Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/17/05 20:53:59

"It could be worse. Shaq could be rapping."
1 stars (Sucks)

As difficult as it is to believe, we live in a world where Shaquille O’Neal, following his appearance in “Kazaam was allowed to appear in another movie. This is all conjecture, but I like to think the conversation went something like this:

Movie executive no. 1: “Knowing full well of the existence of a film titled “Kazaam,” and knowing full well what harm it has done to countless millions of unsuspecting viewers, I would still like to hire this Shaquille O’Neal person for a leading role in another film.”

Movie executive no. 2: “Right so, old bean. I, for one, despite having seen “Kazaam” myself, think Mr. Shaquille O’Neal would be the perfect choice to play the lead in this new super hero movie we’re cooking up. With any luck, it’ll be every much a smash hit as this new Batman movie that Schumacher chap is working on.”

Now, I don’t know if Hollywood big shots call themselves “old bean” in private, but I do know that someone, somewhere made a decision to put “Shaq” in a film based partly on the strengths of his turn as a rapping genie who lives in a boom box. And this thought, quite frankly, chills me to the bone.

O’Neal’s follow-up to the genie film was “Steel,” adapted from the DC Comics series about a guy so shaken by the death of Superman that he creates a suit of armor and heads out to fight crime in Supes’ name. For the film, written and directed by Kenneth Johnson (the guy behind the “Incredible Hulk” and “Alien Nation” TV series), Steel is retooled into a big, dumb guy who quits the army, starts hanging out with Richard Roundtree, and tries to stop Judd Nelson’s reign of terror.

While I cannot support his choice of quitting the army or hanging out with Richard Roundtree, I will give him plenty of points for hoping to end Judd Nelson’s reign of terror, as his work in “Suddenly Susan” was an affront to humanity.

Anyway. O’Neal plays John Henry Irons, a righteous soldier with a heart of gold who drops out of the service when a weaselly snot named Nathaniel Burke (Nelson) causes the death of a Senator and the crippling of John Henry’s best friend, “Sparky” (Annabeth Gish), while testing a new weapon. John Henry, it seems, has had enough with weapons, and so he returns to his L.A. home to live with his obnoxious little brother (Ray J) and kooky grandmother (Irma P. Hall, adding the lone scrap of dignity to this otherwise dignity-free production).

But Burke’s gone and sold his weapon-creating services to some vague arms dealer, and when John Henry sees that those old weapons are now on the street, he does what any concerned citizen would do: he builds a suit of armor and a cartoonishly large hammer, and, along with the help of Sparky and junkyard owner Uncle Joe (Roundtree), begins fighting crime.

I’m sure that even if you have never seen “Steel,” you can imagine the horrors found within just from reading that description. When John Henry, covered in an ill-fitting grey plastic suit as “Steel,” returns a stolen wallet to an uptight rich, white couple and cheerily tells them, “Y’all be cool now,” you can feel the human race as a species get a little dumber. One man reportedly went into a coma after watching O’Neal attempt to act as if he’s in pain while riding a motorcyle, the implication of Shaq’s grunting and grimacing being that Steel drives a fart-powered bike. I have also heard various accounts of people renouncing their religion merely on the basis of the scene where Richard Roundtree cracks a “Shaft” joke.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on O’Neal. After all, he’s not a professional actor by trade, and he wasn’t too shabby in “Blue Chips.” But the combined one-two punch of “Kazaam” and “Steel” was enough not only to wipe that Nick Nolte movie from memory, but it also prompted several Senate members to propose an Constitutional amendment banning the basketball star from taking a lead role in any feature film produced within the United States or by a U.S.-based film company. The proposal was soon dropped when Hollywood studios banded together to announce that collectively, they would only allow O’Neal to take cameo roles, and even then, only in movies like “Freddy Got Fingered,” where the blame could easily be passed off to other, more responsible parties like Tom Green.

A sad, final thought: Judd Nelson’s reign of terror was not halted by John Henry’s efforts; the actor went on to make the dreadful made-for-cable Cabin By the Lake movie series. It would seem no amount of fart-powered motorcycles will be able to keep the former “St. Elmo’s Fire” star out of our movies. I’d say “God help us all,” but I renounced my religion once I heard that “Shaft” joke.

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