Let’s say you’re a muscular fashion designer who wants to show off your latest work and photograph models frolicking in your designs. What location do you choose? Paris? Rome? The Caribbean?
Nah, you pick a tiny country run by a fascist dictator. And better yet, one whose government is teetering on the brink of a violent overthrow.
That’s the premise of Hired to Kill, a 1990 action movie that’s recently been released on Blu-ray. A band of special-ops mercenaries uses this flimsy undercover plan to sneak into the fictitious country of Cypra. They include a band of six females trained as commandos while posing as fashion models. They’re led by a large bodybuilder Frank Ryan (Brian Thompson) pretending to be the fashion designer presenting his new collection. Their mission is to get cozy with the country’s sleazy leader and swat him like a blood-sucking mosquito, which will help the local revolutionaries take back control of the country.
Sound like a believable plan to you?
Nope, me neither. But, I supposed weirder things have happened in real life.
“Their mission…get cozy with the country’s sleazy leader and swat him like a blood-sucking mosquito…”
Sure, we’re not supposed to take any of this seriously — and believe me, I can’t. But it’s hard to tell exactly what this movie is supposed to be. Is it a silly parody of the action movie genre, as Airplane or The Naked Gun were to disaster and cop films? Not really. Its intentional humor is flat-footed, as in the opening sequence where Frank Ryan uses undue force to shut off his alarm clock. Later, he makes a crack about how “even taking a dump is political” in Cypra.
In another scene, Ryan, posing as the fashion designer, gives the male defacto leader of Cypra a big wet one on the lips, because, you know, that’s what fashion designers do.
The movie’s biggest laughs come from parts that were probably not intended to be comic. Like cliched scenes that you’d expect in a Schwarzenegger movie but look like they were shot for local-access cable. Or odd moments when our heroes gather to look at a “model” of the enemy’s secret lair, but it looks like a cake with green icing that’s been dropped on the floor. How about commando training that may well have been staged in someone’s backyard. It’s not helped by deadly boring camerawork and lighting. Think of Hired to Kill as an action movie made on a Kmart budget (which, incidentally, is probably where they bought the model’s “designer” fashion). From the looks of it, the producers must have blown most of the budget on pyrotechnics and helicopters. The explosions and aerial shots are among the more convincing parts of the movie, but that’s not saying a lot.
On the positive side, veteran actors George Kennedy, Jose Ferrer, and Oliver Reed all lend touches of professionalism to the production.
Kennedy gives his dependably succinct performance as an authoritative U.S. official in covert operations who may or may not be playing it straight with the hired mercenaries.
“The movie’s biggest laughs come from parts that were probably not intended to be comic.”
Ferrer, playing the deposed and imprisoned former leader of the Cypra, had just two days on set, but made the most of just a little screen time. Like the other two seasoned pros in the cast, his appearance shows how magnetic and persuasive a trained, highly experienced actor can be. Unfortunately, it also shines a glaring light on weak performances given by much of the rest of the cast.
Notorious on- and off-screen hellraiser Reed plays the Cypra governmental strongman, Michael Bartos, whom the commandos are charged with taking out. The actor wears an oversized mustache that threatens to overthrow his face, and manages to say his lines and look passably sober, giving as close to a solid performance as can be expected in this not too demanding role.
Speaking of Reed, director Nico Mastorakis recounts a colorful anecdote about him in the disc’s special features. It involves one extremely trying day working with the temperamental and often sauced Englishman. The crew was shooting a difficult scene with three helicopters and lots of cameras. Choppers circled Reed as the commandos came in for the kill. The film was rolling and the tension on set was at an all-time high while everyone strained to get the shot just right. Reed, on camera and fully visible to everyone, casually unzipped his fly and urinated on the ground.
As you may have correctly guessed, for some, this film belongs in the “so bad it’s good” camp, but I don’t buy it. Outside of the dumb parts that are a hoot, it’s tedious and sometimes hard to follow. I had to remind myself that this was originally a major studio release. A coherent script and believable characters? Forget about it. This is one relic of the past that should have stayed buried.
Hired to Kill (1990) Directed by Nico Mastorakis and Peter Rader, written by Fred Perry, Kirk Ellis and Nico Mastorakis, starring Brian Thompson , Oliver Reed, George Kennedy, José Ferrer, Michelle Moffett, Barbara Niven, Jordana Capra.
2 out of 10