Mafioso-so: Gangster World (1997)

Cyborgs, mobsters, and a wannabe action hero — Matty dissects an Avi Nesher production that doesn’t quite click.

Discovered while working as a personal trainer on the Caribbean island of St. Martin in 1992, model, martial artist and former legionnaire Xavier DeClie was recruited to front a fitness video (Great Body: Your Personal Trainer (1992)) before getting hired by Albert Pyun for ancillary roles in Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) and Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996). In the wake of his Pyun double, DeClie inked a three picture deal with Avi Nesher — another B-movie practitioner with a penchant for Gallic hunks given his then multi-feature pact with Pyun’s Nemesis (1992) lead, Olivier Gruner. Alas, despite scenarios for a sci-fi army actioner called ‘The Outpost’ and an untitled boxing drama being developed, only a single film sprang from DeClie and Nesher’s union under the latter’s Mahagonny banner — and it’s a tepid one at that.  

Written by Nesher and Evan Spiliotopoulos — a journeyman talent who’s since parlayed his beginnings with Mahagonny on this, Legion (1998), and the Gruner-starring Mercenary (1996) into big studio projects such as Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Charlie’s Angels (2019)GANGSTER WORLD is a jocular and sloppier companion piece to Nesher’s first Gruner romp, Automatic (1995). However, though Gangster World’s return to Automatic’s robo-schlock milieu results in some nice digital FX (by Scott Coulter) and a smattering of cool ‘cybognetic’ [sic] make-ups (by Todd Masters), this Westworld (1973)/Dick Tracy (1990) hybrid has a distinct lack of wattage. Automatic had the scene-chewing pomp of John Glover, Troy Evans and Dennis Lipscomb, and a subtly effective performance by the charismatic Gruner. Gangster World has, well, a supporting cast full of irritants and the bland DeClie. Indeed, it’s easy to see why the wannabe bruiser’s Mahagonny tenure floundered. The Joe Lara lookalike [1] has expectedly excellent combat skills and jives with the film’s knockabout tone, but he’s bereft of presence. 

DeClie is The Outsider: a sentient, surreptitiously created cyborg at the eponymous futuristic theme park, a Prohibition Era environ where patrons can enact their most twisted cops n’ criminals fantasies. Disgusted by his surroundings, DeClie goes on the hunt for the park’s programmer, Garland Widmark (Gabriel Dell Jr., who’d also appear in Mahagonny’s fourth Gruner epic, Mars, the same year [2]), which quickly evolves into an uneasy alliance when it becomes clear infinitely shadier shenanigans are afoot thanks to the place’s slimy boss (David Leisure). 

With the nitty-gritty of the film’s plot essentially cannibalising elements of Automatic, Savage (1996), Mercenary and, even, Timebomb (1991) and Doppelganger (1993), playing spot the auteur flourishes — or, at least, the auteur flourishes that preoccupied Nesher prior to his Mundhra-esque switch to arthouse cinema — is great fun. Moreover, considering credited helmer David Bishop’s single-strike-and-out status, they also suggest that Bishop was either another Nesher pseudonym (a la the oft-used ‘Patrick Highsmith’) or that the Israeli maestro had a stronger hand in Gangster World than merely scripting and producing (a suspicion furthered by a telling “additional photography” credit). Whoever Bishop is — real, Nesher, or a bogus moniker designed to mask artistic disagreements — they demonstrate a nice feel for the film’s pulp noir style, but frequently resort to wheel-spinning during the repetitive set pieces and wearying, in-joke character names (the bulk are patterned after old ‘30s/’40s troupers). Kudos, mind, to the barnstorming speakeasy riff on The Terminator’s (1984) iconic TechNoir sequence. If the rest of Gangster World was as witty and as breathlessly delivered, it’d be a winner.    

Conceived as ‘Semi’, Gangster World debuted on SyFy on Saturday 15th March 1997 as ‘The Outsider’ and landed on U.S. tape in its current form in September ‘98 via Avalanche Home Entertainment [3]. Subsequent television screenings and an eventual DVD release bore the Gangster World title too.

USA ● 1997 ● Sci-Fi, Action ● 91mins

Xavier DeClie, Gabriel Dell Jr., Bridget Flanery, David Leisure ● Dir. David Bishop ● Wri. Avi Nesher (as ‘Patrick Highsmith’) & Evan Spiliotopoulos, story by Avi Nesher (as ‘Patrick Highsmith’)

U.S. video cover courtesy of VHS Collector

[1] Incidentally, DeClie — substantially better in Nick Davis’ post-apocalyptic caper The Survivor (1998) — was scheduled to replace Lara as the titular vine-swinger in a planned second season of Tarzan: The Epic Adventures. Sadly, the series never came to fruition due to distributor Seagull Entertainment’s bankruptcy.
[2] Those Gruner/Mahagonny flicks in order: Automatic, Savage, Mercenary, Mars, and Mercenary II: Thick and Thin (1998).
[3] Funnily, their sleeve art incorporated an image of the No. 9 droid from PM Entertainment’s CyberTracker 2 (1995)

2 thoughts on “Mafioso-so: Gangster World (1997)

    1. Hi, Brian. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’d be lying if I said I was a massive fan of Rifftrax (it’s just not my cup of tea). However, I’m certainly intrigued enough to give their tackling of this one a look.


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