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