Steel (1997)

Shaq Attack!

Until today, I’ve only seen one Shaquille O’Neal movie ever – Blue Chips.  And that movie was “supposed” to be “good”.  It wasn’t.  If you want to watch a good movie about a basketball player going into college starring an actual basketball player, watch Spike Lee’s He Got Game.

I’m already off topic.

The point I’m trying to make is that I like Shaq on the court.  I like Shaq on pre-game and halftime shows.  I like Shaq in commercials hocking insurance from The General.  But let’s not deny the fact that, besides being a guy who I think is seemingly terribly nice and charismatic as a person, he can’t act.

I tried for many, many years to avoid watching another Shaquille O’Neal movie, but then this fucking thing turned 20 years old and I do this blog and I am doing a “Summer of Anniversaries” thing and I’ve already featured a few superhero movies.  This gives a precedent for me to talk Shaq’s 1997 film, Steel.


So!  That said, here’s another shitty DC Comics movie.  Based on one of the “Supermen” who rose after the Death of Superman story in comics, the character of Steel, a.k.a. John Henry Irons, was a normal guy who built himself a suit of, no shit, steel to become a new “man of steel” in the absence of Superman.  This movie has nothing to do with any of that shit.

But what is it about?  According to Amazon Prime, Steel’s premise is: “Shaquille O’Neal sheds his hi-tops for a dazzling suit of battle armor as the latest and greatest DC Comics superhero to wage war on crime.”

I kinda don’t think that was an accurate description of the movie I’m about to watch.  I doubt Steel is REALLY Shaquille O’Neal who literally tosses aside his sneakers to fight crime.  And…  Steel is not a bad character, but hardly the greatest from the pantheon of DC Comics.

That’s Infectious Lass.

Look her up.

As I start this movie, not only am I, somehow, disappointed I cannot watch this in HD, but this fuckin’ thing is in pan and scan.  That’s unacceptable in this day and age.  For real, I’m upset by this shit.  I understand when I watch the Captain America TV movies they are in 4:3 ratio because, duh, they were on TV back in the day that it was actually a big deal to see a movie in Cinemascope.  But this movie was made in the DVD era.  That’s not too old for it to not exist in widescreen.


I know it’s a surprise, but so far, in this movie that has above the title billing for Shaq, these guys have almost all the
dialog early on.

The actual movie starts with a weapons test with the army testing a new laser that can cut the tread off a tank.  Shaq’s partners with a lady named “Sparky” played by Annabeth Gish who is most definitely a treat here.  Lookin’ all hot in her little army outfit.  You keep that up, milady.

But uh oh…  There’s a bad guy in their ranks – Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson).  He wants to try to show a visiting senator that he can make the weapon more powerful and worth her time and money.  While Sparky and Irons (Shaq) are trying to create weapons that are more concussive in nature and not lethal, Burke wants to show off exactly how many dudes these weapons could kill by testing a sound amplifying weapon and turning the power up to 11 which causes the building they are testing from to collapse, killing the senator and giving Sparky a really bad spinal injury that will likely paralyze her for life.

Burke, rightfully so, is court-martialed.  Burke gets super mad at Shaq for, I suppose, ruining his career.  However, a couple things I find kinda funny and odd.  First, bro… You killed a senator.  Your actions led directly to the death of an elected U.S. official.  You’re kinda lucky not to be executed for that shit.  Second, I don’t find the bad guy of a movie all that threatening when he is literally dwarfed by the hero.

When Irons and Sparky’s superior tries to convince Irons to try to increase the power of the weapons, he bails on the army.  Irons stops by to see Sparky in the hospital and brings her flowers. He gives her his address and tells her that he’s heading home.  Meanwhile, Burke goes to see a gun runner and offers him the chance to get some new weapons to sell to terrorists and other general bad guys.

Shaq comes home and hangs out with his grandma and his… brother(?), Martin.  Now, Martin, little would we have known 20 years ago, is pretty famous today.  He’s played by Ray J.  Yeah, the guy whose massive dick made the Kardashians what they are today.

I sincerely hope Steel accidentally steps on him causing a new time line in which the Kardashians are not famous and we don’t make terrible, terrible decisions in really important elections.

Meanwhile, Shaq goes to work at a steel mill and Burke starts building weapons.  When the hot assistant lady for the guy Burke’s selling weapons to gets a little too mouthy with him, Burke straight up murders her by causing the cables on an elevator to snap.  So, I guess Judd Nelson went from some guy in the army to a greedy guy who caused the death of a senator to a straight up cold blooded murderer.

In some ways, I’d be okay with that as it gives some additional reason to not like this weasely ass fuck, but we’re only like 20 minutes in.  A LOT of things have happened in such a short time.  It really worries me when a movie does all this in such a short period at the beginning.

To make things worse, when a gang tests out the sound amplifier that Burke made for them, they use it on Shaq’s old girlfriend’s cop car causing yet another lady friend of his to go to the hospital with major injuries.  Dude, Judd Nelson…  Quit fuckin’ with Shaq’s ladies.  This is 100% sure to lead to him putting on a suit of armor and kicking your ass.

After the gang gets away, Shaq strolls up to a pay phone and calls his old army commanding officer who is cruising around some test site in a jeep.  I guess you can just call up the army and speak to whoever whenever.  Determined to find out for himself, Shaq shows up at the gang’s primary hang out to push some of them around to find out more about where the weapons come from.

That’s a pretty good Shaq impression…

But never mind that, let’s check in with sweet, sweet Annabeth Gish.  She’s been transferred to another VA hospital in St. Louis.  And, from the looks of it, she’s pretty pissed that she’s:

A) Not able to walk again
B) In what looks to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
C) Only in the hospital from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and not actually in that movie.

What hospital is she in???  Why is she here?  Is she, like, an orphan or something?  I mean, does she not have a home to go to?  Is she going to live in this fucking shitty hospital forever now just because her legs don’t work?  Is this a scathing commentary on our Veterans Association and how we take care of those who served?

All we’re missing is a haunting score by Jack Nitzsche.

Oh, no…  I think this is literally a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest thing because Shaq fucking picks up Sparky and her wheelchair and busts her out like Chief busted himself out of the sanitarium with that marble sink thing.  This scene even comes with cheering patients as he carries her to freedom!

What the actual fuck?!?

This scene has what MUST be a reference to one of my all time favorite movies, and the one movie I place at the top of the list of best films ever made (second place – 1989’s UHF).  This, I have to say, is a complete surprise.

However, what is probably a bigger surprise to Sparky is where he takes her after he busts her out of the shithole she was relegated to after the army blew up her legs – a fucking junkyard.  After traveling from St. Louis to Los Angeles, Sparky finally thinks to ask what she’s being asked to do for Shaq.  I don’t think that came up once in 2000 miles because she waits until she arrives in a junkyard owned by Uncle Joe (Richard Roundtree).  She learns that living in a junkyard isn’t so bad because Uncle Joe gets his hands on a lot of things she could use to help Shaq get back at Burke.  And apparently she is indeed an orphan who would be stuck in some dingy hospital if not for Shaq because her mom’s a drunk and her dad’s dead.  That was a lot of good character background to just have been spoken in a fairly throwaway line a few scenes after it would have been really nice to have known this shit.

Elsewhere, Ray J got a job at the arcade where Burke is making his killer weapons.  Just in case that sentence sounded weird in your brain when you read that, I guess I should tell you the plan.  So, Burke specifically sought out the gun runner he’s working with because, no doi, he’s a gun runner, but he also transports the guns in arcade game cabinets.  Apparently no one has ever caught on that when people buy these arcade games, then show up five minutes later with a fuckload of guns, the two things are related.  The arcade recruits area… um… “youths” (translation: black kids) to work for them.  That ultimately leads to the promise to make more money which leads to them being a part of bad shit.

If gun running and depressing VA hospitals wasn’t enough to help remind you that this movie was made for kids, this is literally an word-for-word transcript of a series of lines said between Annabeth Gish, Shaquille O’Neal, and Richard Roundtree (italics added for sexual effect):

You’d like to stick what where?  Well, sure, baby, but it’ll be a tight fit.
Because Shaq notoriously has small ear holes.

Sparky: (To Shaq who she’s been watching pound steel for days) Hey big guy…  Tonight’s the night.
(Cut to Sparky holding out what appears to be a ring box.  She opens it to reveal a tiny device that confuses Shaq)
Sparky: Stick it in your ear.
(Shaq sticks the device in his ear.  Sparky pressing a button and talks into her headset)
Sparky: How do you read?
Shaq: (Surprised) 5 by 5.  Receiver?
Sparky: Transceiver! So be careful what you say about me!  It’s good for 20 miles and so is this…
(Sparky shows off a small camera recording video)
Shaq: Wow. Video.
Sparky: So I can see what you see.
(Shaq looks at another piece of equipment, a hammer, which he picks up)
Shaq: What is this?
Sparky: A man name John Henry’s just gotta have a hammer.  Of course I designed it to do more than pound things.
Uncle Joe: I did the metalwork.  I especially like the shaft.

Okay, yes, Richard Roundtree was Shaft in the movies, but fuck…  Sticking stuff in places, shafts, big guys, pounding things…  I’m fucking rock hard all of a sudden.

Ah yes…  The most comfortable helmet ever.

Anyway, Shaq finishes his armor and starts busting crooks on the streets of L.A. as Steel!

It’s montage time as Steel busts bad guys left and right.  Naturally, he tosses some guys around, deflects bullets, stops cars with his hammer, uses magnets in his suit to disarm some thugs, and kinda fist fights some dudes.  And what is a do-gooder vigilante without the ability to evade the local police?  He does that too.

At this point, the cops start chasing Steel all over.  I’m not exactly sure why they are sending the entire LAPD after him?  I kinda feel like this movie, the same one that just used a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as a reference to give us an idea of how bad veterans are treated in hospitals, should probably take a moment to say the cops are probably chasing him because he’s a giant black man in 75 pounds of steel who didn’t stop when the cops asked him to and abducted a white girl against her will and keeping her in a junkyard.  I kinda feel like this is a missed opportunity.  I mean…  More cops were dedicated in tracking down this dude than the gang members he successfully disarmed.

News of Steel hits the streets faster than me when I finally jump off a building from watching all these fucking movies.  It doesn’t take long for people to pretty much figure out that the 7 foot African American gentleman wearing a bunch of garbage is Shaq.  Hell, just from an eyewitness report, Shaq’s grandma figures it out.

Yo, Steel…  Why are the cops chasing you instead of the bad guys?
Yeah, I don’t know either, man.

Burke’s men break into the Federal Reserve with the sound amplifier and laser weapons Burke worked on in the army.  Steel shows up to fight the bad guys.  Burke watches on and discovers that Steel is talking to someone who they start to search for.  When the cops come, the gang target them, causing Steel to need to help them first before pursuing the bad dudes.  Still, despite the bad guys driving a giant armored truck who was clearly seen fighting against Steel previously – and shot a fucking police chopper out of the goddamn sky – the cops chase Steel.  I kinda feel like this might be a race thing after all.

And yes, yes, the gang is full of black dudes.  But, the cops never saw them.

Video of the break in hits the news attracting cartoonish neo-Nazis and terrorists from all sorts of different places.  Burke is about to hit it big, but Steel wants to stop him at any cost.  Thanks to a rough triangulation, Burke is able to find Steel’s home base and calls the cops to tell them where they can find the weapons that killed the cops in the chopper.

Guess what happens?  The SWAT team crashes into Steel’s house and busts him for armed robbery and finds one of the guns in the basement.  Oh, so now they are gonna plant weapons in Steel’s house and shit?  I’m betting that won’t be covered in any meaningful way either.

Even though Steel is busted, no one is willing to ID him in the lineup because, you know, he was doing good shit and not bad shit?  Thanks to some tricky maneuvering, Sparky and Uncle Joe get Steel out and they track down where the auction for the weapons is happening.  Unfortunately, Sparky is taken by the bad guys which leaves Steel at a disadvantage.  When Burke basically goes nuts and starts offing his partners to take over the entire arms dealer business, Steel is able to use this to get the upper hand again and Sparky starts showing off all the weapons on her chair which is both hilarious and bad ass.  Not only does Steel defeat Burke after a shootout, but he also defeats all the terrorists who collected to try to buy the crazy awesome weapons.  Weapons, I might add, that have not killed anyone.

Wait…  All this shit was for weapons that only killed the senator when it caused the building to fall on her at the beginning but didn’t kill anyone else?  Then what’s the fucking point.  Let the terrorists have the shit.  It’s not like they are going to do much with them.

So that is kind of a waste of this entire plot, then, huh?

Besides the fact that the weapons were not all that deadly aside from it causing accidental deaths, and the stuff that they should have covered concerning how the LAPD had a massive hard on about chasing Steel instead of bad guys (again, likely due to his race), the movie missed out on another massive part of the plot and I think it had a lot less to do with race than it did the actor in the lead role.

You see, the entire movie showed this really special, loving bond between Shaq and Sparky.  In fact, that is one of the more endearing things in the movie itself coupled with Sparky being an action hero in a wheelchair – that’s some pretty good messaging you’re sending out there, movie.  However, it’s clear to the characters in their interaction, and everyone surrounding the characters that they are in love with each other.  It’s obvious from scene number one.  They are not portrayed as friends or as a sibling like duo, but straight up as a couple.  From the moment he carried her out of the VA hospital in St. Louis to the very baffling end reaction by the supporting characters just before the credits role, they are a couple.

This movie just friend-zoned a girl in a wheelchair in epic fashion.

In fact, I’m sure if this movie starred another actor who wasn’t a basketball player and, famously, a non-actor, it would have ended with a kiss or had that show up in the montage leading up to him becoming Steel or when she cared for his injuries when he suffered his first defeat.  No.  Instead we have a very confusing and quite possibly the worst ending I’ve seen in some time.  One of Steel’s grandma’s goals for herself is to start a soul food restaurant.  She accomplishes that and Steel, Sparky, Ray J, and Uncle Joe go to the grand opening.  There, Sparky reveals she’s outfitted her wheelchair with the ability to stand her upright so she can, presumably, embrace/kiss Steel.  In his excitement over it, he hugs her, and everyone gathered reacts like he just laid the wettest, sloppiest, open-mouthed with lots of tongue kiss on her.  They applaud and say things like “Oh yes!” and act like this is finally the moment in which Shaq will not die alone watching shitty movies by himself on a Friday night.

But they only hugged.  They didn’t kiss.  They didn’t grope each other’s genitals.  They didn’t do anything to elicit that kind of reaction from everyone at the table.  That’s… baffling.

Especially the not groping genitals part.

If the guy playing Steel was an actual actor, the kiss would have been done.  But when you are working with a non-actor in the role, he’s not going to be as comfortable doing that sort of stuff.  Or, possibly worse, the actress would not be comfortable with someone who is not an actor engaging in something intimate as a kiss since they may not know how to not take more from that than just the act for make believe purposes.  Without that moment, it fizzles the entire movie’s most likable part and leaves you with this really confused feeling in your gut like when you eat Taco Bell too many times in the course of a single week.

But enough about Shaq and his big goofy hug at the end of Steel.  Let’s talk about the final feature I’m going to celebrate an anniversary for this summer.  Next week, celebrating a couple weeks early because, frankly, I didn’t have anything else to cover for the final week of August, is the third installment of the Hellraiser series.  It’s a series that is so fucking awesome if you don’t watch anything after the first two movies.  But then the third one comes crawling out of the butt of Hollywood like that turd that snuck up on you after having Taco Bell too many times in the course of a single week.

Check back next week so I can tell you what I think of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth!

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