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Review: Six-String Samurai

Dateline: 7/30/99

Six-String Samurai Lance Mungia's first film is billed as a "post-apocalyptic musical satire." If that sounds like inspired hokum to you, you've got it right.

The movies is about a latter-day Buddy Holly who's just as fast with his samurai sword as he is with the guitar. The story goes something like this: After a nuclear war, Elvis reigned over what was left of the U.S. Fifty years later, Elvis is dead, and our hero is on his way to Lost Vegas to become the new king. On his trek through the desert he and an orphan boy fight mutants and the communist army. Even the Grim Reaper himself is after them, toting a Fender Stratocaster.

I like my B-movies trashy and fast, and that's why I count Six-String Samurai as a winner. On the other hand, my girlfriend was tempted to walk out of this movie after fifteen minutes. This is the kind of thing you either love or hate.

Six-String Samurai combines a funky mix of influences. There's a healthy dose of Mad Max, a big helping of Hong Kong action flicks, a dash of Wizard of Oz, and if you look closely, you can find rip-offs of (or tributes to) Alien and Leningrad Cowboys Go America.

A good rule of thumb for low-budget movies is that there'll be a lot of dialogue and not much in terms of action, costume, scenery, or special-effects. Talk is cheap but CGI effects aren't. Yet since El Mariachi, these rules don't quite hold anymore. There is surprisingly little talk in Six-String Samurai. Buddy's sidekick, the kid, stays mute for most of the movie, and the hero breaking his suave silence only for the occasional wisecrack.

Instead, Six-String Samurai is rich in visual candy: colored gum balls roll out of a car in slow-motion, mutants in space suits slouch through the desert, and a dreamy Oz-like Las Vegas looms at the horizon. Bizarre encounters with cannibalistic families, lurching underground dwellers, and tough-talking gnomes make this film quite a spectacle. The Red Elvises, who play on the excellent soundtrack, don't last long but their shoes are beautiful. The Grim Reaper is a hard rocker reminiscent of Guns 'n Roses' Slash but as vulnerable as the Wicked Witch. Best of all looks Jeffrey Falcon in the title role, his dusty suit fluttering in the wind, sword and guitar ready for the next attack.

Now, to make one thing quite clear: the constant sword fighting tends to get a litte stale, and if you're looking for deep insights into the human condition, look elsewhere (my grilfriend did). But if you have a taste for fast-cutting martial arts action and radioactive fun, this one is for you. And if you're tempted to spend a silly night at the movies, munch popcorn and laugh at the screen, pass by Lake Placid and Wild Wild West and give this piece of independent wackiness a try--it's funnier and more honestly bad than any of the ersatz trash that Hollywood churns out for ten times the cost.

Six-String Samurai is playing at festivals and small movie houses.

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