Wedlock (1991)

Wedlock 1991 (02)

Fresh from our review of “Salute of the Jugger” a few weeks ago, I was about to make a joke about this being the end of our Rutger Hauer / Joan Chen season, but it turns out they made another film together, 1996’s “Precious Find”. Do you think they turned up for the first day of filming and went “you again?”

This is one of those great sci-fi B-movies that seemingly sprang up everywhere in the 80s and 90s. Frank (Hauer), Noelle (Chen) and Sam (James Remar) are robbing a bank vault which has $25 milion worth of diamonds in it – Frank and Noelle are engaged, but she decides to betray Frank and throws her lot in with Sam, after a hell of an escape sequence. So, after getting shot, he ends up in future-prison, and that’s where Wedlock comes in.

It’s sort of a clever system – no walls, very few guards, regular male-female “alone time”. Every inmate is fitted with a metal collar with C4 in it, and as long as you don’t go 100 yards from your wedlock partner, you’re fine – problem is, you don’t know you’re wedlocked to. There’s a line indicating a hundred-metre diameter circle, as long as you stay inside it you’re always safe. The inmates spy on the other inmates, because no-one wants to get their head blown off – if your partner makes a run for it, you’re done for too. You misbehave and you get put in the “The Floater” – a large coffin full of water, pretty much.


This is a pretty cool setup for a movie, but it’s only half of it – Hauer ditched the diamonds before being double-crossed, so no-one knows where they are; and Tracy (Mimi Rodgers) has figured out that Hauer’s her wedlock partner, and she wants out, reasoning that as long as they stay together, they should be fine. So the rest of the movie is chases and double-crosses and the two of them desperately trying to stay within a hundred yards of each other.

There’s a few flaws in the Wedlock system (some savant on the IMDB message board clued me in) but never mind that, because this is fun! Hauer and Rodgers make an unlikely but good team, Remar and Chen relish playing their OTT bad guys, and there’s a memorable turn from Stephen Tobolowsky as the prison warden and inventor of Wedlock. There’s a very brief early appearance from Danny Trejo too, seemingly pre-at least some of his tattoos, and a few good visual gags…it’s just a strong, entertaining movie with a clever central idea, and it’s absolutely worth a watch. If anything, it uses its plot points too quickly! The direction from Lewis Teague is okay, nothing too flashy or interesting (his IMDB bio’s first descriptive word is “efficient”, which says a lot).


This movie is also a minor entrant in the “Cubs win the World Series” range of movies. If you want to indicate you’re in the future, or an alternate reality, this is the trick that many many movies have used. For those of you who don’t like or follow baseball, the Cubs are the unluckiest team in the sport, having not won the main prize for over 100 years (this list gives a breakdown of all the things that have happened since). This trope is most famously used in “Back To The Future 2”, when the year of the Cubs drought-breaking win is…2015. If they actually win next year, get ready for the internet to explode.

Rating: thumbs up



The Salute Of The Jugger (1989)


I had basically no idea what to expect when popping this film in. I guessed it was post-apocalyptic, but that was about it and I’m glad I’d managed to spend my life going spoiler-free because I think I’ve re-discovered one of the great classics of the “Video Shop era”.

We are long post-apocalyptic here. Real civilization is but a distant memory, tyres are used for decoration or protection, outside the “cities” humanity lives in tiny settlements in the desert, known as dog-towns because that’s what they use for meat. Into one of these nondescript villages comes a team of juggers, led by Sallow (Rutger Hauer) with excellent support from Mbulu (Delroy Lindo) and Young Gar (a very young Vincent D’Onofrio).

The players are known as juggers, but the game is just The Game. It’s sort of a super-brutal form of future-rugby, with teams comprising of a “Quick”, a “Chain” and three “Slashers”. The quick needs to grab a dog-skull and place it on their goalpost, and the other team tries to stop them. Everyone apart from the Quick has weapons, and it’s extraordinarily brutal, with death commonplace and lots of scars guaranteed. The travelling teams survive on tributes from their opponents (provided they win) and after every match is a big party where you’re provided with a seemingly willing harem of people of the gender of your choice, plus food, drink and music.


This game was invented wholesale by writer / director David Peoples, and it’s proved popular enough to cross over to the real world, with several leagues in Europe and the US (presumably with less death and disfigurement). Peoples is one of the cleverest of Hollywood’s scriptwriters, having written “Blade Runner”, “Unforgiven” and “Twelve Monkeys”, and this, while not quite up there with those classics, certainly deserves a great deal more attention than it’s had.

Wannabe Quick Kidda (Joan Chen) is looking for more than her small-town life, so when Sallow’s Quick is severely injured after playing in her town, she follows them and eventually works her way onto the team. She learns the game and the team improves, all the while heading north, towards the Red City and a potential challenge match against their League team, strong and fast professionals, where it’s either death or glory – Sallow, a former League player, got their attention as a young man by lasting 26 “stones” (game times are marked by throwing stones at a gong, 3 segments lasting 100 hundred stones each, one stone every five seconds or so).

There’s a lot of film in this film. At a point in the action where your average low-budget sci-fi film would have been ready for the crescendo, “Salute of the Jugger” is barely halfway over. Kidda blossoms and the film develops two stories – her attempt to make it to the League, and Sallow’s attempt at redemption after years in the wilderness. Alongside all this is some frankly masterful world-building, where every single thing feels like it was thought out. The dormitory that Kidda and Sallow stay in in the city; the literal divide between rich and poor (with segments feeling like a spiritual predecessor to “The Hunger Games”); the way the dog-towns operate; and very importantly, the film’s view of gender.

Gender is almost entirely irrelevant. Sallow’s team, as well as having Kidda, has another woman member, and they fight in exactly the same way and are treated as equal members. Sex for the victorious team is provided equally to both genders, and aside from a slightly under-developed plot about the reason for Sallow being kicked out of the Red City being something to do with an upper-class woman he had a relationship with, there seems to be complete equality. No point is made of this, although it’s certainly deliberate, so if you’re watching you’ll just be enjoying the plot and the matches, until you stop and think about it for a second and realise that there’s no sexist language, no misogyny, and women aren’t threatened out in this wilderness. Class is the only divide in this world.


On top of a really smart script and a sexism-free world, there’s the games themselves. Boy, are they exciting! It feels like a real sport, and the final match as Sallow’s team goes further than any challenger ever has before, bringing spectators from all over the city to cheer them on, is the equal of any great sport film you could name.

This is a really good film, one that absolutely nails the ending, a minor classic of the era of video shops (early 80s to early 00s) and it’s tied together with a fantastic performance from Rutger Hauer. His ability to elevate material with his sheer presence has made lots of films enjoyable that shouldn’t have been, and his presence in great films has made them classics. If you think about it, he can match top 5 best films with just about anyone – “Blade Runner”, “The Hitcher”, “Fatherland”, this and about 20 tied for that fifth spot. He’s fantastic, and he’s helped by great turns from Chen, Lindo and D’Onofrio. How is this film not more popular?

So, jump on a cheap VHS copy of this film the next time you see it, while we’re still in its 25th anniversary year, and have yourself a heck of a time. A real gem.

Rating: thumbs up