Joe’s Blog

Archive for July, 2011

McBain (1991)

July 20, 2011 6:29 am

McBain poster

In the 1980s, forgotten British hard man Lewis Collins made three Italian/German co-productions, which, although unrelated, all featured identical plots: Collins leads a group of mercenaries into a made up South American country to take out a corrupt El Presidente and his drug business.

In the ludicrously well-regarded (among interweb cultists) McBain a bored looking Christopher Walken leads a bunch of Vietnam veterans into a real South American country to take out a corrupt (but made up) El Presidente and his drug business.

Despite being made at the turn of the 90s, McBain falls into the same category as all those Arnie-wannabies that clogged the shelves of your local video store throughout the 80s. The covers all featured a big explosion behind a beefed up straight-to-video star holding a gatling gun, or somesuch. The genre kept people like Michael Dudikoff in hero roles, Brion James in villainous employment, and directors like Chuck Norris’ little brother Aaron, out of the dole office.

The masters of this were the Go-Go Twins Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus, who ran Cannon films. But by the 90s the genre was pretty much done. So what on earth possessed the Oscar-winning Walken to take on this film is utterly beyond me.

As I mentioned, for some reason, McBain has been the subject of an interweb revival, as some ‘so bad it’s good’ movie. As far as I can gather this is based on one scene only…

McBain shoots down a plane

Yes, McBain shoots down a fighter jet…with a pistol… shooting across the face of his own pilot… without opening, or damaging a window.

Yes, it’s a genius scene of bad movie making. But really that is the only scene worth watching in what is a dreary, poorly written film that only picks up when the next set of stuntmen step onto set.

Being shot in the Philipines (standing in badly for both Vietnam and Colombia), usual health and safety rules don’t apply, so the locals do their best hurling from towers, standing far too close to explosions, and driving without due care and attention. There are a lot of action scenes (eventually) but they becoming so numbing that you just don’t care. IMDB lists the body count at over 250. How can you possibly keep track of that, and still maintain interest in the movie?

Writer/Director James Glickenhaus made the exploitation classic The Exterminator (“If you’re lying, I’ll be back.”) which did a cracking job of combining a troubled nam vet with Death Wish style revenge and Maniac style nastiness. It’s one of the grubbiest revenge films you’ll see, but is also massively entertaining.

We get a glimpse of this being repeated early on, as Walken gathers together his old Nam buddies, to head down to Colombia to take out the El presidente (clearly modelled on Colonel Gadaffi) who killed his friend Santos (a Tesco value Che Guevara) on live TV. Walken needs cash for his mission and decides drug money is the way to go. We see his team take out a derelict brownstone full of grubby characters, ending with an early appearance by Luis Guzman, talking his way out a shotgun blast to the guts. Guzman is excellent, and in two minutes, outacts everyone else put together.

We get scuzzy New York locations, dangling mob bosses off rooftops and car crashes (which mysteriously disappear in the long shots). But this is all too brief.

The pace is deathly slow. We get a 10 minute Nam prologue (starting with a dire Clannad-style version of Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms”) which does an awful job of introducing the main players. Michael Ironside is supposedly one of the GIs in this sequence, but I never saw him.

Next is about 15 minutes(!) about Santos’ attempts to overthrow El presidente and getting killed.

Finally, we meet up again with Walken. He’s in a bar. Watching the news. He sees Santos get killed and immediately starts phoning his buddies.

(Incidentally, why in American films do people only watch the news when they are in bars, or when they’ve just got back from the supermarket and someone calls them to tell them to “Turn on Channel 6, right now”?)

They are a ragtag bunch: a cop, a surgeon, a body guard and Michael Ironside as, well, not really sure. He’s certainly rich. he may have his money from computers, as he seems to be the gang’s tech expert. But he also says he can secure all the stuff they need for the mission for the ‘mate’s rate’ of $10million. They acquire this from the afore mentioned mob boss.

None of this is really important. It’s not given any weight whatsoever, except as exposition. But it also helps beef up the running time, as when they do arrive in Colombia (at about the hour mark) it’s clear they had absolutely no idea what to do when they get there.

There is huge potential here, for a cracking actioner in the Chuck Norris tradition. Instead Walken wanders around (with surprisingly little dialogue) with a scowl on his face, maybe trying it on with Santos’ sister (Running Man‘s Maria Conchita Alonso). It’s hard to tell if they actually fancy each other or not.

The rest of the gang have no personality whatsoever, beyond one chap who insists on reading the instruction manual for every piece of equipment. That’s mildly amusing.

Overall though it’s an absolute mess. It’s not involving in any way. The action scenes are far too long and numbing, and overall it’s just very dull.

McBain does not deserve its reputation as a cult bad film. It’s just bad. If you want a proper bad film of this kind, check out Commando Leopard: Lewis Collins, Klaus Kinski, John Steiner and some rather good minature effects. It’s anything but dull.

Should you so desire, you can watch McBain here