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Hired To Kill
Nico Mastorakis' trash action epic Hired To Kill was shot in the late eighties, when movies like this were still possible. These days? Well… the story introduces us to Frank Ryan (Brian Thompson), a mercenary by trade. He's woken up one fine morning on his house boat when his phone rings. So displeased is he to have been awoken from his slumber that he actually shoots his phone. He's not a morning guy.
With that out of the way, he's off to rendezvous with Thomas (George Kennedy), a businessman of some sort with connections of some sort. He wants to hire Ryan to lead a team of fashion models on an undercover mission to a random island in the Mediterranean. Why? So that he can free the rebel leader, Rallis (Jose Ferrer), who has been locked up there by the corrupt dictator who runs the place, Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed). But there's a catch… in order to successfully pull this off Ryan will have to pose as a gay fashion designer. Why? No one ever bothers to explain that side of the story, but it's clearly important enough that he do this that Ryan agrees and off he goes, six foxy fashion models along for the ride… but of course, these are no regular foxy fashion models, these ladies are deadly assassins in their own right (at least they are once they go through an awesome training montage)! And given that Bartos' weakness for the fairer sex is a poorly kept secret, it goes without saying that they'll use their beauty and their charm to work him over, giving Ryan the chance he needs to get Bartos out of the picture and help Rallis usurp the throne!
If you've ever wanted to see Brian Thompson kiss Oliver Reed, and let's face it, we all have, then Hired To Kill is the movie you've been waiting for. It's basically a remake of The Dirty Dozen with Thompson playing Lee Marvin's character, going about putting the team together and making sure they're all up to snuff. Of course, the fact that the team is made up of sexy ladies (at least sexy by the standards of the time… those with an aversion to the late eighties look might not find them so appealing) just adds to the exploitation value that the film already has in pretty healthy doses. Politically correct this movie is not, and it can sometimes serve as a pretty crazy reminder of just how common it was to see/hear homophobic slurs tossed around so casually in action movies of this era, but in the context of the ridiculous macho-man world that the film posits, it sort of fits (the more easily offended will certainly disagree).
The cast is pretty great here. George Kennedy isn't given a whole lot to do but his scene wherein he explains the job he's hiring Thompson's character to do is pretty fun. Who wouldn't want George Kennedy to hire them for a job like this? Jose Ferrer is pretty amusing as the captive rebel leader while Oliver Reed looks amazing and ridiculous all at the same time, sporting a huge moustache and occasionally appearing intoxicated, as Reed was wont to do at this time in his career. Cast against type as the hero of the story (he has made a career out of playing bad guys), Brian Thompson is pretty solid here. He handles the action scenes really well, delivers a lot of completely ridiculous dialogue with admirable conviction and he's got great screen presence here too.
The first hour of the film is light on action but it's got plenty of other quirky scenes to keep you amused. There is, of course, the training montage where we see Thompson getting his female cohorts into tip-top shape, juxtaposed with footage of them training for model shoots and cat walk struts, for example. Once the action gets to the island and it's time for things to get heavy, all bets are off and Mastorakis' criminally underrated knack for staging high octane action set pieces on a pretty modest budget gets a chance to shine. The last half hour is violent, exciting and just as ridiculous as you could want it to be. Throw in some random topless nudity, a trash talking lesbian prison guard, and a genuinely weird score and this one turns out to be a pretty entertaining time killer.
Hired To Kill makes its Blu-ray debut from Arrow Video in a ‘Brand new 2K restoration of the film, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis' that looks excellent. The film is grainy in spots, but that's how it's always looked and the level of detail present here is considerably improved over the old DVD that came out through Image years ago. Colors look great, black levels are nice and solid and there's good depth to the picture and nice texture too. There's very little in the way of actual print damage and the disc is well authored, meaning that it's free of any obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. Fans of the film should be quite pleased with the results of Arrow's efforts.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language LPCM 2.0 stereo track but it's also of fine quality. The audio is free of any hiss or distortion and the levels are well balanced. The movie's memorable score comes through nice and clear like and the sound effects have some decent punch behind them. Optional English subtitles are also included.
The extras on the disc start out with an audio commentary from editor Barry Zetlin who is joined by moderator Michael Felsher. While they do cover Zetlin's experiences working with Mastorakis on Hired To Kill and his thoughts on the picture and memories on putting it together, there's a lot more to this than that. Zetlin has had a pretty interesting career including this film, obviously, but Felsher gets him talking about some of the other projects that he's had a hand in over the years. As such, we hear about his work here but also on films he cut for Roger Corman, some of the horror pictures he worked on and a few other noteworthy cult pictures he had a hand in completing. It's well paced and interesting stuff and if it plays more like an interview with Zetlin than a traditional commentary, given how infrequently editors are interviews (and how important they are to getting the finished film perfected), most movie buffs won't mind.
The disc also includes two featurettes, the first of which is the twenty-seven minute Hired To Direct which is a newly shot interview director Nico Mastorakis in which he tells his side of the story regarding the origins of the picture. He talks about how he came on board to direct, working with the different cast members, the locations, the unfortunate death of stuntman Clint C. Carpenter during the shoot and more. The second featurette is an eighteen minute interview with leading man Brian Thompson entitled Undercover Mercenary. He shares some stories about the time he spent on the set, his character, interactions with cast and crew and some other anecdotes about this film and other projects from throughout his career.
Outside of that, we get an original theatrical trailer for the feature, the original ‘Freedom Or Death' screenplay (accessible viaBD-Rom), a decent sized gallery of archival stills, menus and chapter selection. The Blu-ray disc is housed inside a clear keepcase along with a DVD version of the movie featuring the same extras. Along with the two discs we get a full color insert booklet containing writing on the film from film critic James Oliver along with disc and feature credits. If that weren't enough, Arrow has also provided some reversible cover art with some commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys on one side and an original poster art image on the reverse.
Hired To Kill isn't going to satiate serious cineastes but it will make fans of trashy, low budget action movies plenty happy. Arrow has gone all out on the disc, giving it a very strong presentation and providing plenty of extras as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.