The nomad (Patrick Swayze) is meditating while standing on his head in the middle of the vast desert that human civilisation must survive in after the great cataclysm that wiped most of them out. As he contemplates the infinite, he notices movement amongst the sands and suddenly he is surrounded by scavengers rising up and advancing on him. Yet he is prepared, and after a scuffle he makes a stand, grabbing his backpack before it is dragged under and taking hold of his sword, despatches the assailants with ease...
There are no guns in the meaninglessly-titled Steel Dawn, which at least makes it stand out a little from the post-Mad Max 2, post-apocalypse movie pack, the other aspect making it notable being the presence of its star, Patrick Swayze, appearing in this the same year that Dirty Dancing made him famous the world over. This, however, did little to enhance his credibility and is a long way from Road House when it comes to bolstering his reputation. It's not that he's bad in it, indeed he does everything that Doug Lefler's script demands, it's just that that is not very much aside from the physicality.
The location filming in the deserts of Namibia at least gives the film an appropriately bleak appearance, and our unnamed hero could have stepped out of any number of classic westerns, most obviously Shane - he even has a little boy, Jux (Brett Hool), to look up to him. After seeing his mentor killed by bad guy swordsman Sho (Christopher Neame in a fright wig), with the nomad powerless to prevent it, he stumbles upon a settlement of farmers, which may bode well for mankind's survival strategies, but doesn't signal much in the way of action.
Of course there has to be a warlord who is out to take them over, but the film does get oddly preoccupied with the mechanics of farming when what most will be wanting to see is Swayze getting a firm grip on his shaft and giving the bad guys a good seeing to. The warlord is Damnil (Anthony Zerbe doing his usual villainous act), and he must have an army of about, ooh, ten people at least to do his bidding, not including Sho who he hires to swell his ranks. Where George Miller could work wonders with this set up, here director Lance Hool allows the excitement levels to dwindle.
If anyone walks away with the acting honours it's Brion James, playing Tark, the right hand man and ex-soldier of the leader of the farmers Kasha (Lisa Niemi, the real life Mrs Swayze). He does his customary tough guy performance, but gets to shade a clichéd role with some humour and pathos when he feels overshadowed by the nomad in the affections of the community. It's not much, but James does well with it. But really this is Swayze's film, and with his mighty mullet and trusty blade he is the epitome of the eighties action hero (futuristic division). That said, he really needed some better one liners, the only one raising a laugh being when Damnil interrupts him in the bath and he asks him "What's the matter? Never seen a naked man before?" There were an awful lot of movies like this one from around the globe during the eighties, and this isn't really one of the best. Music by Brian May.