Friday, May 25, 2018

SOLO (1996) Revisited

by Adam Riske and Patrick Bromley
In honor of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Patrick and Adam rewatched Solo: A Solo Story.

Adam: I was very excited about Solo when it was released in theaters and was convinced it was going to be a hit just like Terminator 2 because I was dumb. I thought the trailer kicked ass, it had my boy William Sadler in it, Michael Jordan references...what else could anyone need? I didn’t get to see it in theaters because all of my friends basically said, “You’re on your own.” My local video store got one copy when it was released on VHS. I went several times to try to rent it and it was always checked out. Finally, one day during Spring Break 1997, I called ahead and asked if Solo was in. They said yes. I hastily rode my bike to Videoworks and got my copy (along with Supercop, The Glimmer Man, Maximum Risk, The Long Kiss Goodnight and the Desert Strike, Jungle Strike and Urban Strike games for Sega). My backpack was full literally and figuratively. SPRANG BRAYK!

At the time, I was disappointed with Solo. I didn’t get the Mario Van Peebles thing; I thought he was a weak focal point. I liked Sadler. There wasn’t enough action. The plot with the farmers and Solo (Mario Van Peebles) being friends with a plucky child didn’t work for me and the control room bullshit stopped the movie cold. Upon rewatch, all of that is still holds, except the last 15 minutes of Solo are fun and the movie I wanted the rest of Solo to be. What is your Solo history, Patrick, and what do you think of it in 2018? Does it scratch the Heavy Action itch? Would this be a movie Rob reviews for Redboxing if it were a new release?
Patrick: I literally have no history with Solo. I was seeing a lot of movies theatrically back in 1996, but I must have seen one TV spot for Solo and dismissed it outright. Watching it for this column, I realized I had never seen it before and that in my head I had lumped it together with Soldier. Having finally seen it, I can’t believe it got a wide release.

Seriously, what was the marketing pitch? “We’ve got MARIO VAN PEEBLES playing a ROBOT who is taken in by a village in SOUTH AMERICA! There is a KID who likes him and teaches him LIE. There is a BEAUTIFUL WOMAN who makes eyes at him! And did we mention BARRY CORBIN AS GENERAL CLYDE HAYNES? That’s how his credit has to read at the opening. It’s in his contract.”

I mean, on the one hand I’m happy that there was a time in movie history when what should totally have been a DTV effort got released on a bunch of screens. I miss the existence of these kinds of movies. At the same time, I think Solo is pretty bad, even as I was trying to enjoy it as goofy nonsense. It’s goofy, alright. Just maybe not my kind of goofy.

What is it that doesn’t work about Mario Van Peebles in this role? And do you like him better as a director than an actor? I might, and I say that as an OG Sonny Spoon fan. Was it weird seeing a young Adrien Brody playing the year 1996 in human form?

Adam: It’s almost not Mario Van Peebles’ fault. He looks the part and he’s trying to act like a robot (the screenplay screws it up because it humanizes him too much), but there’s nothing about him that pops for me on-screen. If you look at Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme playing similar roles in Terminator 2 or Universal Soldier, there’s a sense of humor (which is cinematic, if not totally logical) but also pathos to what they’re doing. I just don’t get that from Mario Van Peebles. I feel like I’m watching a personal trainer trying to be an action hero. As for my preference of Mario Van Peebles as an actor or director, I would probably say director. He’s a fun performer in character parts (I’m struggling to think of examples), but I think his style and personality is more evident in his directorial work. I can see the confidence the director of New Jack City, has but in Solo there’s something uncomfortable about his performance and that makes the movie hard for me to settle into.
I remember Adrien Brody from the ads for Solo enough that it wasn’t too jarring to see him with this revisit. In all honesty, Brody has been good in enough movies I enjoy (Summer of Sam, Liberty Heights, Splice) that I think 50 percent of my “Ugh, Adrien Brody” comes from society influencing me to have that opinion of him. That aside, I’m never really looking forward to the next scene he’s in during Solo, so it’s not a hill I want to die on either. The way you have confusion in your head between Solo and Soldier is the way I feel with Brody in this movie and the guy who looks after the pre-cogs in Minority Report.

Ok, dude. I’m gonna hit you with a ton of questions:

• What is the most positive thing you can say about Solo?

• Were you as surprised as I was to recognize the great Demian Bichir in this as a warlord?

• Do you think the reveal of robot William Sadler should have come earlier in the film? That felt like a second act reveal they crammed into the climax.

• Am I weird for being genuinely moved by the scene where the little boy is bringing cups of water for his family and almost gets hit by a runaway tree trunk until Solo saves him? He just seems like such a sweet, thoughtful kid.

• Isn’t the coda where Solo is at large in the forest laughing maniacally troubling? It gives me Predator vibes. Why isn’t Solo more like Predator?

• Lastly, what is a term for a wide release like this where it never had a chance to recoup its moderate budget and you just sort of feel sorry for it? Those movies for me are how you feel about “ambitious failures.”

Patrick: “Personal trainer trying to be an action hero” is perfect and hilarious. I’m always rooting for MVP and I’ve certainly liked him in stuff (New Jack City, the underrated Full Eclipse), but I’ve also seen him be almost troublingly bad in stuff, too, like his villain turns in Highlander: The Final Dimension or The Exterminator Part 2 or his role as a teacher on that episode of 21 Jump Street he also directed. It’s uncomfortable to watch him try to play a robot in this movie, but also all of the tech stuff in this movie is so hilariously ‘90s that it’s really of a piece. Watching Solo’s negative-switch-on-the-camcorder vision or hearing Adrien Brody say stuff “let’s get you uploaded to the mainframe” was charming in the way it seemed like something I would write in junior high.
Now for the answers to your pressing questions:

• There’s a moment during the action sequence at the end (practically the only action scene in what I think is an action movie?) where a henchman swings a log at Solo, who catches it, breaks it in half and immediately rams it through the henchman’s torso. It was simultaneously shocking and logical. Also, pretty violent for a PG-13 movie, right?

• I was surprised to see Demian Bichir! It made me want to watch The Hateful Eight again just so I can revel in the joy that is Bob. But him being in a crappy action movie reminded me he was also in Machete Kills, a movie I’m not crazy about. He’s capable of a Solo from time to time.

• The Sadler reveal is...stupid. He’s good as the evil Colonel, even if it’s a role he can play in his sleep, but I was really expecting the reveal to be evil Solo. That does not make it better. But then I was annoyed because it went from Terminator to Predator (jungle) to Universal Soldier.

• That kid is cute, I guess. Whatever. I couldn’t get past the fact that he was the same kid playing the exact same part in Desperado. This movie is a bunch of better movies put in a blender bought at Wal-Mart.

• It’s weird that the laugh is as dark as it is, considering that it’s meant to be a happy ending. But, yes, Predator. Wal-Mart blender. This movie is so weird.

• I love the idea of naming this kind of movie, but it’s a job for better minds than me. Maybe it’s something our readers could take a crack at??? (Turns out to audience, raises eyebrows up and down, disappoints his parents)

Adam: My favorite “hilarious” element is how many times they say “Solo” in Solo. It feels like they say “Solo” in every line of dialogue. I love it. I can picture the screenwriters having this character living in their brains for years to the point where it trickles into their everyday lives (“Refilling contacts makes Solo feel bad” or they stare at their plate of potato salad like “How do I consume food?” as they scan all their neighbors eating it at the block party). Dammit, now I want to write a spec script for Suburban Solo where he has to make a living at L.A. Fitness as a personal trainer and then Barry Corbin as General Clyde Haynes finds him.
Changing topics briefly to Solo: A Star Wars Story, are you excited about it? I started to be after I saw Deadpool 2. Not to brag, but one of the things I love about me (a sentence no one should ever write) is I get really fan-dorky for every new IP during the week leading up to its release. It’s like when I go to the Wizard World convention and suddenly become a fan of everything (“Of course I love Outlander! What channel is it on?”).

Patrick: It’s a weird name for the character and kind of a bad title for this movie, which is all the more fascinating because it’s also the title of a movie that’s probably going to make a billion dollars worldwide.

Speaking of Solo, I can’t say there’s much excitement for it on my end. Part of that may be because I’ve mostly avoided trailers, so I haven’t seen any footage to get myself psyched up. I think it has more to do with everything about it feeling obligatory, including the fact that I feel obligated to see it. It’s not a movie I needed or wanted and I hope that Disney can now get away from telling stories about characters and plots we already know. Star Wars is a big enough universe that I don’t need them to keep just filling in backstory as a way of telling “new” stories. None of this means it can’t be a really good movie, though, so I’m keeping an open mind.

I love that you get super excited about stuff leading up to it. I’m the same way, though sometimes it’s in reverse -- I’ll see something and then dive way deep into it for weeks/months after the fact. It’s may way of continuing to live in a world I enjoyed. Are we broken? Or just dorks?

Adam: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think I’ve become dorkier in my old age because I’m no longer worried about appearing cool or sophisticated. Even though they’re not my favorite movies to watch I’ve noticed too that these tentpole movies are my favorite to podcast. I like getting into the details of them as opposed to a more academic review.

I really want filmmakers to create fun spin-offs lacking in consequence with beloved characters. I said it as a joke in our Force Awakens podcast, but I still think years later about how Jakku Holiday starring Rey and Finn is a terrific idea. I don’t even care if it’s a movie. If they made Star Wars comics just about the friendship in between adventures, I would buy them every week. For example, Poe is getting ready for his first date with Rey and they go to Outback Steakhouse but he’s nervous because “What if we’re better as friends?” or Luke marooned on that island and it’s Halloween so he’s answering the door to pass out treats while he makes the perfect Halloween mix on his laptop. Maybe that’s why I’m looking forward to Solo: A Star Wars Story. It looks like the closest they’ve ever come to a bottle episode.
Patrick: I like that idea in theory. I think maybe what’s holding me back is the whole ‘prequel’ angle, because we know it’s just going to be a bunch of table setting to get the character to the place at which we meet him in Star Wars. If I was going to run with your idea, I would use one of the current characters and give them a spin-off movie. But then we’re really just using the Marvel model, right? Aren’t there other ways to make movies these days?

Whatever the case, I’m hoping I like the new Solo more than the old Solo, the Robot Who Learned to Love and Lie. Oooh - what if the marketing has been a total trick and Donald Glover is really playing a young Mario Van Peebles? What if HE’S the “Solo” to whom the title refers?? I can count on two fingers the number of people who would be happy about that.

Adam: I would like that very much. #SoloGambino I can picture Mario Van Peebles seeing that reveal in a theater, giving his friend a fist bump and saying “Shared universe baby.” Then when he walks out to the lobby, the roaring shark from Jaws: The Revenge shouts “Time for recall” and finishes the job it didn’t in 1987. The camera pans and Adrien Brody is seen stroking his beard and says, “You got great taste,” freeze frame and “The End????” Fade to title card stating how many people were employed during the production of this tangent.


  1. I gave this a re-watch just Yesterday and certainly had more fun with it than the first time I saw it back in the early days of DVD. It reminds me of films like Fortress and Screamers which I saw both of on the big screen, sadly Solo was a DTV in the UK... It also reminds me of a Corman-esque knock-off of Soldier but it just happened to come out before, it practically has the exact same story beats! Great article guys as always...

  2. I also wish they'd do other spin-offs with something else than known characters. I've been saying since they announced Solo a couple of years ago. Sadly, according to recent news, the next ones are Obi-Wan and Boba Fett. Ugh!

  3. I like the idea of spin-off movies for the three leads of the current saga, especially Rey.