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  Wheels of Fire To The Max
Year: 1985
Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Stars: Gary Watkins, Laura Banks, Lynda Wiesmeier, Linda Grovenor, Joe Mari Avellana, Joseph Zucchero, Jack S. Daniels, Steve Parvin, Nigel Hogge, Dennis Cole, Don Gordon Bell, Gary Taylor, Linda Drake, Henry Strzalkowski, Debbie Pusa, Cathy Leckie
Genre: Action, Trash, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The time is the future, after civilisation has fallen and mankind has taken to living in the desert wastelands that remain on Planet Earth. Among those wanderers is Trace (Gary Watkins), who drives the highways looking for adventure, though today he has found his sister Arlie (Lynda Wiesmeier) who has persuaded her boyfriend Bo (Steve Parvin) to enter a contest for a car. All he has to do is fight his opponent hand to hand, and he has confidence he will succeed until that rival swaps places with a bigger man who once battle commences pins Bo to the ground, grabs the key to his vehicle, and is about to kill him when Trace steps in to better him. After a scuffle, the three of them make good their escape, but are chased...

Once Mad Max 2 hit the big screens of the world, certain nations' exploitation proponents realised they had a new style of action movie to rip off, and thus for a few years after, to the end of the nineteen-eighties at least, there were a rash of leather-clad he-men driving souped-up vehicles across barren landscapes in a bid to outdo one another in the explosions and roaring engines stakes. In the Philippines, when he wasn't making trashy war flicks, director Cirio H. Santiago was churning out just this type of entertainment to be welcomed by the grindhouses of the world, or more likely by this stage the video stores of the world, as these lower budget runarounds proved fairly lucrative on VHS.

Thus the impressionable teens of the globe were introduced to the cinema of sex and violence by not so noble efforts like Wheels of Fire (not Wheel's on Fire, that's a song), and a whole nostalgia industry has been built up around not just this but many a title that way back when would be found lurking on the shelves of your local rental store. In this case, to distinguish it from a host of other similar movies there wasn't much that made it stand out aside from the examples of lunacy aficionados would relish turning up in such works. One thing the filmmakers could do would be to up the sexual angle, and so it was that Santiago ensured former Playboy Centerfold Wiesmeier, a one time staple of exploitation in decorative roles, was requested to appear topless for most of her scenes.

This was such a shameless instance of keeping the audience watching that it would be comical had her Arlie character not been kidnapped by the bad guys who were using her for their own depraved entertainment. Fortunately for the viewer her rape ordeal was kept offscreen, but the sight of her great wobbling bosoms distracting in practically every shot she was in left you in little doubt why the actress had been hired, and also had you pondering if someone wasn't taking advantage of her glamour model status. Nevertheless, out of such roles are cult movies born, even if the impetus for that isn't exactly laudable and took the edge off the amusement factor which in some places was considerable, though only thanks to how downright ludicrous it was.

Therefore you were expected to cheer for a hero whose violence made the bad guys almost sympathetic (on saving the exhausted Bo he promptly puts a bullet in his head - he might have been OK!), but also he could jump down a thirty foot cliff firing a machine gun and survive unscathed - there was even a flourish as he landed. Then there's the bit where he saves love interest Stinger (Laura Banks) from what look like the Morlocks from the sixties version of The Time Machine (they do live underground) but sound like the Ewoks; while Trace is there he rescues a telepathic woman called Spike (Linda Grovenor) who can interpret a babbling dwarf's gobbledegook, so there's that. After which we have the grand finale where a surprising amount of extras assemble for the big combat scenes, exploding vehicles and all, though not before the head villain is shown to be so despicable he orders his men to wipe out a peaceful group building a ramshackle rocket. With a real mean streak tempering the fun, Wheels of Fire was no better or worse than its fellow Max imitators. Music by Christopher Young.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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