Distributor: Arrow Video
BBFC Classification: 18
Directors: Nico Mastorakis & Peter Rader
Starring: Brian Thompson, Oliver Reed, George Kennedy, Michelle Moffett, José Ferrer, Jordana Capra, Barbara Lee Alexander
Although Hired To Kill is over 25 years old and comes from a time when macho men with huge machine guns were the action heroes and not suit-wearing computer hackers it is quite a canny on the part of Arrow Video to re-release it just as internet discussions on the merits of having an all-female Ghostbusters movie reaches heights of near-stupidity. This is because Hired To Kill is essentially a re-telling of The Magnificent Seven but with women as the mercenaries risking their lives – who knew?
But although there are a few tough-as-nails beauties making up the cast this is essentially a vehicle for Brian Thompson (Cobra/A.W.O.L.), an actor whose face will be well known to many mid-late ’80s action movie fans although he was never quite up there with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Seagal as a leading man with pulling power. A shame really because Thompson does an admirable job carrying this film as Frank Ryan, a mercenary given the job of freeing imprisoned revolutionary Rallis (José Ferrer – Dune/Lawrence of Arabia) from Cypra, a country ruled by dictator Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed – The Brood/Gladiator). Giving Ryan the job is tough-talking businessman Thomas (George Kennedy – Creepshow 2/The Naked Gun), who informs Ryan that Bartos has a weakness for women and so sends him in under the disguise of being a fashion photographer on a shoot with a handful of beautiful models – what could possibly go wrong?
Well, not a lot really as Hired To Kill isn’t exactly plot-heavy or loaded with twists and turns. However, it does have a bit of character development for Frank Ryan as he begins the film as a typical meat-headed action man with a dislike of women trying to do his job but as the film goes on he does begin to soften his attitude and even has to rely on his female colleagues once or twice to complete the mission. Compare his journey with that of Oliver Reed’s Michale Bartos and you can at least say that Ryan doesn’t end the film in the same place as he starts it, whereas Bartos – or is it just Reed, then at the height of his alcoholism and unreliability, with a different name? – is very one-note all the way through. And who says ’80s action movies weren’t progressive?
With Reed sporting a fantastic moustache and looking like he’s ready to explode at any second because he’s chewed up too much scenery, and Brian Thompson being mean n’ moody but with a bit of a heart (eventually), you cannot say that Hired To Kill isn’t aiming high but as much fun as the two leads are the film itself isn’t that exciting, getting by on A-Team-style slow motion explosions and some brief nudity but at only 96 minutes long it does feel a lot longer whenever Oliver Reed isn’t bellowing or George Kennedy – who is criminally underused – isn’t giving us close-ups of his nasal hair. The direction is fairly standard for a low-rent action movie and isn’t that far removed from the more violent TV shows of the time, and some of the soldiers falling down and trying to hit their mark after they’ve been shot is quite amusing to watch but probably not what writer/director Nico Mastorakis was looking for when he wanted to make an action movie.
Although the film itself is fine but unremarkable, it is the special features that prove to be the diamonds in the rough here, as the interviews with Nico Mastorakis and Brian Thompson reveal a wealth of stories – mainly to do with Oliver Reed’s outrageous behaviour – that actually add to the enjoyment you can get from the film. One particularly sniggersome story from Thompson involves a sex scene between him and Michelle Moffett having to be shot from a different angle as whenever Moffett took her bra off her boobs dropped quite far very quickly; not the most flattering of anecdotes but Brian Thompson tells it with mischievous glee. Also quite fun – and even touching – is his reaction when he realises that Hired To Kill has something of a cult following and begins to dig out some props from his garage.
So, Hired To Kill then – an average action film with a strong cast that are better than the material they’re working with, a glossy 4K Blu-ray restoration and some interesting special features. It won’t ever make any action movie Top 10 (or 20, or 30 – possibly a 40) but it does have some good points and, coupled with the interviews and commentary, it does make for a reasonably fun couple of hours, although given the flimsy script and second tier action movie feel it’s not one that you’re likely to visit too often.
Special Features: Audio commentary with editor Barry Zetlin, Hired to Direct interview with director Nico Mastorakis, Undercover Mercenary interview with star Brian Thompson, original theatrical trailer, stills gallery, original Freedom or Death screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM content), reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver.
UK Release Date: 16th May 2016