With EIFF 2016 looming large on the horizon, I decided that it was high time to dust off the cobwebs and get back into the Flickfeast flow. Unfortunately, all of the major new releases have already received some pretty solid coverage. And it will be some time before I catch up on any of the hot picks from Cannes. Which leaves me rifling through my pile of Arrow releases to look for something that others may have overlooked. And that’s why you’re now all being told about Hired To Kill, a film aptly described by critic James Oliver in the liner notes as, and I paraphrase here, an obvious riff on The Wild Geese.
The plot revolves around a mercenary (Frank Ryan, played by Brian Thompson) who is hired – by George Kennedy, no less – to infiltrate a small country and free a man (Jose Ferrer) who could potentially lead his people to revolution. He can’t just go in all guns blazing though. Oh no, that would be too obvious and easy to stop. Especially when the villain (Michael Bartos, played by Oliver Reed, sporting a damn fine moustache) is so suspicious, cautious, and effective at eliminating threats. Which leads to the obvious choice; Frank Ryan will pose as a fashion photographer, aiming to complete his mission with the help of assorted beautiful, and deadly, women.
Director Nico Mastorakis, who is co-credited here with Peter Rader, is rather (in)famous among genre circles for his sleazy slice of craziness, Island Of Death. He also gave us The Zero Boys, Death Street USA, Terminal Exposure, and the brilliantly-titled Ninja Academy. He may not be a master of his craft, but he certainly knows how to provide the genre goods for fans who are just seeking some undemanding entertainment. And it’s worth noting that he also likes to mix things up a bit, with the most notable example here being a scene in which Bartos decides to test whether or not Ryan is actually being honest when he explains that his taste doesn’t include women. Move away from that particular scene, however, and you can pick and choose from any number of action movie cliches to enjoy. There’s the recruitment sequence, the tough training montage, the lovemaking scene that feels ever-so-slightly rapey (and is accompanied by some horrible pan pipe music), and a third act that throws in plenty of explosions and people acrobatically diving through the air.
Thompson may not be the most charismatic lead, there’s no arguing with that, but he does what needs done. He’s rough and tough and able to blurt out the dialogue, no matter how bad some of the lines are (and there are some BAD lines here). Reed and Kennedy both seem to be having two different types of fun with their time onscreen, the former hamming it up whenever he can and the latter possibly enjoying a payday without too much of his time being demanded. As for the ladies, many of them feel interchangeable, but Michelle Moffett stands out as the beautiful Ana, Barbara Niven is enjoyable as the tough Sheila, and Jordana Capra does well as the other main female “Wild Goose”, Joanna.
If you want gritty realism then this isn’t the film for you. But you’ll miss out on such dubious pleasures as Oliver Reed groping and exposing a pair of breasts while trying to convince someone of the allure of woman, or the most inept crossing of a minefield with only one mine apparently planted in the whole area. And did I already mention Oliver Reed’s moustache?
Hired To Kill is released by Arrow Video on Monday 16th May. The disc includes a brand new 2K restoration of the film, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis, the film on both Blu-ray and DVD, audio commentary with editor Barry Zetlin, a brand new interview with director Nico Mastorakis on the making of Hired to Kill (entitled Hired To Direct), a brand new interview with star Brian Thompson (entitled Undercover Mercenary), the original Freedom Or Death screenplay, and a fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver (as mentioned at the start of this review). There are also some other decent specs, and a reversible sleeve that features both the original artwork and (my preference) some new art from Graham Humphreys. Once again, consumers are offered a package that arguably outweighs the value of the actual film itself.
DIRECTOR: NICO MASTORAKIS, PETER RADER
WRITER: FRED PERRY, KIRK ELLIS, NICO MASTORAKIS
STARS: BRIAN THOMPSON, OLIVER REED, GEORGE KENNEDY, MICHELLE MOFFETT, BARBARA NIVEN
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX