It's the future, baby! And, surprise, surprise, the world is a post-apocalyptic hellhole overrun with freaky mutants, Neo-Nazi stormtroopers and punk rock bikers. Little wonder most folks stay indoors to watch Endgame, the hit reality television show wherein cynical, leather-clad road warrior Ron Shannon (Al Cliver) takes on assorted gladiators, including childhood pal-turned-deadly rival, Kurt Karnak (George Eastman). In the midst of his daily street battles, Ron rescues mutant telepath Lilith (erstwhile Emanuelle, Laura Gemser) from a gang of deformed rapists. Along with crazy-accented neurosurgeon Professor Levin (Dino Conti), Lilith promises Ron a fortune in gold if he can guide a group of psychic mutants across the desert to a safe haven run by benevolent scientists. He agrees, but crypto-fascist Colonel Morgan (onetime sword & sandal star, Gordon Mitchell) also has designs on the psychic runaways, particularly a little boy named Tommy (Christopher Walsh) who - aside from being a pinball wizard (it has to be a fix!) - wields devastating telekinetic powers.
Among the few highpoints of the generally dreary Italian post-apocalyptic sci-fi craze of the early Eighties unexpectedly arose from Joe D'Amato a.k.a. sleazemeister Aristide Massaccesi, here directing under the pseudonym Steven Benson instead of his usual nom de plume. Opening ominously on a mushroom cloud sunrise with a score by Carlo Maria Cordo that carries a real aura of dread despite stealing shamelessly from Vangelis, Endgame: Bronx lotta finale conjures a nightmarish yet surprisingly witty vision of future shock melding motifs from Italian zombie movies, spaghetti westerns, spy thrillers, jungle warfare and urban action films.
While as derivative of The Road Warrior (1981) and Escape from New York (1981) as most examples of the genre, in its early stages the film is also remarkably prescient. Its satirical intent foreshadows Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier's work in Robocop (1987) (Endgame's host hawks high energy protein pills: "Don't delay, buy today!"), the psychic-kids-on-the-run-from-the-government subplot anticipates Akira (1988), and though Massaccessi draws in part from The 10th Victim (1965), the whole reality television death-match angle paved the way for the likes of The Running Man (1987) and The Hunger Games (2012), although the film is nowhere as provocative nor emotionally resonant as the latter. Of course the concept begs the question: if cameras trail Ron Shannon's every move, how did Lilith and her mutant comrades expect to hide their escape plan from Colonel Morgan?
After a promising start the film loses steam yet remains sporadically inventive and luridly compelling as Ron assembles a Seven Samurai-style team of guardians including post-apocalypse perennial Al Yamanouchi as the only ninja in the world actually named Ninja, burly Viking warrior Kovack (Mario Pedone), ace knife thrower Kijawa (Nello Pazzafini), and the eyepatch-sporting Bull (Gabriele Tinti, Gemser's real life husband). Thereafter the film devolves into a morass of motorcycle stunts and repetitive gunfights with monkey mutants and fishmen including one who is delighted to get his grubby gills on Emmanuelle ("Look at me while I rape you, damn it!"). Oddly in the midst of this sexual assault, when Ron telepathically inquires whether Lilith needs help, she replies no thanks, she is fine. Maybe she digs fishmen...
The cynical edge and casual cruelty that go part and parcel with the subgenre remain off-putting but the film stays true to its central theme as the cynical Ron rediscovers his humanity through interacting with idealistic mutants. None of the featured players are especially good actors but serve the material well enough. Ron's alternately cordial and antagonistic relationship with Kurt Karnak, who in return for the hero sparing his life lends his sharpshooting skills to the cause, adds an offbeat and interesting element with a nice payoff. Massaccessi makes effective use of his limited resources, crafting a grimy, cobwebbed, rat-infested urban hellhole overflowing with grungy mutants, but while the action is well choreographed his staging proves unspectacular. Look out for future director Michele Soavi in a small cameo as a scientist towards the closing scene.