AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 92 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Frank Ryan is a mercenary, and the best in the business. One morning, his shady government contact Thomas arrives at his house with a new mission; to either free or kill Rallis, an imprisoned rebel leader, an event that will cause a revolution on the small island of Cypra to occur and the cruel president Michael Bartos to be overthrown. Because security on Cypra is extremely tight, the only way Ryan can get onto the island is to pretend to be a ficticious gay fashion designer. After recruiting a group of seven women who can pose as models as well as kick ass, Ryan sets off and soon finds himself encountering Bartos on Cypra….
This average action flick – though that may be stretching it as there’s not actually much in the way of action – has its pleasures, and I found it to be reasonably entertaining I suppose, but was a disappointment to me considering that I was quite impressed with the Nico Maastorakis-directed The Zero Boys, which was released by Arrow Video a short while ago, though I remain hopeful that the label will bring out more of this filmmaker’s oeuvre. It’s interesting when a director’s work varies in both quality and genre and you don’t really know what you’re going to get. What with this review being a little late, I didn’t spend any time looking all over the internet for production detail about the film, which you can find on the Blu-ray anyway, though I will provide a few bits here and there in the course of doing the review and do have to say right now that it was a set beset with tragedy when a helicopter went out of control and crashed, killing Clint Carpenter, a stuntman. The day before, some members of Mastorakis’ family had gone for a ride in the same helicopter and with the same pilot!
The opening scene is rather good. A man is asleep on a settee, the phone rings, he awakes and shoots the phone with his gun which he sleeps with, then a man opens some curtains from outside with the words: “Wake up. Mr. Ryan, you’re late for your appointment”. Said appointment is with George Kennedy, who is clearly in the film for the paycheck [though that can’t have been much] and nothing else, though what quickly let the side down for me is how weak Brian Thompson, a guy who normally plays villains, and sometimes very well, was as the hero, and not really because his role requires him to sometimes bark out insults like: “Nothing is perfect when it involves women”. His laidback macho routine gets a little tiresome, while playing a homosexual involves him speaking in a slightly stereotypical gay manner and walking around with a limp wrist. Still, the film is quite fun for a while as Ryan recruits the women who are going to help him. This involves going to various prisons in various countries [or stock shots thereof] where the wardens say things like: “Come to my room and I’ll put my cigarette on your nipples” to the inmates. The main female character is Sheila, and there’s bad blood between her and Ryan. He thinks she’s chickened on her on an earlier mission, she reckons she looked for him, he….well, to be honest, it’s not very clear what happened, though what’s disappointing is how this aspect of the story is never followed through.
We now get a training montage which seems like it goes on forever, and even when it seems like it’s going to stop it starts up again. Then Ryan and his Magnificent Seven go to Cypra [which may as well have been called Cyprus], the film being shot in Corfu so you don’t get your usual unnamed Latin American banana republic, and the film seems to then mark time with lots of footage of the girls bickering, swapping insults [sample line: “You wouldn’t know an orgasm if it landed in your face”] and even fighting, plus fashion montages [I lost count of the number of times you see the girls parading up and down as escalator], replete with lots of close-up shots of bums, legs and the like [not that I’m complaining about that]. Much of this just seem to there to pad out the running time. There’s a bit of intrigue though involving Bartos’s girlfriend Ana whose role we are initially unsure of, and a totally unsurprising plot twist near the end. The scene where Ryan and Ana ‘get it on’ is really oddly handled and almost seems like a rape at first, after which it’s shot entirely with close-ups of their face, though this isn’t as strange as a moment which you really won’t forget [and which Oliver Reed seems very surprised by] where, after trying to get the supposedly gay Ryan to be aroused by the sight of Ana with her breasts bared, goes and grabs him by the balls….whereupon Ryan kisses him quite passionately!
We do eventually get some shooting, stabbing and lots of cool explosions, along with a fate for one character which certainly surprised me, but I think many action fans will feel let down by the paucity of mayhem on offer. The film’s best moments are actually quieter ones, like a slow pursuit scene oddly but effectively intercut with a woman dancing and somebody playing a drum, and when we finally meet Jose Ferrer’s character, who delivers a good little speech, though I was a bit confused here because, elsewhere on the Blu-ray, Mastorakis tells a great story about how Ferrer had a seven page monologue to deliver but had to learn the last six pages in ten minutes….yet his speech in the movie only lasts the equivalent of one page. Elsewhere Ryan has a good scene where he tells of how revolutionaries change when they gain power. Here and there, there’s a modicum of intelligence in the screenplay by Mastorakis, Kirk Ellis and Fred Perry, while many of the lines are certainly memorable if not necessarily good. As with The Zero Boys, Mastorakis, who actually shared the directing duties on this particular movie with his protégée Peter Rader, does a slick, if unremarkable, job and sometimes makes a relatively cheap [though it had a bigger budget than normal for Mastorakis] film look a bit glossy.
Of course part of the fun of seeing any later film starring Oliver Reed is to try to tell which scenes, if any, he seems to be actually sober in. Red-faced, sometimes trying a vague Mediterranean accent before forgetting, and none too steady on his feet, I think it’s quite obvious Reed, who is saddled with a large moustache that actually threatens to come off in one scene, is somewhat sozzled even before you watch the interview with Mastorakis where he says hard the usually drunk actor was to work with. Occasionally signs of how good he could be sometimes come through, which is a little sad really, especially considering I’ve recently been watching the Hammer films he was in during the course doing my series of Hammer films reviews for this website, and been really impressed by him in them. The acting by the girls is a mixed bag with the underrated and very fine looking Barbara Niven probably coming off best. Jerry Grant’s score is serviceable and you get to hear a song called Doing It For The Money throughout, which, like much of the film, screams the 80’s even though the film was made in late 1989 and released in 1990. Hired To Kill is fairly average stuff really but every now and again a really fun touch or scene comes along that just about makes it a worthwhile exercise to sit down and watch it.
Arrow bring Hired To Kill to Blu-ray in a transfer which is hardly reference material but is probably the best the film has ever looked. I like it that they’ve done their best to retain the film’s low-rent look while still providing the depth and colour necessary for a movie released in today’s digital age. I listened to 15 or so minutes of the commentary where editor Michael Feller talks to the film’s cutter Barry Zetlin. From what I heard, it seems to cover Zetlin’s whole career more than talk about Hired To Kill, but it was interesting to me anyway considering all the stuff he’s worked on. Mastorakis gives another informative interview which is occasionally intercut with footage from Hard To Kill in its German, French and Italian versions – a nice touch – and Thompson, from the brief bit I saw, seems good value too, both telling some good stories [just wait till you hear what Reed did while shooting his character’s final scene]. Overall this is another great package from Arrow, even if I personally have my doubts as to whether the film merits such a strong release. I can’t imagine that even its fans would ever have expected it to be treated in such a way on digital media.
*Brand new 4K restoration of the film, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*DTS HD-MA Surround and Uncompressed PCM stereo on the Blu-ray
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Audio Commentary with editor Barry Zetlin
*Hired to Direct – a brand new interview with director Nico Mastorakis on the making of Hired to Kill
*Undercover Mercenary – a brand new interview with star Brian Thompson
*Original Theatrical Trailer
*Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM Content)
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
*Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver