doesn’t look himself.
The training itself is longwinded but has quite a few comedy highlights - namely the chin-ups over the electrified floor, the magic bean induced prison break and the bizarre scene where Drake threatens to electrify himself if he doesn’t get his way, supported by the rest of the inmates. Eh?
And then before you know it, we arrive at the finale. Yes, it's another big gay bike fight - as crap as the opener, although this time around the guys are asked to wear the campest outfits ever and the allocation of weaponry seems oddly in favour of the stars of the show - one guy gets a rope net, another a flame thrower. How can that be fair? I dunno, but it doesn't seem to matter - nearly all the contestants' bikes seem to blow up at some point, although for some reason the special effects of those shots remind me of when as a kid I set my Evil Kinevil toy on fire and sent him charging into the garden fence...
Still, what a ride - Rome 2033 had me crying with laughter. In fact I don't think there was a dry eye in the house all night, since Rome 2033 is easily one of the best good-bad movies ever made - right up there with Zombi 3, Cannibal Apocalypse and the classic Manos - The Hands of Fate. That's good company.
“I’m not afraid, I’m just wondering what this big gadget does of yours.”
What do you do when your TV station Network is attracting less ratings than what seems to be a cheap 70s advert for perfume? Well, if you’re anything like Mr Evil Computer Man from Globalvision, you obviously employ the Bee Gees (whilst whistling in white suits) to murder the wife of one of TV’s top sporting star’s so you can frame him to put him in a new ‘Gladiators from Ancient Rome’ type of show. Obviously.
Rome 2033 is a terrible movie, but for all the right reasons. Immediately starting off with an awful miniature shot, we know we shouldn’t be taking this film with any sort of seriousness supplements, and set about enjoying it’s quirkily crap charm, and to laugh out loud at it’s many preposterous plot points. Alongside the great coffee-bean escape sequence (Jim wasn’t having any of that – “I’ve worked in IT for 10 years, and I’ve never heard of anything like that. And this film’s 20 years old”), we get a great training sequence with flashing strobes and repeated ‘subconscious’ commands (‘Pick it up, pick it up..’), face melts, futuristic talking computers (why do they always say negative instead of no?) and a painfully bad end Gladiator game with exploding sidecars, gay karate kicks and blood-filled dummies being runover by motorcycles.
Other laugh out loud moments to watch out for include the team suddenly finding a map when they’re escaping through the caves (only to emerge on a rooftop? Huh?), the green laser of discipline, the meeting with disfigured Monk (“good to see a friendly face”), the chin-up bar to prevent them sizzling like sausages, the Games countdown (starting at 20 – 19 – 18..?!) and an ending countdown that has 49 seconds left at one point, but still 2 minutes remaining a couple of minutes later. Bless you Fulci for constantly ignoring such things such as plot logic. All that and some great 80s bob haircuts for both ‘Goodie Girl’ and ‘Baddie Girl’. I go all weak-kneed for bob-cuts on girls in films.
Is Rome 2033 a good film? No, it’s bloody terrible, and really everyone involved should be shot. Is Rome 2033 an enjoyable film? Hell yes. Just don’t expect to take any of it seriously, drink lots (although to comply with advertising standards, please remember to drink sensibly) and be prepared to forget about it all straight after.
“You’re all going to be de-materialised anyway!”