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By Pete Vonder Haar | April 15, 2003

Absolute beginners

You kids today – with your MTV2, your wireless Internet, and your action movies that actually have action in them. Like countless generations before you, you have no appreciation of history. You don’t know what it was like back in the ‘80s, when we had to content ourselves with regular old MTV (which regularly featured videos by the likes of April Wine and *shudder* Triumph), and we’d sit for hours in movies, waiting for something to happen…and we liked it.

I don’t have a definite recollection of the first time I actually saw “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.” It came out in 1985, which would’ve put me in my mid-teens. I didn’t have a car, so I’m sure several friends and I weaseled a ride with an older sibling to one of the two theaters in my town (that weren’t drive-in) and absorbed every action-packed second, savoring the heady rush of pure escapism as we were whisked away from our own torturously mundane existences.

Or maybe not. I couldn’t remember either way, and it was driving me nuts.

This lack of coherent memory prompted me to rent “Remo Williams” the other day, and I finally realized why I have trouble dredging up those distant reminiscences. I’ll grant you, the box cover still gives one that old thrill, depicting Remo dangling precariously from the Statue of Liberty’s crown. Even the blurbs on the back – never entirely accurate, but occasionally truthful – promised a “cross between ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and James Bond.” Hard not to get psyched up by that assessment, eh? After watching it again, however, I’ve come to the conclusion they must’ve crossed “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” with “Temple of Doom,” because you get more action in the first ten minutes of the “Making of ‘Raiders’” documentary than you do in two hours of “Remo Williams.”

“You move like a pregnant yak.”

The first thing that strikes you when you make that fateful decision to watch “Remo Williams” again is how odd it is that they tried to make Fred Ward into an action hero. Ward first gained notice as Clint Eastwood’s buddy John Anglin in “Escape from Alcatraz,” but it was his turn as Gus Grissom in “The Right Stuff” that probably caught the eye of the execs at Orion Pictures (though I prefer to think they took a shine to his portrayal of Lyle Swann in “Timerider”). Ward was picked to star in what they probably hoped was to be the first in a series of films based on The Destroyer novels by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. The series numbers over 125 books. This certainly brings the time period during which the movie was released into focus, because there must have been Tony Montana levels of blow floating around Orion for anyone to think they could build a lasting franchise around Fred Ward and a bunch of books that, by and large, hardly anybody had read.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Fred Ward is a lot of fun to watch. No one can deny his skills in “Tremors,” or as Hoke Moseley in “Miami Blues” (hell, he was my second favorite astronaut in “The Right Stuff,” next to Dennis Quaid’s Gordo Cooper), but there’s nothing about him that screams “leading man.” Maybe it’s the fact that – even in 1985 – he looked like he’d just stepped out of the ring after 10 rounds with Marvin Hagler (‘80s reference). Maybe it was unwise to try and foist a 42-year-old man on the public as a martial arts apprentice (even though today he still looks perfectly capable of beating the crap out of yours truly). Or maybe it’s that “Remo Williams” just isn’t that good a movie.

I freely admit to being ignorant of the Destroyer novels. It’s my understanding that the books contain a good deal more science fiction and supernatural material than the movie, and are quite an entertaining read. I have no reason to doubt this, and since I don’t relish the thought of being hunted down by a vengeful Fred Ward, the blame for the movie has to fall squarely on director Guy Hamilton (and Hamilton’s over 80 years old now, so I’m pretty sure I could take him). Hamilton should have a lot of caché with film buffs, having served as assistant director on “The Third Man” before directing “The Colditz Story” and “Goldfinger” in his own right. Sadly, “Remo Williams” is paced more in the manner of “The Mirror Crack’d,” one of Hamilton’s twilight efforts. However it happened, he managed to take a story about mystical martial arts, a clandestine vigilante organization, and tightrope walking Dobermans and made a dull movie out of it.

The story continues in part two of FOOTAGE FETISHES: “REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS”>>>

Discuss Pete Vonder Haar’s “Footage Fetishes” column in Film Threat’s BACK TALK section! Click here>>>

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