The mere thought of Shaquille O’Neal as a superhero in armor plating sends shivers of dread down my spine. Combine that with the thought of Judd Nelson as the bad guy, and you can tell this one was a hair away from direct-to-video land. However, Steel the movie wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It’s no masterpiece, but it isn’t an absolute disaster either.
Shaq plays John Henry Irons, a master weapons maker for the Army. If that isn’t enough steel-imagery, his right hand man, er, woman is named Sparks (Annabeth Gish). Together they have created a top secret new breed of superweaponry for the military. However, after a mishap which leaves Sparks paralyzed, John Henry decides to resign and leave the weapons biz behind him.
However Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson), an evil ex-Army man with a grudge against Irons, has stolen the plans, and soon Irons discovers his hi-tech weaponry is on the streets. To fight back, he teams up with his old partner Sparks, and his good ol’ Uncle Joe (Richard Roundtree), who has a knack for finding useful things in his junkyard. Irons forges himself a bulletproof Steel suit, wired with plenty of gadgets and gizmos. In addition he has merged all his megaweapons into a powerful Steel hammer. “I particularly like the SHAFT…”, states Roundtree in a groaningly-obvious pun.
So, now christened Steel, John Henry sets out to the streets to find the source of the weaponry, and prevent Burke’s internet auction to the world’s terrorists (at HTTP://www.nil.auction.com, of course).
Shaquille O’Neal will never be a world-class actor, but he is perfectly able to carry good intentioned fluff like Steel. The role of the goody-two-shoes Steel doesn’t require much range, and his superstar sports status carries more weight than his acting skills. (Though the forced basketball motif gets a bit tiring.)
The rest of the cast fulfill their skimpy roles as best as you can expect. Judd Nelson is smarmy and villainous as the smarmy villain. Annabeth Gish is appealing as Steel’s appealing assistant. And Richard Roundtree and Irma P. Hall are appropriately quirky as Steel’s quirky family.
This is not going to go down as one of the best films of all time. It’s not even on par with the best superhero films of all time, far from it. But it’s not that bad, either. In a simplistic, good-natured sort of way, it’s somewhat entertaining. Not necessarily high prase, but considering the bomb potential present in the movie, it’s a lot better than was expected.