Director: James Glickenhaus
Screenplay: James Glickenhaus
Starring: Christopher Walken, Maria Conchita Alonso, Michael Ironside, Steve James
Producer: J Boyce Harman Jr.
Running Time: 99 min
BBFC Certification: 15
With a cast list including Christopher Walken and Michael Ironside, a director (James Glickenhaus) behind cult classic action movies such as The Exterminator, and a title that brings to mind a classic Simpsons character, I had to see this film. Thanks to the friendly folk at The Associates and Arrow I got my wish in the form of a screener. I was crossing my fingers for something along the lines of the famous Schwarzenegger-spoofing skits (even though this has nothing to do with the Simpsons incarnation) and although it was only partially reminiscent, I still had a lot of fun with McBain.
The plot is pretty much what you’d expect from an early 90’s action movie. McBain (Walken) is saved from death at the hands of the Vietcong by Santos (Chick Vennera), a Columbian who is part of a small group of American soldiers on their way out of the country after the US announced it would withdraw. Santos gives McBain half a dollar bill and promises that when he receives the other half he can repay the favour. 18 years later, Santos has become a rebel back in his home country and is killed whilst trying to overthrow its evil El Presidente. His wife, a rebel herself, takes all the money she and her townspeople can muster and travels to America to find McBain to help get revenge and finally take down the destructive Columbian government. Of course this is a big ask for just one man, so McBain gathers the rest of Santos’ army buddies to help him do the job. Before they set off they mow down a few local gangsters and torture a big-wig to get some cash and guns together, although they later enlist the services of their friend, the now multi-millionaire Frank Bruce (Michael Ironside) who has hordes of weaponry and gadgets at his disposal.
Despite the film’s content being rather derivative, Glickenhaus takes the politics and message of the film (that people need to take action to get what they want) surprisingly seriously. This is its main downfall unfortunately, as the way things pan out and are presented prevent anything from being taken seriously. There are several clunkily preachy moments, including a memorable scene where a gang-banger (a young Luiz Guzman) gives the ‘nam veterans a lecture on sociology at gunpoint. Saying that, I think the straight-faced delivery of scenes like this was also part of what made it so much fun to watch. It was a case of ‘so bad it’s good’ for me. It’s not terribly made, but it’s so cheesy and undeniably a product of the late 80’s or early 90’s that it has a nostalgic and hammy charm that works wonders for action movie lovers.
There are plenty of wonderfully silly moments in the film that aided this charm. I especially liked the way they’d spice up scenes of exposition with lines like “you guys are fucking with the wrong president!” My favourite scene though had to be when McBain takes out a jet plane flying by the side of his own by shooting the pilot in the head with a pistol! In fact, you have to see this to believe it, so take a look at the video below:
In terms of genuine plus points, the film is actually very well shot for it’s kind. There is a lot of well-plotted camera movement and some interesting angles. It’s also pretty well paced. The opening scene in Vietnam is action packed and this pace is held up nicely for the first 25 minutes. There is a dip and an unnecessary montage or two after this as the plot is set up, but generally the film fires on all cylinders. The action isn’t particularly great, just the usual machine gun spraying, jumping from fiery explosions sort of thing, but it’s always intercut with something else going on which keeps it from getting too dull. That said, the film wasn’t always fully engaging, mainly due to the preachiness, flimsy plot and a couple of set-pieces that dragged. An aerial dogfight makes for a change in content towards the end, but it’s pretty slow and pales in comparison to something like Top Gun which came out five years previously.
Overall it’s a very cheesy, violent affair that doesn’t always know what it wants to be, resulting in a strange tone at times. Fans of bad action movies of the era will revel in the chance to see relative A-lister Christopher Walken rubbing shoulders with genre stalwarts like Michael Ironside and Steve James. It certainly had enough explosions and silliness to put a smile on my face, so I would recommend it to anyone of a similar disposition.
The film is released in the UK on DVD on 19th September by ArrowDrome (an offshoot from Arrow Releasing). The DVD is presented with a cool cover design and menu with a nice clean video and audio transfer. The only extra feature is an interview with Glickenhaus, where the director, as with the film itself, takes things a little too seriously, but it’s still an interesting watch.