I know there’s a tendency for bad movie lovers to overhype some obscure piece of garbage that only they’ve seen, but this is straight up no fooling one of the most incomprehensible, bizarrely acted, shot and edited movies of all time. A grin spread across my face from five minutes in as I knew I was in for a treat, and if you can track it down you should – I’m delighted I picked this as the last in our long-running series on Joe Lara.
Where to begin? A guy doing an archaeological dig armed with little more than a shoe-brush finds, in a few inches of sand, a weird alien artefact that looks a bit like a sawn-off baseball bat painted silver. Then, after a caption which reads “in the not too distant future”, we meet Lugar and Piper (Lara and Robin Joi Brown) coming back from a vacation in outer space, seemingly happy, only to get back to their rather nice-looking home and immediately break up. She keeps making references to him being “dark”, and the “darkness” all around, despite that not really being a thing that people say to each other. Well, she might have explained herself but the background music drowns out bits of dialogue – a problem we’ll have throughout.
Some sleazy bad guys led by Torman (Martin Kove, never without a massive cigar, apart from, I notice, the picture used immediately above, annoyingly) steal the artefact relatively easily and want to sell it. They’re not bothered about who – they’re happy to sell it back to “Central Intelligence” but if they don’t come through will take it overseas. Lugar, it turns out, is a cop so we’ve got the evil Torman’s gang, the moderately evil Central Intelligence, and the miserable drug addict Lugar (he’s seen puffing on some apparently narcotic inhaler at regular intervals) as our three main groups. Oh, and David Warner, during his wilderness years, shows up as a homeless super-genius who used to work on the artefact before he went mad.
That’s your plot, pretty much. Sort of standard, sort of dumb, just every now and again they’ll drop in some reference to them being in the future, like a box that can identify someone immediately by a strand of their hair or something. It’s everything else that conspires to make this a so-bad-it’s-good classic, and first up is the way it’s shot. Now, this will take a bit of explaining, so apologies if you already know this.
The way conversations are normally filmed is what’s called shot-reverse shot. It’s simple – one actor is shown in the first shot looking to the right of the camera, and the person they’re talking to will, in the reverse shot, look to the left. They’re not actually looking at each other, but it’s a visual trick and works. This movie occasionally does that, but right from the beginning it has two actors looking the same way, which irritates the brain – plus, all the angles are way off, so it never looks like two people who are feet apart are in the same room. It’s an elementary mistake not even made by the lowest-budget filmmakers, so for writer-director Serge Rodnunsky (who’d been making movies for five years by this point) to do it over and over again is just a head-scratcher.
The use of sets is another winner! Best guess is Rodnunsky or one of his producers loved hunting, as Lugar’s home is covered with hunting trophies, including a gigantic set of tusks dominating his living room. There’s also what is I think supposed to be a strip club later on in the movie? Anyway, it looks like another room in Lugar’s house – mounted animal heads all round, and ugly curtains covering whatever else was on the walls. It’s not just sets that were probably owned by one of the producers, though, it’s moving between them! A fight breaks out in the strip club, which spills outside…the outside of this club being a completely nondescript office building, which then within seconds leads to a large multi-storey car park.
It doesn’t stop there. “Central Intelligence”, presumably a big deal in the future, have as their main base a similar (perhaps the same) nondescript office building, and the boss of CI’s office looks like a low-level drone’s workstation – example? The only two books he has are a dictionary and a secretary’s handbook.
Before we get onto the home stretch, a few more of the gems you can expect from “Final Equinox”. An onscreen graphic talking about a space-particles of some sort is shown in shot for quite some time, but spelled “partical”; and, while discussing the artefact, one of the baddies said it was found in an underground cave, when we see at the beginning it being discovered out in the open. We’ve also got a love scene between Lugar and Piper, when she comes back and they make an attempt to patch things up, but Lugar is covered at all times whereas Piper…isn’t. Not unusual in and of itself, I’m sure you’ll agree, but when the shooting makes it look like they’re having sex in a tiny closet and has them in contortions no-one would be able to manage, purely to cover up as much of the man’s flesh as possible, then it becomes a bit more up our street.
“Final Equinox” sort of forgets David Warner is in it for a good long while, but he shows up at the end, re-stealing the artefact which he tells us is actually an alien bomb designed to instantly terraform a planet (which is how we started, apparently, only the aliens accidentally left a spare behind). The big battle between the three groups at the end reveals more of the director’s mastery of all things confusing, and I’d bet good money on most of this movie being done in reshoots, like they added in a subplot when they realised it would only last 70 minutes. It becomes apparent when you see David Warner and the CI guy have a fight, but they’re never in the same shot, and the lighting looks completely different for both of them – in fact I wonder if all the sci-fi trappings were added in at the last minute, because they add absolutely nothing and aren’t referenced by anyone else.
THIS MOVIE IS AMAZING! It takes a real effort to make something this bad without listening to any of the presumably professional crew telling you “hey, director, shooting these scenes in this way makes absolutely no sense”. And the ending? Skip to the rating at the bottom if you don’t want anything spoiled, but wiping out the entire human race and just leaving Lugar and Piper alive, two people who the movie has shown repeatedly are wildly unsuitable for each other, is a bold move.
I would love it if “Final Equinox” got discovered by the bad-movie elite and brought to a wider audience, because I want everybody to see it. It’s rare to see a film with every sort of incompetence on display, but we’ve got it here! And it’s a fitting end to our Joe Lara season. All the rest of his movies look like boring action dreck, so I don’t think I can be bothered to sit through them, but he can be remembered for some of the funnest sci-fi B-movies of the 90s, and this.
Rating: a million thumbs up