A museum tour is halted at its centerpiece, the sword of Alexander the Great, by Chris Kilos (George Touliatos), a weird, old man who is obsessed with the sword and its fabled ability to protect its wielder. Using Machiavellian levels of deception (read: he gets a guard to fetch him something while he rigs the security system), Kilos’ muscle manage to steal the sword without a whit of subtlety but the loss of life of several people. Not understanding the true nature of the sword (even though we’re supposed to think he does, because his knowledge of Alexander the Great is kind of part of the reason why he was fascinated by the weapon in the first place), Kilos uses the sword, as wielded by his henchman Jodar (Christopher Lee Clements), to make a mint in illegal, underground death matches. Oh, psychic cop Andrew Garrett (Lorenzo Lamas) and museum curator Julie (Claire Stansfield) are tepid on Kilos’ trail, too.
Nick Rotundo’s Gladiator Cop is rather ambitious, on paper at least. It’s set up as a story about destiny in line with something like The Sword in the Stone (or Matt Wagner’s Mage comic book series), replete with magic blade. It has elements of reincarnation and revenge. It has a psychic police officer, who you would think was an absolute boon to the department, but in reality is not so much. It has blood sports aplenty, engaged in by colorful (yet somehow still bland) characters like The Angel of Death (Gary Goodridge), The Butcher (Howard Putterman), and (most importantly) Mongol (Garry Robbins). Yet, it’s this last component in which the film has any real interest. The movie feels like time killer scenes interspersed between scenes of gladiatorial combat (which are longer [or feel longer] and are handled with more care than the non-action scenes).
Andrew is alerted to the museum break-in, not by his partner (or I assume it’s his partner, since they work together when it’s convenient for them to do so in a scene) Leo (Frank Anderson), but by Julie, whose relationship to Andrew we have absolutely zero information about (and at first, I assumed she was his partner). Andrew appears to have absolutely no responsibilities around his precinct, and he dives into this investigation (despite some very light admonishment not to; and this doesn’t even come from his moderately tempered black captain, played by Eugene Clark) alongside Julie, which makes no sense in the slightest, seeing as how at this point there is no reason he needs to keep her near him and under guard, and she most likely wouldn’t know sweet fuck-all about how to maneuver around a crime scene (not to mention morgues typically make for bad dates). Their love scene is completely unmotivated and abruptly inserted (no pun intended). We simply cut to them sliding into bed together, but the worst part of it all is that the scene is entirely non-titillating. All of this is filler until Andrew finally gets his hands on the sword and enters the arena/abandoned factory. And even then, the film pays off none of what it promises in its plot segments. I could get behind a hodgepodge of a film if the filmmakers at least try to link their plot points together. But all Gladiator Cop leaves you with is the dots with no numbers and no pencil with which to connect them.
Andrew is an incomplete man. The first time we see him, it is in a dream where he sees himself being killed (or maybe just stabbed, though the implication is heavy on the former) on a very loosely decorated Ancient Greek set (it looks like something out of a Heart music video, circa 1985). If the notion of Alexander the Great’s belief in reincarnation and our hero’s introductory scene don’t clue you in to what I’m sure the writers thought was a huge twist, you’ve probably not seen very many movies. Still, I like the idea that Andrew is meant to be together with the sword, that he needs it. In some ways, he embodies the duality of the warrior and the artist. He keeps a dream journal, in which he draws what he remembers. He’s also psychic, the implication being that he has a certain sensitivity, since when he reaches out with this power, he is affected on both a physical and an emotional level. He even flashes back to his past life while fencing, an indication that he is a born blade wielder; he’s just stuck with the wrong blade (for now). Of course, he also works as a police officer, a modern equivocation with the classic warrior ideal. However, he needs Alexander’s sword specifically in order to sync these two sides up with each other, to become whole.
Amazingly, Kilos has no interest in the sword as anything other than a means to make money (which, in turn, allows him to hire pricey hookers), especially since he claims to believe in the true power the sword has. He doesn’t care who wields the sword for him, and we have no clue as to why Jodar was chosen as his champion in the first place. On the other side, there is Parmenion (James Hong) who knows a lot more about the sword than anyone else, and has a close link to Andrew’s past (hint: you’ll never guess what it is from the flashback sequences). About Kilos’ exercising the sword’s might, Parmenion says “He has the right sword but not the right man.” And even here, Parmenion’s motivations aren’t displayed as being about the eternal struggle between good and evil. They’re actually quite silly (considering the circumstances), and my mind boggles as to why he went to all this effort in order to reach this end.
Continuing with my harping, Andrew is an extremely passive protagonist. He makes almost no major discoveries in the course of his investigation. He doesn’t even take his job all that seriously. One example of this is when Julie tells Andrew that she wants to go to the museum, but he says no because it’s too dangerous. But after she suggests they look at more of Andrew’s dream journal instead, he says he’ll get Leo to drive her there (jocularity!). As if Andrew has something better to do at this point in time (which we don’t see him doing, regardless). Further, the next scene at the museum involves Julie and Kilos, with Leo (her supposed bodyguard) nowhere in sight. This passivity is the film’s biggest detriment. Andrew is just there. He doesn’t partake in the plot. He doesn’t move the story forward. His sole purpose is to make it to the end fight, but by that point, I honestly couldn’t give a shit whether he lived or died. Furthermore, there is no denouement after all this has been piled up in front of us. There are no clarifications, no tying up of loose threads (of which there are plenty); just a cut to the end titles. If filmmakers don’t care enough to give a viewer a complete film, I don’t think it’s too much to suggest that the viewer shouldn’t have to give them their full attention. Maybe if you don’t, you’ll enjoy Gladiator Cop more than I did.
MVT: The basic ideas in the film are solid, and there are a lot of intriguing ways they could have played out. But they didn’t.
Make or Break: The opening burglary scene was actually quite impressive, and it got my expectations falsely heightened for a good, little, low budget action film. For a hook/inciting incident, it does its job admirably.