Lock n Load (1990)

After a few movies where new things were tried – plots, locations and so on – we’re back in familiar territory for David A Prior, in the last of the 7 (!) movies he wrote or directed, or both, in 1990. We made it out of 1990, people!

It’s been a while since we’ve seen brother Ted in one of these movies, and “Lock n Load” is no exception, featuring one Jack Vogel in the lead role. Vogel is a fine lead actor, but his career was largely focused in the late 80s and early 90s, mostly in Prior movies, making a few appearances in Prior’s much later efforts (more on such gems as “The P.A.C.K.” and “Zombie Wars” later).

Here, Vogel plays Paul, a Vietnam vet (take a shot), who’s having traumatic dreams (take a shot), but not about his actual wartime experiences. He’s walking down a corridor which looks like it was borrowed from the set of a cheap sci-fi movie, and an unseen figure at the far end is trying to get him to submit, or something, but…he wakes up sweating, etc.

Paul realises something is going on when, listening to the radio, he gets information that one of his old Army buddies has robbed some drug dealers, then killed himself (we saw it in the “cold open”, which was rather confusing, but I liked it). Helpfully, he has a list of the guys from his old platoon, and it’s got a few Prior in-jokes on it – one of the crossed-out names is Doug Harter, aka “Pappy” from most of our recent reviews, and “David Prior” is one of the names too – so he tries to call a few of the ones who are still alive to talk to them. Evil businessman Jordan Prescott tells him to take a hike, but one of his buddies, Ken, who’s in what looks like a very unhappy marriage to Claire (Renee Cline, the female lead of “Invasion Force”), invites him to a barbeque the next day so they can discuss it.

But, before he gets there, Ken receives a phone call which says simply “lock and load”, which causes him to go into a trance, walk out the door (not before punching Claire, who tries to stop him) and go rob some security guards. He drops the money off in a secret location before driving to a secluded spot to blow himself up – Paul almost saves him, but sadly Ken has a bunch of dynamite on him. Luckily, one of the cops is both friendly and believes Paul’s rather odd story, so he sort of teams up with both him and Claire to try and get to the bottom of things.

One might wonder “did brainwashed Ken just instinctively know where there’d be people with sacks of cash?” But don’t worry about that, as the movie doesn’t (at least until the very end). One might also wonder how quickly Paul and Claire get together, but…she’s been treated badly for a long time, and Paul is a decent human being, so it’s not too odd. But seriously, Paul! She’s your friend’s wife, and he’s been dead for like two days!

Act 2 is s-l-o-w. There’s a horribly underdeveloped army guy who tells us of the secret of “King’s Pawn”, and there’s a Governor who is introducing environmental laws, who Jordan is feuding with, being an evil businessman and all. They crawl towards an understanding of what’s really going on, despite the actual villain being obvious as hell, until things kick off again towards the end.

What becomes apparent is that the script is underbaked. I try to avoid being an armchair quarterback when it comes to these things, but it would have taken relatively little to massively improve “Lock n Load” (including trimming about ten minutes off the run-time). The military insist that the cop stops investigating these brainwashed men committing robbery-suicides, but why? It’s not like the guy doing it is in the military any more, or is doing things that benefit the military. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to kill the guy who was actually doing the brainwashing?

Then there’s the twist at the end, which is so obvious that…well, I realised it. “Hey, looks like you were wrong,” says my wife, to which I reply “he’s faking it” (no names, in case you want to watch this one yourself). But then there’s the twist’s twist, which makes no sense when you think about it for more than half a second.

I feel like this sort of movie, featuring brainwashed soldiers, would have had more resonance in the Soviet era, when Americans were so desperately afraid of being exposed to a better way of organising society (satire!) that these sort of half-baked “Manchurian Candidate” inspired efforts would have seemed scary.

There’s a lack of the gun-battles that Prior “fans” know and “love”; sadly, it’s no better for their absence. The acting is fine, the visuals are different (filmed in actual snowy Colorado), but…eh. It’s alright?

Rating: thumbs in the middle