Monday 12 July 2021

Hired To Kill (Nico Mastorakis & Peter Rader, 1990) Blu-Ray Review

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Murder, blood, and paranoia are gonna make fine company where you're going; 'cos ladies, you're going to hell.” A shady American agency has grown tired of the tinpot dictator they helped elevate to power in the nation of Cypra, so they want their best man – a muscle-bound killing machine – to go undercover and help the revolutionaries spring their leader from a fortress prison. The mercenary's cover? This brute with the bulging biceps will be posing as fashion designer Cecil Thornton – a most believable ruse, to be sure!...

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Let me conclude the trivial part first.” Ryan (Brian Thompson, Cobra) is Reagan era machismo personified in this direct-to-video action flick from Nico Mastorakis (The Zero Boys), albeit with a nihilistic, even defeatist, twist. He's the sort of bloke who answers the phone by blowing it to smithereens with a big ass handgun. He's tough. He's no-nonsense. He's world weary and seen it all before. He doesn't do handshakes and he's an unapologetic chauvinist to boot – and he's just the right guy to do the job. Specifically: bring down Colonel Bartos (Oliver Reed, The Devils), chief of intelligence and security and so-called 'high priest of the local death squads' in Cypra, a 'small and insignificant' nation that has nonetheless got the men in the shadows at the top table of American government squirming in their seats.

What you need are a few good women.” Reluctantly teamed-up with former operational partner Sheila (Barbara Lee Alexander), Ryan's cover as a fashion designer will require a roster of models – who can also kick butt and sling lead. Touring the rotten corners of the globe to assemble their team, the likes of Sivi (Kim Lonsdale) – a heroin trafficker languishing in a Turkish prison; Joanna (Jordana Carra) – a former CIA agent double-crossed and locked away in San Quentin; and Katrina (Penelope Reed) – a traumatised mute who sought bloody vengeance on the government goons who slaughtered her family, are all brought on board.

I hate mornings, that's all.” Team assembled, it's time for training – cue the montage! With Ryan grimacing and griping through the ladies' training, as they get to grips with hand-to-hand combat and explosives training, it's a gung-ho mish-mash of blazing M-16s and saucy lingerie cat walk posing. For all of Ryan's physical prowess, though, he's bewildered by a neck tie and hair mousse. He's a 'fuck-the-world' rogue, after all, he should be shirtless, sweaty, and machine-gunning bullets into anyone who isn't clutching America's apron strings, dag nammit!

Listen asshole, I'm sick of your macho crap.” Despite the set-up by shady agency man Thomas (George Kennedy, The Naked Gun), and the odd flash of death squad thuggery, the nation of Cypra actually seems much more like a prosperous Mediterranean holiday hotspot than some broken down unstable nation (the film was shot on the island of Corfu, with Cypra originally conceived as a South American republic-gone-sour). The big bad of the flick, Colonel Bartos, is played by Oliver Reed (at the quite unpredictable point in his storied career), sporting a magnificent soup strainer on his top lip and an oddly vague curiosity in Ryan's own private interests – a burly pile of man beef surrounded by beautiful women of whom he never 'avails himself'? Quite unusually for a rippling action movie, one of the film's stand-out sequences comes when Bartos shares wine from his own glass with Ryan, grabs the apparent fashion designer's meat and two veg, and plays a curious game of chicken with him. Ryan, so bulging with masculinity, cuts-in first a plants a deep smooch on Bartos' moustachioed lips.

It's hardly what you'd expect from such a film, but it displays the wry wit and playful attitude of the screenplay, written by Nico Mastorakis (who also produced and co-directed) and Fred C. Perry & Kirk Ellis. The scene speaks to the times and the genre of that particular era in intriguing ways, bringing the typical sense of barely-contained homoeroticism of the genre (muscular, sweaty men brandishing their physical prowess to an adoring camera) front and centre, if only momentarily. Later in the film, Ryan's heterosexuality has to be confirmed in a strangely gruff yet sensuously photographed sex scene, flagged up in Bartos' own assertions about male sexuality.

Honey, you wouldn't know an orgasm if it landed in your face.” Especially considering that Hired To Kill was a straight-to-video movie, the editing and cinematography (Barry Zetlin and Andreas Bellis respectively) elevate the quality of the flick beyond viewers' expectations. Bellis' camera flows through beautifully lit scenes, while Zetlin's sense of snappy rhythm rarely allows the movie to run low on kinetic energy. Riddled with chunky one liners, which are lobbed back and forth by the cast like granite blocks, the film is wise enough to know just how to entertain its audience.

The set-up is knowingly brief, with agency suit Thomas providing the need-to-know info as briskly as possible – we don't need screeds of exposition, just tell us who the bad guy is and where they are and let us off the leash! Even the opening titles – all metallic blue sheen – smash together like hulking fists crushing the faces of red shirt soldiers. Loaded with socio-political assertions on foreign interventions and the battle of the sexes, Hired To Kill is smarter than the average gung-ho brute-em-up, sneaking wiser thought under the cover of a macho meat grinder. If only there'd been a little more depth to the characterisation, a little extra flavour on what is otherwise an effectively sizzled flame steak standard.

Men are crude, too violent; their love making has force.” Despite all the fun to be had, there is nevertheless a dark cloud lingering over the film. Stunt performer Clint Carpenter was killed during a scene involving a helicopter, an accident that also injured five others. The film is dedicated to him, but it's a little unsettling when all is said and done considering just how dangerous certain sequences appear on-screen – shots of the helicopter flailing wildly within the confines of a stone walled courtyard will have your nerves on-edge (that wasn't the tragic scene, which is actually glimpsed in the extra features). As they say, it's not a matter of if there will be an accident involving a helicopter on a movie set, but when – which was certainly the case with the likes of Twilight Zone: The Movie and Hands of Steel.

Fuck brave! Brave is for fairytales – this is real!” Arrow Video's 2016 Blu-Ray, quite naturally, is a reliably slick visual and aural affair, and while the extras package isn't as bulging as the muscles on display in the movie, there is a commentary by editor Barry Zetlin, as well as informative interviews with Mastorakis and Thompson, plus a selection of side dishes – gallery, trailer, and original screenplay – along with a booklet of writing on the film.

Naturally he enjoys the status quo – we want it changed.” From the gunfire and goofy espionage antics, to the poolside swimsuit fisticuffs, Hired To Kill is an entertaining watch, even if the 18 rating promises gutsier action than what is actually on-screen (perhaps the film wasn't re-submitted to the BBFC). Fans of straight-to-video action flicks from the VHS era should find plenty to enjoy here.

N.B. Screenshots captured from the DVD copy.

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