Punk Rock Gladiators. As far as genre movie set-ups go, few three-word combos could muster the same levels of excitement as Andrew Thomas Hunt’s Mad Max-inspired junkyard battle royale. Even with just those words, you can feel Spare Parts as the fun-loving, hyper-violent crowd movie it desperately wants to be; the sort of Rollerball-esque anti-sports, anti-underdog movie that rockets through the midnight circuit. So it’s a bit of a crying shame that a great deal of those lofty ambitions end up falling foul to a limbless script, and a budget that just won’t stretch far enough to deliver the goods.
Run off the road in the middle of a backwards desert town, all-female four-piece Ms. 45 (yes, named after that Abel Ferrara movie, and for a reason) find themselves prisoners in the middle of a literal trash-heap, and at the mercy of a decidedly backwards emperor (a slightly under-hammed Julian Richings). After a quick spot of junkyard surgery to replace their dominant arms with an array of offensive weaponry, the rockers are thrust into a local Thunderdome, forced to do battle as would-be gladiators, with one prize in mind – their freedom.
And while there’s not a lot new here for anyone who’s frequented the swords-and-sandals beat-em-ups and post-apocalyptic world-builders that Spare Parts borrows most of its charm from, there’s a decent amount of fun still to be had. Michelle Argyris, Emily Alatalo, Kiriana Stanton and Chelsea Muirhead are wonderfully cast as the central punk band; even if some of the chemistry feels a little one-note, their collective rage and the physicality of their fights pays off in waves – two out of the four are stunt performers, and it shows.
The violence is short, sharp and straight-forward, with an eye for impressive kills. Ryan Allen’s supremely wicked Driller oozes cool, and there’s a certain allure to the cheap-and-cheerful production design around them. For a while at least.
But around about the half-way point, Spare Parts has almost played its entire hand, and you quietly start to realise that spectacle-wise, with the entire movie essentially taking place in a tiny trash heap colosseum, there’s not really many other places it can go. Any creativity around the weaponry starts to fade (why stop at replacing one arm with a machete, why not both arms? And legs?), and even the action eventually just starts to feel like a means to an end.
Writers David Murdoch and Svet Rouskov seem keen on developing the world around the gladiator den; from the emperor’s classically murderous lineage to the various training montages and how the whole preposterous event just about fits together. But when “They fight” is written on every other page and the budget is all being funnelled into making the cool action sequences look cooler, there’s not really much space to develop any of that.
So what Spare Parts ultimately ends up as is an incredibly cardboardy Mad Max knock-off, with one dimensional characters, a half-baked backstory and a hopping mad premise that gets oddly quite boring by its climax.
There’s plenty here for hardcore genre fans and lovers of the cheap-and-cheerful, but all-in, Spare Parts definitely feels like it’s missing the wackier edge it starts off with, delivering what is really the absolute bare minimum from those three simple words.