25 April 2011

Ring of Steel

United States – 1994
Director – David Frost
MCA/Universal Home Video, 1994, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 34 minutes

While competing in a regional fight for a spot on the Olympic fencing team, Alex kills his opponent in a freakish slow-motion accident. As a crimson dollop of gore slides down his foil, one can almost physically feel the yoke of guilt dropping like a widow's veil upon Alex’s frail conscience. His trainer, fearing for his own career refuses to associate with him anymore and Alex, in his poet shirt and buccaneer mullet is cut adrift to drown his sorrows in reasonably priced imported beer. What is a babyfaced former shoo-in for the Olympic fencing team to do when it seems as though no one cares about him and the things he wants? Why not resort to that time honored male tradition of using a woman to make yourself feel better? Just as the six-pack is starting to dull his aching self-pity, Elena appears to forward the plot a little more. She fences too, that is after all how Alex met her, but that’s not what girls are for in dude movies. Instrumental value refers to much more than the frantic thrusting of your bendy wire sword. After physically comforting Alex, she disappears again for the bulk of the film as the hostage and bargaining chip of Joe Don Baker who lurches onto the screen like a sack of microwaved hamburger with teeth.

Y’see, Joe Don is also something of an outcast, you would be too if you were an obese bi-polar gerbil, but he at least is aware of his position in the social hierarchy. Joe Don, who remains nameless throughout the film, runs a skeezy nightclub called the Ring of Steel where yuppies come and twitch to 90’s club music and, if they buy enough coke, go downstairs watch Renaissance Fair nerds fight each other to the death in an old industrial holding tank. With Elena as collateral, Joe Don ostensibly forces Alex to fight, but with all the unused plotholes lying around he doesn’t seem in too much hurry to escape. Actually, he looks like he’s having a pretty good time, as long as he continues to be showered with the affection of the crowd. It isn’t until he has to confront the big bully Jack, Joe Don’s ugly and stupid house champion that Alex get’s squeamish. When the bigger, meaner, uglier nerd comes and stomps all over your paper crown, it’s not so much fun anymore.

Ring of Steel is the quintessential nerdsploitation film. Nerds are an easily exploited demographic, their ostracism often further distorting already blunted social skills, but I understand the sad desperation, the need for recognition and acceptance that breeds a blind optimism in nerds like Alex. “Someday,” his tender heart cries out, “they’ll all realize that fencing is really cool and then, on that glorious day I’ll be a star and everyone will like me.” While most nerd-centric cinema openly mocks, or commiserates with nerds, Ring of Steel is completely oblivious to its own tragic humor. In effect it is narcissistically self unaware, missing of the ironic-forest for the ego-trees. But I’m not complaining, watching mulleted men in tights squabble and fight each other is a chilling, entertaining reminder of public school days when the not-so-reviled kids would attack and denigrate those few outcasts even lower than themselves like wounded dogs fighting for the last tattered scrap of dignity. Stuck between these two demographics, who can blame nerds like Alex (writer/star Robert Chapin) when they seek an escape in fantasy.

Thanks to Action Packed Cinema for the trailer.


Phill Tuma said...

Joe Don Baker would be perfect for the role of Meatwad in the live action Aqua Teen movie. My, you have a way with words.

Dolemite said...

LOL, got this one on laser disk just the other day for a buck.It was in the record bin at a resale shop.

Ty said...

Ring Of Steel had a lot of hilarious moments. Especially the one with the nerd.

Dolemite said...

Got this one on laserdisk the other day from a junk shop great post.

The Goodkind said...

Hey, you said that last month... what gives?