After "Waterworld," it's difficult to argue that the moviegoing public needs one more post-apocalyptic action film. Not only is such a scenario beyond clichéd, but it defies the realization that the world we live in is already as much of a playground of post-nuclear horrors as anything the "Mad Max" series ever gave us.
The makers of "Six-String Samurai" seem to understand this, framing their vision of a bombed-out America in an alternate present, not an imagined future. In this film's parallel universe, the Russians dropped the big one on us in 1957, leaving a handful of guitar-toting drifters to fend for themselves as they make their way across a desert wasteland. Their destination: The promised land of Las (now Lost) Vegas, where Elvis is dead and a culture in turmoil anxiously awaits the arrival of a new King.
Any doubt that the off-the-wall concept is to be played for laughs evaporates with the arrival of Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon), a bespectacled, road-weathered rockabilly warrior who plays a mean riff when he isn't wielding a deadly sword. If Marshall Crenshaw took grooming tips from the Spin Doctors' Chris Barron, the result might look something like Buddy, but the quiet stranger's high-kicking martial-arts moves (breathtakingly performed by Falcon, a real-life kung fu champion) place him squarely in the tradition of the B-movie hero. To make the parody complete, he's even given a kid sidekick (Justin McGuire), whose company Buddy assiduously avoids until his protective, parental instincts win out.
With a set-up this wittily imaginative, it's a major disappointment that "Six-String Samurai" turns out to be a drag. There isn't one genuine laugh line in the script, and the thin plot amounts to one high-concept fight scene after another, as Buddy faces off against a lethal bowling team, a displaced Russian army and a band of goons in thrall to Stratocaster-wearing Death himself. The onrush of challengers is numbingly repetitive (though the appearance of the Cleavers, an all-American family of psychotic cannibals, momentarily elevates the film to another satirical plane).
Admittedly, "Samurai" is wonderful to look at, full of eerie vistas and beautifully choreographed battle sequences. There just isn't enough substance to justify its existence as a feature, rather than a potentially brilliant 15-minute short.
If a clever conceit, terrific visuals and a rockin' soundtrack are all it takes to get you in line, go now. But if you'd prefer to see an actual movie, missing this guitar opera is nothing to fret over.