“Gunhed” is a hokey slab of Nipponese sci-fi that’s OK for buffs but not high-key enough to break into wider markets. Five-year-old production, pairing Brenda Bakke alongside local name Masahiro Takashima, looks like a Ridley Scott/James Cameron knockoff and plays like a Japanese comic strip with live actors.
Setting is the Pacific island 8JO in the year 2039, 13 years after a megabattle in which the island’s super computer, Chiron 5, successfully defended itself against a battalion of Gunheds (unmanned robots) sent by the World Union Government to curb its global ambitions.
A group of “treasure hunters,” led by Japanese mechanic Brooklyn (Takashima), land on 8JO to salvage Chiron 5’s computer chips. After bumping into a Texas Air Ranger (Bakke) on a mission of her own, plus two young kids — Seven and Eleven (get it?) — who survived the war there, everyone suddenly discovers Chiron 5 is warming up for another attempt at world domination. Brooklyn manages to repair a damaged Gunhed for a final showdown with the billion-dollar brain.
Pic cruises along in second gear most of the time, with authentically cheesy dialogue, unflashy f/x, good model work, a bland pop-synth soundtrack and light, jokey tone. Hardware-heavy visuals and gray-brown color scheme ape any number of futuristic flicks. Compositions mirror comic-strip art rather than being cinematic in their own right.
Things pick up in the final half-hour, which eventually delivers the action goods without springing any major surprises. Lack of widescreen and Dolby sound is a handicap, however, and a couple of gaping plot holes look like the result of trimming.
As the carrot-chewing mechanic who starts a wimp and ends up a hero, Takashima takes his time but develops an easygoing charm. Bakke, clad in a figure-hugging rubber suit, makes a tough and sexy Texas Ranger but voices her lines as if she can’t wait to get home. Pic was reportedly a B.O. hit for Toho on local release in 1989.