Something of a precursor to the Mad Max franchise, this interesting but problematic sci-fi/action picture follows a principled mercenary in postapocalyptic New York City. Written and directed by Robert Clouse of Enter the Dragon fame, the story suffers from underdeveloped characters, so it unfurls as a series of incipient notions stretched out to feature length and padded with chases and fights. Had a little more brainpower been devoted to the script, the movie could have evolved into something special; as is, the picture loses momentum somewhere around the two-thirds mark and never fully recovers.
In The Ultimate Warrior’s grim futuristic vision of New York, small factions of people band together for survival. One group, which resides inside a heavily fortified apartment building, is a pacifistic enclave led by the Baron (Max von Sydow). The Baron’s son, Cal (Richard Kelton), has genetically engineered seeds for growing vegetables—which were nearly wiped off the planet during a nuclear war—so the Baron has fantasies of relocating his group to a safer environment where they can restart civilization. Also operating in New York is a roving band of killers and thieves led by the brutal Carrot (William Smith); Carrot’s crew looms outside the gates of the Baron’s facility as a constant existential threat. Enter Carson (Yul Brynner), a muscular fighter who offers his services to the highest bidder. The Baron woos Carson with an offer of extra rations and female companionship, so Carson engages in a series of battles with Carrot’s people before leading a desperate escape mission.
In principle, this basic storyline should work just fine—good versus evil, with a morally ambiguous avenger caught in the middle. Unfortunately, the narrative is riddled with plot holes. Carson seems to be the only mercenary working the circuit. Security at the Baron’s place is ridiculously weak. Carson proves ineffective at preventing tragedy, basically undercutting the entire premise of the movie. Carrot’s thugs behave nonsensically, threatening the very people whose agricultural experiments could ensure their survival. Worse, a number of subplots about friction within the Baron’s crew show promise, only to be discarded in favor of a trite mano-a-mano showdown between Carrot and Carson. The Ultimate Warrior isn’t awful, by any stretch, thanks to tasty production design and a zippy score by Gil Melle, to say nothing of Von Sydow’s gentle performance. However, the picture isn’t nearly what it could be, Brynner’s impassiveness gets tiresome after a while, and B-movie stalwart Smith is underused.
The Ultimate Warrior: FUNKY