If it’s possible for a B-Movie to be cool, The Warriors is a cool B-Movie. And it’s not a half-goofy and half-interesting movie, either. Somehow this movie manages to be ridiculous and fascinating at the same time.
What makes for this unusual combination? Is it the spooky nighttime subway scenes, combined with the concept of a gang of roller skaters in suspenders? Is it the awesome performance of Roger Hill as gang “messiah” Cyrus, who somehow makes goofy lines like “Can you dig that, suckas?” sound cool? Or is it the freaky music playing underneath the gang-slang (killing is “wasting,” fighting is “bopping”? It’s all of these, and a lot more.
But first the good points: The story is extremely well-told, and holds together well. The aforementioned Cyrus calls together a gang summit. The rules: “nine guys, no weapons.” Members from a hundred gangs show up to hear Cyrus’s plan for all of New York City’s gangs to join forces and take over the city. “It’s all our turf,” says Cyrus, and the cheering gangs are in the palm of Cyrus’s hand.
CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNN YOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUU DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGGG IIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTT
Until he gets killed, that is. A crackhead from a gang called the Rogues, who’s a dead ringer for Sean Penn, goes all Sirhan B. Sirhan on Cyrus and “wastes” him. But since nobody saw him do it, he frames a Warrior, one of Coney Island’s finest gang members. He gets “wasted,” and the rest of the movie follows the seven remaining Warriors as they try to “bop” their way back to Coney Island, which is a long way away.
What I’ve just described sounds better than about 90% of today’s action movies (ok, 99%). But I haven’t mentioned any of the insanity that makes the Warriors a true b-movie. For starters, there’s the very bizarre 1970’s-ish looks of these gangs. Swan, the Warriors’ war chief (Michael Beck), is sort of a muscular Shaun Cassidy, while other Warriors sport shaggy hair, sideburns and afros. Some of them are about as intimidating as the guy who squeezes the Charmin. The other gangs don’t fare much better. In addition to the roller-skating gang I mentioned before, there’s the seductively scuzzy Lizzies, who entice a few Warriors in for a party, only to try shooting them (“The chicks are packed!” our heroes yell as they race out the door). Then there are the Orphans, who are so poor and smelly and ugly that Cyrus didn’t even invite them to the big meeting downtown. (“How could there have been a meeting if the Orphans wasn’t invited?” whines their David Schwimmer-lookalike leader, but the run-in with the Orphans is where Swan meets his love interest- Mercy, played by Deborah Van Valkenburgh.) The weirdest gang of all, though, is the Baseball Furies. These guys are mimes who wear baseball uniforms and swinging bats. (The Furies are so bizarre that it’s almost impossible to believe that they’re in a serious movie.) Only the biggest gang, the Gramercy Riffs, actually look tough; they dress sort of like Public Enemy’s onstage posse.
And then there’s the dialogue. Luther, the Rogue who shot Cyrus, gets a whole lot of good lines, (depending on your definition of “good,” anyway). When he finally catches up with the Warriors, he bangs three empty glass bottles together over and over, screeching “Warriors… come out to playee-ay!” And his motive for killing Cyrus? “I just like doing things like that!”
The Warriors keep up with the goofy line-reads, though. Their biggest, stupidest member, Ajax (James Remar), calls everybody a “wimp” or a “f***ot,” including some of his fellow Warriors! He also tries to rape an undercover cop, and when she handcuffs him to a park bench and calls for backup, he says “Don’t mess with me, lady, you don’t wanna mess with me!” Sorry, but when you’re handcuffed to a bench, people are gonna mess with you. And another Warrior, who goes by the name of Vermin, tries to compliment the insecure Orphans, saying “Oh yeah, my social worker talks about you guys all the time!”
After bopping their way home all night, The Warriors arrive in Coney, where Swan confronts Luther in a kind of duel. He wins, but things aren’t over yet. The Riffs show up, only to point out that they knew the Warriors didn’t do it after all. They beat the pants off of Sean Penn’s clone, which leaves the Warriors free to enjoy the rides at Coney Island, while Swan and Mercy presumably run off and start having little Warriors.
I have seen this movie quite a few times, and I always laugh my hinder off, and I usually cheer at several points during the movie. It sounds strange, but this is a great movie that’s also a great B-movie. Or, as the head Riff says, “You Warriors are good… real good.”. Nope, says Swan. “We’re the best.”