So, um, I finally watched 1979′s The Warriors, a touchstone flick referenced endlessly in MST3K, “The Simpsons,” and other pop-culture strip miners. From what little I knew about it (an eerily empty and blighted New York City subway populated only by roving gangs of, y’know, warriors; a seemingly eternal night of guerrilla warfare; a half-shirtless cast clad in leather vests), I assumed The Warriors was a post-apocalyptic gangland epic, a Mad Max set in the NYC subway.
But it ain’t. The Warriors takes place in then-contemporary New York… which accounts for the squalid atmosphere. (Yeah, the 1990s clean-up campaign was overly aggressive and rife with systemic abuse of authority, but, y’all, 1970s New York was a sewer.) In the film’s opening, every street gang in the city is called to the Bronx for an uneasy summit meeting. The staggering proposal: since gang members vastly outnumber police, an intergang truce would allow them to rule the city unchallenged.
Unfortunately, the movie drops the intriguing idea of class warfare and kleptocracy (and the social and philosophical questions it raises). Instead, the Warriors are wrongly implicated in a gang slaying and have to hustle their way home to Coney without getting jumped by rival gangs. That’s right: the film offers the possibility of total social upheaval, then bait-and-switches to the epic adventure of some guys getting lost on the the subway.
Aaaand then it plunges from the merely tedious into the absurd. Among the gangs The Warriors have to evade:
– The Turnbulls, a reasonably realistic gang in reasonably realistic garb (jeans, bandanas) bearing a reasonably realistic range of weapons (chains, knives, two-by-fours, and — a little outlandishly — a great big school bus that they cling to);
– The Orphans, a weedy-looking bunch in monogrammed drab-green t-shirts;
– The Baseball Furies, a band of bat-wielding soldiers in full face paint and old-timey baseball uniforms;
– The Hi-Hats, suspendered tights-wearing mimes in top hats and, again, full face paint (why doesn’t it get smudged in combat?);
– The Lizzies, a tough all-girl gang who (OH MY GOODNESS) might not be as beguiled by The Warriors’ sexual magnetism as they let on;
– The Riffs, who habitually perform some sort of martial-art/standing yoga en masse in shortie bathrobes;
– The Hurricanes, who all sport porkpie hats;
– The Punks, strapping guys in overalls and rollerskates who all dress like oversized Chucky dolls, which is not nearly as scary as it might sound.
And about ten other gangs too ridiculous to describe or keep track of, though The Fella and I have tentatively identified a few, whom we’ve named:
– The Referees (in vertical-striped black-and-yellow shirts);
– The Benatars (in horizontal-striped jerseys, snap-brim fedoras, and sassy-short feathery haircuts; c’mon and hit them with your best shot);
– The Traffic Cones (in blaze yellow satin jackets, not super for evading your enemies in the dark streets),
– and The Buffetts (in Hawaiian shirts).
I don’t know what’s more bananas: seeing the gangs get more and more hilarious, or trying to suspend my disbelief when it turns out that these world-weary rakes and streetwise criminals can’t read a damn subway map, or watching Dexter’s dad (James Remar) strut around shirtless, threatening to rape women and unleashing homophobic taunts on his fellow gang members, or both of us saying at the same moment, “Hey, is that the less memorable sister from ‘Too Close for Comfort’?” (It is.)
[This review is cross-posted to The Video RePort.]