The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Steel’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Steel.”

The info:

The‌‌ ‌‌Movie:‌‌ ‌‌‌‌“Steel”‌‌ ‌‌‌ ‌

Starring:‌‌ Shaquille O’Neal, Annabeth Gish, Judd Nelson

Director:‌‌‌‌ Kenneth Johnson

Plot‌‌ ‌‌Summary:‌‌‌‌ ‌‌(From‌‌ ‌‌IMDB)‌‌ ‌‌A scientist for the military turns himself into a cartoon-like superhero when a version of one of his own weapons is being used against enemies.

Rotten‌‌ ‌‌Tomatoes‌‌ ‌‌Rating:‌‌ 12 percent‌‌ ‌

Our take:

Froemming: We’re sticking with the comic book movies this week. And after seeing Stallone try his hand at being judge, jury and executioner while befriending noted nutjob Rob Schneider, I figured we would also stay in the 1990s, but this time visit the Man of Steel.

Yes, there was a Superman movie made in the 1990s starring Shaquille O’Neal, that — oddly — left out the Last Son of Krypton.

I picked “Steel,” a film based on a character born in the comics from the death of Kal-El. A cheap stunt that got dumb kids like me to buy Superman comics, because at the time just about every other hero was vastly more interesting. Like Batman. Batman is awesome. We should have reviewed a Batman movie…

Anyway, of all the Supermen to come around during that time, the one that was actually interesting was John Henry Irons, AKA Steel. As far as I remember, he had no powers but was a genius who made a kick ass suit out of metal and fought crime with his smarts….

He’s basically Batman. *sigh* Batman without the money I guess. A Bruce Springsteen song version of Batman.

Anyway, “Steel” is also a movie that answered one question I had in this crazy universe: What would a superhero movie directed by Tommy Wiseau be like? This. This movie.

Anyway, Brown, why don’t you give us your first thoughts as I smuggle some military-grade guns in this old “Double Dragon” arcade cabinet.

Brown: How the (REDACTED) did it take us this long to review a Shaquille O’Neal movie? Although it’s comforting/terrifying knowing that we have “Kazaam” in the chamber.

I remember when this movie came out and the marketing machine behind it. At a point in the ‘90s, Shaq was his own economy. And, shitty movies like this were part of the reason he left the Orlando Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers. That, and perhaps a young 7-foot Shaq was upstaged on the Magic marketing machine by Lil’ Penny.  

Now, as an 11-year-old kid, did I want to watch this movie? Hell no. I never got the appeal of Superman. As an adult, the only Superman lore I would ever want to see was the scrapped Nic Cage/Tim Burton joint “Superman Lives.”

I take that back; I did enjoy when Michael Shannon was screaming about how he’ll find Kal-El in “Man of Steel.”

Froemming, why don’t you get us started. But do it quietly so it won’t deflate my souffle. 

Froemming: We begin this adventure — after what felt like a half hour of opening credits in the sparks factory that killed the T-1000 — on a military base. A base being visited by, you know….

We have a senator, secretive weapons testing, Bender from “The Breakfast Club” and, of course, Shaq. 

This is going to be a controversial take, but I will say this: Shaq is not a good actor. In fact, he is a pretty bad actor, in my honest opinion. #HotTake

Brown: Somewhere, someone on Twitter is getting enraged by your commentary. You’re just trying to get us cancelled, aren’t you?

Yeah… Shaq is charming and charismatic for an athlete. As we’ve seen with LeBron James and Michael Jordan, that doesn’t translate onto the big screen. Just because you’re not giving robotic, cliche answers to press conferences like Nuke LaLoosh in “Bull Durham” doesn’t mean you’ll be a good actor.

Also, there’s one flaw to Shaq being in the military in this movie: A 7-foot Shaq would be ineligible for military service. Apparently the tallest man the military will take is 6-8. Being 7 foot makes you an awfully big target. 

Froemming: Well, Brown, you seem to forget the incredible advice about the military from noted American Super Patriot™ Donald Rumsfeld:

So, we see the military showing off their electronic doodads (technical term) to this senator who is visiting. These doodads used scientific gobbledygook (technical term) to shoot sonic booms so the enemy doesn’t die, unless the booms knock down buildings, crushing every bone in their body, which I mean, what are the odds?

Anyway, those odds are met in spades when John Bender — who went into the military after high school because of messing with the bull and getting the horns and whatnot, in my head canon — decides to push a new weapon’s power to…

Brown: I just think that Bender was looking for…

Like you, I had a “Breakfast Club”-related head canon: Had things worked out for Bender with that rich girl in Illinois, he would have worked for his father-in-law and lived high on the hog instead of, as we see later, illegal arms dealing. 

So yeah, when Bender (I refuse to look up his character’s actual name) pushes the sonic boom wave to max power, the building around them crumbles. Debris falls on everyone but Irons, who uses his gigantic frame to safety. 

However, amid the falling debris was Irons’ best friend, Sparky (Gish), who was paralyzed from the waist down and is confined to a wheelchair. 

So, yeah, she’s pretty much Barbara Gordon/Oracle for the rest of this movie. Way to diversify your character archetypes, DC.

Froemming: Honestly, I’d rather have this be how she ends up in a wheelchair over how Barbara does in “The Killing Joke”….

Yeah, I won’t even bother linking that up. People either know or can find out on their own.

Brown: I own a copy of “The Killing Joke” and yeah, good call.

Froemming: Also, Bender kills a U.S. senator with his antics. What does killing a senator get a military man in the court of law?

Discharged. No prison, no dishonorable discharge. They just tell him to hit the bricks. This has to be where the rioters of Jan. 6’s lawyers got their legal education, right?

Bender kills a senator, puts a fellow soldier in a wheelchair, causes a lot of harm the taxpayer will have to cover and they just KICK HIM OUT?

After this experience, John Henry Irons decides he has had enough of the military life, what with his gizmos killing a senator and putting his best friend in a wheelchair for the rest of her life and all. And he heads back to San Andreas Los Angeles!

Brown: Yeah, we get your typical welcome back montage, where people are high-fiving Irons and making him sound like the most important person to ever come out of that neighborhood.

Also, we get the start of a recurring joke where Irons can’t make a free throw which… never gets funny. I would have gladly taken a scene where Shaq dunks on the kids for calling him a chump for missing the shot. Or, if they REALLY got mean, he could go off like when kids stole Mac and Charlie’s bike. 

Froemming: Nah, it would have been great if he went off on some kids like Erlich:

Brown: Anyways, Irons goes to stay with his grandma, who *checks notes* has the most lush green lawn in all of downtown LA and is trying to make a fusion soul food/French restaurant?

AND, there’s Irons’ young brother Martin, who is played by Ray J. And he’s famous for making… another movie. That I won’t link to on a work computer. 

Froemming: Martin’s peers in the neighborhood are getting into some trouble. Petty theft? Nah, more like running guns to street gangs. Via arcade cabinets. See, by 1997, arcades were becoming a thing of the past, what with home consoles making them obsolete (thank you, Playstation). So gaming companies, from what I got from this movie, started investing in black market firearms. 

Now, how we learn all this by one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen in a movie. At a meeting with what looks like a board of directors, Bender shows up and starts openly talking about illegal selling of weapons to the president of this company, which I am not sure is ever given a name? I will just call it LJN

One, how did Bender strongarm his way into this meeting? Two, why is he talking openly about what one would assume is the side hustle this guy is running in front of investors, who would not want to be connected to this sort of thing? Three, why does this work?

Brown: Let’s not discount how good Bender is at sneaking around places. 

Also, I’d like to think that some kid was playing an original “Mortal Kombat” cabinet and unlocked the fight with Ermac, only for the machine to pop open with an AK-47 stuffed in there. 

Anyways, Bender tells this arms dealer/arcade magnate that he can get his hands on military-grade weaponry to make everyone a fortune. So under this arcade manufacturing business, Bender starts running R&D on these experimental weapons. After one of them fails in gruesome fashion, Bender insists he’s the only one that can fix the weapons, so he saves his own bacon. And along the way, he starts killing the nameless drones in this arms dealing business to eventually become the leader.

And these weapons… they really suck. Yeah, there’s the sonic boom gun. Then they have these guns that look like they shoot Roman candles. You could give someone a nasty burn, I guess? But it’s like this movie couldn’t decide if it wants to be grounded in realism or wanted to be a Star War. And as a result, every firefight in “Steel” looks like a bunch of kids shooting fireworks at one another.

And that’s not even the most sinister part of the whole movie. One scene later, we see Irons *checks notes* kidnap a paraplegic… 

Froemming: Well, he visits Sparks at a VA, where he says he needs her help. And for about five minutes, we are led to believe Sparks is blind, since she just unblinkingly stares into the void, not making eye contact with Irons or the camera or anything at all. And then, suddenly, she starts looking at him and I swear to God, it was the most confusing part of the movie. Like, I believe they shot this with the idea she was blind, and then decided to change course mid-scene. That is the only explanation I can come up with.

Brown: I’m 100 percent with you on that. Also, their “ET” finger touch thing was as off-putting as John Travolta face-wiping everyone in “Face/Off.”

Froemming: See, Irons needs her help since the weapons they were testing at the start of the movie are now on the street, and their old commanding officer just laughs it off. So where does Irons bring his best friend?

To a junkyard run by (REDACTED) Shaft!

Also, I had no idea I could dump my best friend visiting at the junkyard. That is where you are spending the night next time you visit.

Brown: Beats a Motel 6. 

Froemming: 

But Dad can't afford 6 dollars a night.

Brown: I dunno if you caught this, but it was very weird for this movie to have a lingering shot of Sparky’s Reebok shoes (Shaq was sponsored by Reebok, I believe) that she’s, you know, not walking in. In fact, they’re showcasing these shoes in a scene when she’s struggling to climb back into her wheelchair. There’s a time and place for subliminal advertising, movie. 

So as Irons, Sparky and Shaft (I refuse to learn Richard Roundtree’s character’s name) are building a superhero suit, Martin finds a job working on the arcade cabinets that Bender is hiding guns in. So clearly, Martin is gonna be a hostage later. 

So after forging a metal costume and a giant metal hammer/phallic symbol, Irons is now Steel. And he’s ready to hit the renaissance fair streets.

Froemming: He begins by stopping a mugger, which felt almost exactly like the opening scene of Tim Burton’s “Batman” movie. And, frankly, I had no idea that metal can bend like rubber, which this suit clearly does. He gives this woman back her stolen purse and makes his great escape via escalator.

Brown: Question: What if they shot Irons in the face while wearing the costume?

As Steel is trying to foil crime, he’s also being having to evade police which is… a little tough when you’re a lumbering 7-footer wearing 100 pounds of steel armor trying to jump across rooftops.

There’s also a point where Steel drives around on a motorcycle (that is hilariously obvious that a 7-foot Shaq is not piloting) while evading police. 

… This is a (REDACTED) Batman movie! A terrible Batman movie.

Froemming: He is able to escape the police by vanishing into the Bat Cave the Steel Cave? He vanishes into his uncle’s junkyard and the police just give up. Which is what happens all the time. 

And we go through this song and dance again the very next night, only this time the street toughs use their fancy weapons on Steel, which ends in wildly mixed results as they sometimes bounce off of him and sometimes knock him on his ass, depending on what the scene demands. And when Bender realizes this is Irons, he does what all great comic book villains do: Snitch him out to the police like a punk. Bender better not end up in prison, snitches don’t fare well there. 

And the police show up and arrest Irons, though I am not sure an anonymous tip would result in a warrant, but this is the LAPD so I buy it. Also, Steel is 7 feet tall, kinda hard to keep an identity secret when Irons is probably one of three people that height in the LA area.

Brown: And we see that Steel’s actions are impacting those in LA. The mugging he stopped, the rich WASP couple refuse to ID Irons. And a cop Steel saved earlier also refuses to ID Irons. 

Now, Irons gets put into a holding cell until Sparky uses a voice modulating dohickamabob (scientific term) to imitate the district attorney and get Irons free. 

Meanwhile, Bender is getting ready to sell his military-grade weapons by *checks notes* advertising it on the internet. 

This was 1997, guys. The internet wasn’t entirely discreet; America Online trial disks were littered everywhere at my local Cub foods, for God’s sake!

One of the groups interested in these weapons? Nazis. Because when your shitty movie needs easily-identified bad guys, Nazis are a safe choice. I wonder if, when they bought the guys, they got half-off tiki torches?

Froemming: Sparky catches wind of this auction for military weapons for sale on the internet that somehow was missed by: The CIA, FBI and NSA. But found by inbred Nazis. Our tax dollars at work, people. Am I right? #HotTake #Topical

So, Steel heads to this auction that is, of course, taking place in an abandoned factory. But, we soon find out due to jamming equipment, that it is a trap. Also, Sparky is kidnapped by hired goons!

Steel shows up at the auction and is laughably caught by Bender. And they have Sparky there too, for added effect which the gangs of the world probably are confused by — because they have no context for the giant man in the metal/rubber suit and this woman who acted blind for no reason earlier in this movie. They are there for weapons, not this community theater production of “Batman.”

Brown: It turns out that Sparky isn’t helpless as she loaded her wheelchair with those Roman candle guns. It’s… the single weirdest wheelchair sequence we’ve seen on the JOE-DOWN since “Mac and Me.”

And when Steel and Martin get stuck in a room with a live grenade, Irons has to *checks notes* throw the grenade like a free throw in order to get it out of the room. 

WE (REDACTED) GET IT! SHAQ IS BAD AT FREE THROWS!

Bender goes for the killing blow with one of his Roman candle guns. But, the shot ricochets off Steel’s costume and hits Bender like a Hadouken. Some debris also falls on Bender, killing him. 

This played at Bender’s funeral, I’m sure.

Froemming: 

This movie tells us Bender’s body hasn’t been found, which angered me that it had the audacity to hint at a sequel. And Irons speaks to his former commanding officer with a voice modulator that makes him sound like future California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This general has to be the dumbest man on earth, what with Steel using his tech and also happens to look and match the height of Irons.

We end the movie at a family BBQ, where the grandma finally succeeds at her soufflé and we see Sparky has modified her wheelchair so it has legs so she can walk. I mean, she fixed her blindness in minutes earlier in the film, so I can see her making robot legs like Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump.”

Brown: Froemming, let’s get to recommendations before Shaft crafts us both steel cod pieces. 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: No. No, this was a really lousy movie. 

Brown: Hard pass. This was the worst Batman movie I’ve ever seen.

Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN

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