'Solo': one bald android in need of an original thrill

August 23, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

In "Solo," the Terminator joins the Magnificent Seven.

A movie so purloined from other movies it has almost no single moment of original life, this odd hybrid follows as an experimental super android infantryman joins forces with a guerrilla-besieged Central American village and, faster than you can say "Yul Brynner," has the villagers outfighting the boys with the AK-47s and the Che T-shirts.

Mario Van Peebles is the best thing in the picture as the title character. With his head shaven (nice conceit: When the android is given a choice of faces during construction, he picks Michael Jordan's) and his body buffed to the maximum, he still gives the man-machine an almost poignant dignity and grace.

The second most impressive aspect on "Solo's" extremely short list of impressive aspects is William Sadler as a tightly wound commando officer, the source of whose villainy is his resentment of the android's implicit superiority over his own fighting skills. Sadler, who has made a career of playing such men (as in "Die Hard II"), has really gone for it in this one: His Col. Madden appears to be locked into a corset constructed of space-age polymers and torqued shut by a rocket engine. His eyes bulge dangerously; his veins throb rhythmically; his teeth shine like flares out beyond the perimeter. But don't look into those mad pupils: You'll only see death in them.

But again, this is old territory, and the movie can't find much new to do with it. The melancholy of the android has been the center of both "Terminator II" and "Blade Runner," and the craziness of the professional military has had its long run as well. Derivation isn't a sin, but for it to work, it has to deliver the old stuff with a great deal of new energy. That isn't the case here. Virtually every movie made, including "The Wizard of Oz," "The Children of Paradise" and "Flipper," has generated violent thrills with more authority than "Solo," which is very disappointing as an action vehicle.

The village protection deal is the one original touch for a movie with so many machine guns, but the village -- and, indeed, Hispanic culture -- is so banally imagined it seems almost disrespectful. I thought we were done with poetic peasants waxing eloquent about "the land" back in the '60s, but "Solo" doesn't agree. In every village on the road to Yul and back there's a wild, raven-haired beauty, a cute li'l kid and a wise old philosopher-priest without any teeth. Only in the movies, brother.


Starring Mario Van Peebles and William Sadler

Directed by Norberto Barba

Released by Triumph

Rated PG-13 (violence)

Sun score **

Pub Date: 8/23/96

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