Listen: I am a man of simple tastes, so when someone tells me that there is a movie out there that is entirely based around dudes jousting each other on dirt bikes, I am going to see that movie as soon as humanly possible. Turns out that movie does in fact exist: 1981's Knightriders, written and directed by George Romero. Yes, that George Romero. He did it between Dawn and Day.
You might think that "a movie about dirt bike jousting directed by George Romero" would pretty much cover all the bizarre stuff going on in this movie, but trust me on this: It is only the beginning. It's the kind of movie that's so damn weird that when you finish, you immediately start telling people they need to see it. Here's why.
Congratulations, all of you are now pregnant.
The greatest danger of making a movie about dudes jousting on dirt bikes is undoubtedly the risk that you're not putting enough actual dirt bike jousting into it, but don't worry: George Romero knows what he's doing. This isn't just a movie that's at least 60 percent footage of stuntmen riding around on dirt bikes beating the living hell out of each other with war hammers and battleaxes; it's also a movie that opens with a 40-minute dirt bike jousting tournament, shown to us in what appears to be real time.
OK, well, to be perfectly honest, the movie actually opens with a shot of Ed Harris' bare ass standing in a forest, but the jousting starts within the first five minutes and then goes on for a lot longer than you expect.
The thing is, as good as it is to deliver on that premise, it never quite gets to the point where any of it's actually, you know, important. I kept waiting for Knightriders to fall into the formula that we all know and love from movies like, say, Breakin', where someone has to save a rec center and/or ski school by winning some kind of all-county joust-off. Instead, I'm pretty sure it was meant to be a medium for social commentary that never quite took off.
See, the actual premise of the movie isn't just that there are dudes who like to ride motorcycles and hit each other with swords, it's that Ed Harris (who you may remember as that guy from that one thing) is leading a troupe of traveling Renaissance Faire performers who have created a new society for themselves based on feudalism. Harris is the king, the dirt bike guys and mechanics are the knights and their squires, and the people selling friendship bracelets or whatever are the serfs. There's even a court wizard, and everybody wears wool poet shirts with their jeans. So the dirt bike jousting isn't just a performance, it's an actual tournament in which the king can become deposed and replaced with the guy who is the best at motorcycle combat.
"Medieval Times can suck it."
Admittedly, this is probably the greatest political system since the advent of democracy, but it causes a lot of trouble because dudes are actually trying to beat each other into submission with axes and swords in front of a crowd. This is the major source of conflict in the plot, as Tom Savini -- who is extremely shirtless throughout most of this movie -- is tired of not being king and threatens to run off to Hollywood where a sleazy agent is gearing up to take dirt bike jousting to new heights of popularity. Don't worry, though: It gets resolved at the end when Savini, Harris, and Gary Lahti sit down and decide that maybe they shouldn't try to actively murder each other during the performance.
Did I mention that Ed Harris prepares for battle by standing in a river and whipping his own back with a switch? Because this is something that happens twice.
To be fair, this is how Ed Harris prepares for most things in real life, too.
He plays a harmonica. His name is Merlin. Of course it is.
Before it gets around to the whole "I'm taking my dirt bike jousting talents to Hollywood where they'll be appreciated!" portion of the plot, Romero fakes you out (and makes you think that this movie is going to be a thousand times more awesome) by setting up a conflict between the Knightriders and some local cops who seem to be imported directly from the set of Smokey and the Bandit 2.
On the one hand, the cops are played as total jerks, leaning on our free-spirited heroes for bribes and planting drugs on the court jester so that they can haul him off to the hut and bash his head in with billy clubs while Ed Harris is made to watch. On the other hand, it's pretty easy to see why the police would not be that thrilled to have a bunch of transients show up at a soccer field so that they can tear it up with dirt bikes while stabbing each other with longswords. I mean, yeah, they say they have the permits, but how exactly do you file that with City Hall?
"You just 'forgot' to initial line 32A!?! You think this is a game?"
Either way, the cops are the first non-motorcycle-based conflict of the movie, and since they start making trouble 40 minutes in, it's reasonable to assume that this movie is suddenly going to turn into Knightriders ramping into the county jail, swinging around morning stars and blasting Thin Lizzy on a boombox. Sadly, this is not what happens at all.
Instead, the cops just leave the movie for an hour and show back up at the very end. After Ed Harris finally loses his crown to Tom Savini, he drives around for a while until he just rolls up into McDonald's and starts punching the sheriff right in the face in mid-Big Mac. Then Harris takes the gun, throws it in the deep fryer, and locks the cop in the freezer, walking out to a standing ovation from the crowd without a word of explanation.
It's a bizarre way to end the plot, but for my money, the movie's a lot better if you assume that Tom Savini's character eventually retired from Knightriding and joined the police force himself to fight corruption, and that Planet Terror is a direct sequel.
His chest hair would never forgive him for giving up the tunic.