Theme Song: There is a bunch of bad music in this. It’s so bad no one even took credit for it.
Interesting Dated References: Russia being a threat. Nuclear war.
Best Line: Barked by demanding Professional Doctor guy — “Enough talk, let’s unpack.”
Social Context: Imagine if you had written a really strong critique/analysis of what it would be like in the moments leading up to and shortly after the outbreak of a nuclear war (like Testament). Then imagine if I took that script and gave it to a liberal with no background in creative endeavors. He would amplify and embellish the political overtones in all the wrong spots. Further imagine if I took his draft and gave it to a guy who really likes sports and thinks being in the Army was noble. He would ham up the action and make the main male figure all “powerful and military.” Then take that script and give it to a bunch of people who want to invest in the booming direct-to-video market of the 1980s. What do you get?: A movie that at one time had social context but is really now just a giant mess not even a bunch of stoners would laugh at.
Summary: During the opening scenes of Massive Retaliation, it is established that the group of average white couples on which the film focuses have bought a piece of property in the middle of nowhere and built it up to be a compound in case of an impending nuclear attack. They are ready at the drop of a hat to abandon everything and head to said fortress, including already having pre-packed suitcases. I guess that’s what life was like in the 80s. Everybody thinks this was perfectly normal. They also use it for a vacation destination.
The movie opens with News Anchor Woman receiving a report that things are heating up in Russia somewhere in some ocean. She immediately informs the other couples in her social circle and everyone packs up and heads to the mountains. Oh, and to add to the drama, everyone’s kids left the day before for this trip that has now suddenly become an emergency. So let’s review the couples were dealing with here: We’ve got News Anchor Woman and her Comedic Relief Husband (some guy doing a really shitty impression of Paul Rodriguez/Jim Belushi), Professional Doctor and his Sexed-up Trophy Wife, and Average Guy and his Average Wife. It’s not made clear who has the kids, but scenes are interspersed with the kids traveling and arguing and include two teenage kids and four snotty brats.
As the bad synth music intensifies and the couples get into the country, Average Guy and his Average Wife stop for gas where they are informed the cost has increased to $20 per gallon. Then at dinner, a waitress informs Professional Doctor that the kids had passed through earlier in the day. Then some local yokels make a half-hearted effort to rape Sexed-up Trophy Wife.
Then a lot of guitar licks happen in the scene where everyone flees the dinner and enters the secret compound that has a gate and a paved road. Professional Doctor immediately starts barking out orders on how to secure the premises, and as an after thought asks someone to check on the kids. Elsewhere, responsible Teenage Boy (Jason Gedrick of Iron Eagle fame) takes a bike to go get gas or something in the middle of the night. Back at the camp, broads catfight and the men have power struggles that eat up about 10 minutes. There’s a lot of blatant padding going on here.
So in the morning, the panicked survivalists have a full breakfast and laugh and wait to hear from the kids. They seem really stressed about their missing children and the impending nuclear war between “The Americans and The Russians.” Responsible Teenage Boy eventually calls the cabin and informs them about the broken down truck and claims he can get it fixed. The adults again act calm and don’t even make an effort to go rescue the kids. So Responsible Teenage Boy heads to a parts store to buy a new water pump. The old guy behind the counter will no longer take credit cards. Once again the writer tried to make the old guy say something prolific about how, “There’s always a war.” Then the kid tries to steal the pump and gets a gun pulled on him.
A national emergency is declared that includes the evacuation of people from major urban areas. Then the adults have a bunch of in-fighting and Average Wife takes off after the kids. They really should have done this in the morning, but I guess they were too busy eating breakfast. Everyone else watches Average Wife drive through the minefield in an effort to get out of the compound. Yes, I said the minefield. She crashes her truck and Comedic Relief Husband steps on a mine as he tries to save her. It was a “dud mine,” though, and he only shatters his foot. What a relief. Thinking of watching the rest of this movie without the comedic styling of some type of Jim Belushi/Paul Rodriguez hybrid would be miserable.
Back in town, the kid is released from jail. The sheriff delivers yet another hilariously ham-fisted monologue about America and consumerism. When the kid leaves the jail he happens to see the sheriff’s truck that has the very water pump he needs. As he leaves the town, cops are checking everyone making sure they have their “Host Destination I.D. Cards.” Since he doesn’t have one, he has to run from the cops and do lots of wheelies on his bike to the sounds of blazing guitar licks.
Wow, it’s Bob Goldthwait. Goldthwait plays some type of soused friend of some deputy guy who knows the survivalists have a bunch of gas stashed on their property. After they demand the gas, they leave. Then there’s a lot more in-fighting amongst the adults. I’m wondering how they were even able to agree on the layout and interior decorating of this compound if they can’t even agree on stuff when the shit hits the fan. Then the Average Husband declares, “The minefield service disk is destroyed.” That’s what computer talk sounded like in 1984. You could just string together random technical sounding words and no one would question it, they just think you know what you’re talking about.
Another 10 minutes of women in-fighting and arguing about “what makes a good mother.” I guess I forgot to mention Professional Doctor Guy is on a megalomaniac power trip and keeps bossing everyone around. Then the kids arrive and Professional Doctor slaps his son in front of everyone for crying and being a pussy in general. Oh, and the yokels show up with guns trying to chase off the couples from their compound. They hold the kids hostage and threaten to kill them.
So while this showdown is going on between the two camps, Comedic Relief Guy hears on the radio there is a cease fire and the war is over. As he hobbles to deliver the “war is over” message, he is shot by the deputy sheriff. Professional Doctor is convinced the cease fire is Russian propaganda. Oh, and Average Husband all emotionally throws down his weapon and says, “War makes no sense.” Ah-ha-ha — Professional Doctor flips out and shoots him for being a wimp! Then the stupid kids form a circle around Average Husband. Freeze frame!
Misguided, misleading (based on box art), and in general miserable, Massive Retaliation totally missed any effective commentary it could have had in favor of blazing guitar solos, totally unnecessary character development, out of place political diatribes, and “Bobcat” Goldthwait. It did everything wrong that Testament didn’t. Whereas the writer of Testament treated the subject with respect and real life context, the writer(s) of Massive Retaliation did not.
Poster and Box Art: This is a fabulous cover. From the rag tag group with guns, to the cars fleeing the cityscape. It’s totally 80s and totally airbrushed and totally awesome. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with the movie, and all of the people only loosely resemble their movie counterparts. But ignore that fact, and you still have an awesome box.