Thursday, January 20

Some quick thoughts on McBain (1991)

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P.O.W. McBain (Christopher Walken) is rescued from the cheap set of an Italian/Filipino Deer Hunter rip-off at the close of the Vietnam War. Years later, one of his saviors ends up with a bullet to the head in an attempted coup d'état of a brutal dictator in Colombia. The dead man's sister (Maria Conchita Alonso) travels to New York to appeal to McBain for help in her freedom fighter sibling's continuing plight, prompting McBain and his comrades to set forth on a mission of revenge.

Like any sane person, before beholding James Glickenhaus's McBain, I pegged Christopher Walken as a great actor that has over recent years found a revitalized cult following from his comedy cameos, champagna, Weapon of Choice, and Chicken with Pears. After McBain, I'm assuming Walken wanted to buy a boat or something, at least I hope that's the reason.

The seasoned actor is obviously disinterested in a leading role that could have literally been played by anyone. Coolcat Walken sleepwalks while sauntering through like he's on vacation, which may not be far from the truth, speaking in vague dictums when not hesitantly choking out ol' action flick claptrap. Maria Conchita Alonso and Michael Ironside (as one of the ex-soldiers) also seem to be going through the motions with none of the zeal displayed opposite action hero Arnie a few years prior. Again, hopefully all were paid well.

And that's the most disappointing aspect of McBain. Writer/Director Glickenhaus, of Ginty Exterminator-fame, doesn't embrace any of the individual actor's strengths or quirks both on the paper or screen. There's nothing quite like an action film that's winkingly self-aware without being overtly so, like Commando (1985), Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), Bulletproof (1988) or hell, even The Marine (2006). Instead, Glickenhaus doesn't swallow his pride and accept the sheer ridiculousness and unique opportunity of such an average B-grade actioner with Christopher friggin' Walken as the headliner. I mean, even despite a scene in which McBain kills a fighter pilot by leisurely firing his pistol out of a private jet's (sealed) side cockpit window at the parallel jet while at high altitude. Walken's character is totally God-like with his odds of coming to any harm, but moments were one can truly relish his untouchable status like just described are few and far between.

Still, there's some far-featched laughs to be had in this rigid action movie structure. Going opposite of Deer Hunter, the soldiers go on to unrealistically huge career success after military life. Walken is a architectural welder, Ironside becomes insanely wealthy, the late Steve James (who should have been the star) is a bodyguard for the president of a huge corporation, and the other two are an ER surgeon and lawyer respectively. Upon hearing the news, the group assembles with no hesitation and with the speed of neighbors having a block party. Glickenhaus employs odd storytelling here where everything we see seems "near" what's expected and should be seen as the simple story pushes along, but simply isn't. This might be from Walken really only showing up in maybe half of the film's sequences. McBain possibly holds the record for fewest lines and screen time given to its star in the first half hour--Walken only says his character's name and "I knew you'd come." in what barely amounts ten minutes total.

This pre-occupied aspect creeps into the explosive setpieces that, unlike good examples of on-screen action, are more concerned with little details than a larger sense of flow or escalation. Using a mix of stuntmen and dummies in explosions to give the blasts a more visceral impact. Lighting a hanging dummy ablaze after a soldier blows up a tank by shoving a grenade down its barrel. Seeing the stuntman actually slam into the ground after being knocked from a bamboo watchtower. Just little additional beats in the action that do a surprising job of helping along McBain's 100 minutes. The best praise I could bestow is that I've sat through shorter, critically-acclaimed films that almost immediately feel like a clock-watchin' endure test. Not the best piece of trash blow 'em up, but a relic that amazingly came together in the first place and something no sane person could appreciate.

The Canadian C/FP Video EP-speed VHS looks kinda shit, but passable. Universal Studios granted McBain a stateside tape release with no digital transition available yet. Hollywood DVD and Boulevard Entertaiment have both dropped DVDs in the United Kingdom. You know my copy is already ordered.

4 comments:

Drunketh said...

POW McBANG!? Yeah, hello new nickname. Booyah!

FUKITOR said...

Holy shit. How did I miss this hunk o' trash when I was growing up? That video hooked me. This is the kind of ridiculous shit that I need to own. And yeah, the whole shootin' the jet pilot with a pistol in mid-flight (w/ no windows breaking) sells it!

Anthony1138 said...

For some reason I have a copy of McBain on LaserDisc. Never got around to watching it though. I can't remember for the life of me if it came in a lot or if it was an under a $1 blind buy. Either way, you've inspired me to take it for a spin.

Ryan W. Featherston said...

I'm aware that this post is a year old, but I need to get this off my back before it's too late. Anyway, I have the C/FP Canadian tape as well, and while I'm not sure about your EP Mode copy, my copy is surprisingly in SP Mode and looks decent.

Also, does your copy have a trailer for Keeper of the City at the beginning? Because my C/FP tape did.

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