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From Under A Rock: Steel

August 19, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Steel Shaquille O'Neal
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From Under A Rock: Steel  


If there’s any readers who are going to watch this one with us this week… man, you’re in for a treat.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Léon: The Professional. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him Steel.

Released: August 15th, 1997
Written and Directed by: Kenneth Johnson
Shaquille O’Neal as John Henry Irons/Steel
Annabeth Gish as Susan “Sparky” Sparks
Judd Nelson as Nathaniel Burke
Richard Roundtree as Uncle Joe
Irma P. Hall as Grandma Odessa

Aaron Hubbard: I picked Steel because I rarely pick films I think are bad… and because watching this while knowing it’s going to be terrible leads to one of the more enjoyable viewing experiences I’ve ever had.

Michael Ornelas: This was actually a lot of fun. In a trainwreck kind of way, but it also reeked of the 1990s which made it a good kind of nostalgic, at the very least.
Is This Even Real?
Aaron: Right from the first exchange of dialogue, it’s clear that Steel is going to be amazing. Okay, if you looked at the poster or movie case and saw Shaq in this preposterous costume, you knew this would be bad. But the film is so astonishingly inept at every turn that I can’t believe it isn’t a spoof. There are scenes that cannot be unseen, lines that cannot be unheard… and I was laughing the entire time.

Michael: “Well I’ll be dipped in shit and rolled in breadcrumbs” is a personal favorite of mine. This film encapsulates “so bad it’s good” and may actually already be in my favorite 5 of that genre already. That’s a huge testament because I love movies like that. What I loved about this film was that everyone was just pretending that Shaq’s acting was passable. The cheese in every line read he did sustained me. The bottom of the Shaqting barrel was watching him pretend to be nervous that he couldn’t throw a grenade in a hole in a grate because he’s “bad at basketball.” It was so on-the-nose but I get the feeling that the director thought it was clever. That mere fact alone was delicious.

Aaron: Annabeth Gish was no better in the acting department; I actually started comparing it to The Room for “most unconvincingly delivered lines in a single conversation” around the time they started building the Steel suit in the junkyard. The film is certainly better than The Room, though. For me, there’s never a point where this gets too torturous. It’s enjoyably bad from start to finish.
Shaqtion Genre
Michael: The one thing that was clear about this movie is that it was greenlit in hopes that Shaquille O’Neal would be a viable candidate to star in action movies moving forward and become a box office draw. He was terrible, but it isn’t entirely his fault; the script itself called for visually ridiculous action, but not in a cool way. Many of the action sequences felt hollow directionless. There wasn’t any vulnerability to our hero so I had no reason to worry about his well-being in fights. Several guys opened fire on him and the bullets just deflected off his armor, and while I get that’s the point of his character, it destroyed any chance of drama and investment I had in the action. They only overcame this once by having Shaq’s brother in danger, and gave me some sense of urgency.

Aaron: The action in this is just… so wrong. Steel is a pretty simple superhero. He swings a hammer around. The gadgets were obvious attempts to emulate the Batman movies and it just didn’t work. I also love the shot where bullets land harmlessly on Steel’s crotch and the camera pans up so Shaq can wag his finger at the shooter. Somebody actually composed that shot and went “Yep, it’s just what I wanted!” It’s actually a little sad to me: Steel was actually kind of a big deal for a brief spurt in the 1990s after The Death of Superman. He is the idea that Superman can inspire everyday working class people to become heroic and protect their communities. The weight of that setting is powerful, but the film has none of that dramatic gravity. And that’s probably for the best.

Michael: I’d say it’s for the best that they didn’t attempt to incorporate that idea because I’m sure it would have missed the mark by a long shot.
No Legs To Stand On
Aaron: The single most baffling aspect of this film to me is Annabeth Gish as “Sparky”, John’s love interest. She is hurt in an accident and spends the entire rest of the movie in a wheelchair. And if you thought a movie this was cheesy was going to handle that subject matter with grace and tact… well, no, it doesn’t. From John lifting her out of a home for injured vets as they applaud him, to not helping her recover from a fall so she can find the strength to do it herself, to the film’s baffling ending… this is just a comically terrible, but not mean-spirited, approach to this material.

Michael: The scene where carries out of the hospital to applause may genuinely be one of the most peculiar things I’ve ever watched. It was like a very comedic attempt of the classic “An Officer and a Gentleman” scene, but the comedy was ill-advised and the visual was confusing. I didn’t know why I was seeing it but I’m so glad I did because now I can show it to friends and watch their confusion. That aside, Sparky was…interesting. The movie wouldn’t have been the same without her, but it definitely would have been more respectable. The scene where she fires missiles every which way from her wheelchair and wipes out a group of baddies was probably the biggest shark this movie jumped.

Aaron: I think this movie may have been improved by actual sharks. Another big failing here is the lack of a satisfying ending. Judd Nelson is somewhat effectively utilized as a villain I want to see taken down, but the ending is pretty underwhelming. I like to think that an Iron Man style fight with Judd Nelson in a bigger suit with more guns would have been more comedy gold.

Michael: I love bad movies when they’re fun and when I’m prepared for them to be bad. The directing is tone deaf, the acting is what you’d expect from Shaquille O’Neal acting, and the writing is just awful. But it was a fun ride because boy did they try. They tried so hard, and I respect that.


Aaron: Okay, so full disclosure. I was feeling really down this week to a death in my family. Watching Steel is one of the few things that genuinely made me smile. It’s bad in a very special, very enjoyable way.


Michael: I want another one of these. Steel 2, anyone?

Aaron: You know, it’s silly that people call Batman and Robin the worst comic book movie ever when this came out a year earlier.

Can you make free throws?

Next week:

Michael: Next week, we’re going to revisit a movie I’ve only seen once but remember really liking when I first saw it. My comedic tastes have evolved throughout the years, so I’m curious to see how I’ll take it, but I fully expect it to be fun.
Aaron: I know practically nothing about this film, except that another of my friends recommended it but said I would hate it. So… this should be interesting?

Michael: Eh, I don’t think you’ll hate it. It’s not a “stupid” comedy, I don’t think. Has a few moments that are dumb I guess, but Jason Segel is a giant sweetheart whenever he’s on screen in anything, and that carries over to making this an enjoyable one. And Kristen Bell is just a treasure.

What are your feelings on Forgetting Sarah Marshall?

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Aaron Has Another Column!
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The final score: review Bad
The 411
The only thing less convincing than the suit is Shaquille O'Neal's acting. The only thing worse than the directing is the terrible dialogue. It's every cheesy trend of the 1990s rolled together, dipped in shit and rolled in breadcrumbs. In short... We actually recommend watching this; it's a special kind of awful that deserves to be shared.