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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New on Video: Low-Budget Brosnan in Nomads

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2015 at 1:00 PM


Pierce Brosnan is a handsome, handsome man. I'll always associate him with my first girlfriend, who had a deep crush on him, a crush that translated into us watching everything that was available in Brosnan's filmography. We got together in 1990, so there wasn't a whole lot to choose from, but we did watch every episode of Remington Steele — which was actually a very intelligent and funny show, a sort of Moonlighting for film buffs — and all the feature films that my video store carried, including Taffin, The Fourth Protocol, The Deceivers, and of course John McTiernan's 1986 debut feature Nomads, which Shout! Factory is releasing on Blu-ray this week. (My girlfriend's Brosnan crush was quite infectious, and I carry it to this day, since he continues to be very easy on the eyes.)

Nomads is an odd film, about French anthropologist Jean (Brosnan) who's tormented by supernatural beings called Nomads who've followed him around the world. As he's settling into Los Angeles, they take the form of a biker gang including Adam Ant, and Mary Woronvov. Oh, I loves me some Mary Woronov; whenever I need an ego boost, I tell myself I'm as hot as she is. (I'm certainly as tall.)


What's particularly interesting about Nomads is its structure. After a brief scene in which he's brought raving into a hospital and subsequently dies, Jean's entire narrative arc is told not so much in a flashback as in visions suffered by ER doctor Flax (Lesley Anne-Down). Exactly how or why he's able to transfer these memories to her is never explained, but it doesn't really have be, either, especially since the Nomads now start terrorizing her. It's a riff on Curse of the Demon, essentially.

Though the promotion for the film then and now focuses on Brosnan, I would argue that he's not really the hero of the film, considering that he dies without accomplishing a damn thing. (Except looking hella sexy, but he can't help it.) The most pro-active characters are Flax, Jean's wife Niki (Anna-Maria Monticelli), and Flax's co-worker Cassie (Jeannie Elias), who ends up being the only living character to really know what the hell is going on thanks to a rather clumsy exposition dump.

Unfortunately, because the action is necessarily driven by what happened to Brosnan's character, Nomads stops just short of passing the Bechdel test. But while Cassie meets an unfortunate end, Flax and Niki don't need to be rescued, and though there's plenty of screaming and panicking (much of it on Flax's part while reliving Jean's panicking, it should be noted), the two women save themselves from the monsters, which is remarkably progressive for a mainstream film in 1986.


And boy howdy, is it a 1986 film. Nomads is very stylish, and in a lot of ways, it's reminiscent of an early John Carpenter siege film. But due to its clearly limited budget, it's far more style than substance, the cinematography and art direction ties it indelibly to its era. Indeed, what it reminds me the most of now is Michael Mann's Manhunter, which was released a few months later. As McTiernan's first film, it was clearly meant to be a "here's what I can do!" calling card, and though Nomads was not a financial success, it worked, because his next two films were 1987's Predator and 1988's Die Hard. Granted, Predator would have already been in the can by the time Nomads flopped, but if the Schwarzenegger film hadn't been a hit, that might well have ended McTiernan's career right there. (He sort of ended up doing that to himself, anyway.)    


Nomads is as much a Los Angeles film as Die Hard would be, but Nomads is as indelibly tied to its time as Die Hard is timeless. Among the things that makes Nomads as 1986-y as it is is the fact that everyone's favorite horrible person Ted Nugent is all over the soundtrack, making terribly generic and tinny mid-80s rock sounds. The songs "Strangers" and "Dancing Mary" wound up on his album Little Miss Dangerous, which was released the same month as Nomads; John Franck over at AllMusic says that Little Miss Dangerous "may be the worst Ted Nugent record ever released," and that "This album is not just a sonic embarrassment in every way shape and form, it's a fiasco all around. Avoid at all costs." So there you go.

But in spite of the presence of the Motor City Nozzle, Nomads isn't a fiasco, and it should not be avoided at all costs.

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Sherilyn Connelly


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