Monday, September 12, 2011

DVD Review: MCBAIN (1991)

MCBAIN (1991)
Label: ArrowDrome
Release Date: September 19th 2011
Region Code: 0 PAL
Rating: 15 Certificate
Duration: 99 mins
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital Stereo
Director: James Glickenhaus
Cast: Christopher Walken, Michael Ironside, Maria Conchita Alonso, Victor Argo
Tagline: War is Addictive!

I've said it a few times on the blog that action films were never really my thing. I've always been more of a horror, comedy, thriller and arthouse kinda guy at heart but occasionally a sweaty testosterone fueled action flick would find it's way to my TV screen. More often that not in the guise of an cop-action-comedy or a sci-fi-actioner along the lines of DIE HARD, STARSHIP TROOPERS or THE MATRIX. This may sound slightly pretentious coming from someone who thoroughly enjoys a silly slasher but the action genre always seemed kind of big and dumb to me which is kind of exactly why I dig this early 90's action flick from James Glickenhaus, the director of the revenge-actioner THE EXTERMINATOR. It's an absurdly action-packed flick that's low on brains but chock full o' testosterone and explosions galore.

Much like THE EXTERMINATOR the film opens with a sweet 'Nam sequence. The war in Vietnam has quite literally just ceased and a helicopter of soldiers are being withdrawn from the jungle when they spot a bamboo dome structure they believe to be holding American POW's. Landing nearby they assault the camp in a flurry of knifings, gunfire and explosions and sure enough the dome is a MAD BEYOND BEYOND THUNDERDOME style death arena pitting American POW's against their Viet Cong captors in a fight to the death. As the soldiers move in POW Robert McBain (Christopher Walken, DEAD ZONE) faces off against a brick wall sized VC soldier when his life is saved by US soldier Robertro Santo (Chick Vennera, NIGHT EYES). Santo tears a $100 dollar bill in half and a vow is made that should the two halves of the torn currency ever be reunited that McBain will repay his debt to Santo.

Eighteen years later McBain is a steelworker living in NYC and while throwing back a beer in the neighborhood bar witnesses the now Colombian rebel Santo executed on live television after a failed attempt to overthrow 'El Presidente', a despot Colombian general played by venerable character actor Victor Argo (BAD LIEUTENANT). A few days later Santo's sister Christina (Maria Conchita Alonso, THE RUNNING MAN) makes the pilrimage from Colombia to NYC tracking McBain to the very top of the Brooklyn Bridge where he's welding. Offering him the torn $100 bill she enlists him to help liberate Central America from it's corrupt drug trade fueled dictatorship.

McBain brings his 'Nam aging buds back together to assist with the coup. We have an embittered Detective Gil (T.G. Waites, THE THING), Eastland (Steve James, THE EXTERMINATOR), Dr. Carl Dalton (Jay Patterson, DEATH OF A PRESIDENT) and a reluctant Frank Bruce (Michael Ironside, VISITING HOURS) who has apparently struck it rich post-'Nam offering "What, you miss the smell of napalm in the morning?" to which McBain counters "When I come to see you.. you're sitting in a chair like an old man, staring at the ocean, you having fun yet?".

Bruce refuses to join the coup (though he later joins the fun, of course) but offers the use of a plane which comes with a hefty pricetag. In an attempt to raise the cash the mercs decimate the crew of a low-level narcotics peddler named Papo (Luis Guzman, BOOGIE NIGHTS) who indignantly tells them after they wipe the floor with his gang in a shit-storm of gunfire that "if you guys want money why don't you go after whats his face, John Gambotti, he's got the money, all I got is table drippings" and so they do. They ambush Gambotti (Dick Boccecelli, THE EXTERMINATOR) outside the the Old Homestead restaurant which will be familiar to those who've seen Glickdenhaus's THE EXTERMINATOR as Dick Boccelli again appears as a mafioso suspended from chains, this time from a skyscraper instead of a meat grinder and squeezed for millions to be wired into the mercs account who pose as Israeli agents.

With the cash wired to their account they charter Bruce's turbo-prop private plane and head to Columbia to free the poor and repressed people of that country. At this point all logic and sanity are abandoned as the twin-prop tries to evades two Colombian jet fighters with the help of Bruce's SAT-link briefcase computer. When one of the jet pilots orders the plane to land McBain fires a single shot from a handgun through the cockpit window killing the pilot and crashing the jet. Mind you there's no decompression, the window doesn't shatter and no one is stricken deaf from the close proximity shot. It's outrageously implausible but highly entertaining and so it goes for the remainder of the film as we see one of the most casual rebel coups ever slapped on the silver screen. The Hawaiian shirted mercenaries land unscathed in Bogata during a raging ground war, pose for vacational photos and walk through a hornets nests of gunfire only to walk away unscathed and victorious, 'natch.

It's a nutty, non-sensical action film featuring Christopher Walken is at his most badass Walken-ish delivering deliciously awful dialogue with nuanced pregnant pauses as only he (and William Shatner) can, it's whacky stuff. As where THE EXTERMINATOR took a few narrative shortcuts leaving your mind to fill in the gaps this Glickenhaus action-fest numbs the brain to such a degree that it would prove detrimental should your brain enter into the fray. That said the final third of the film definitely loses some steam despite it's explosive arsenal of badassery.

Sweat 80's Action lady
Glickenhaus and crew filmed the Colombian scenes in the Philippines which I guess would qualify this as a late-era Filipino exploitation film. It was fun to see Walken strut his stuff. Sadly, the usually badass Michael Ironside is atypically subdued, definitely a missed opportunity. The film's worst performance must be from the consummate 80's action-lady Maria Conchita Alonso who really hams it up in an overly dramatic performance as Santo's rebel sister Christina, pure 80's awfulness. MCBAIN is an early 90's film but the cheese is vintage 80's no doubt about it.

DVD: This is one of the first titles from Arrow Video's fledgling ArrowDrome imprint, a budget line of cult horror and exploitation films for the cinema fromage connoisseur. It's presented in anamoprhic 1.85:1 widescreen and the transfer is very good with few instances of print damage, there's good color saturation and decent black levels. The stereo audio track is clear and balanced with the dialogue, score and effects coming through nice and clean, it's not the most dynamic track but handles the film without distortion.   

The ArrowDrome titles are  budget-minded so don't expect a ton of bonus content, the lone extra feature here is Blast 'Em Up: The Making of McBain (13:56) a video interview with director James Glickenhaus who discusses the film's origins, the futility of the war on drugs, working with Walken and how he considers all his films to be comedies of the absurd despite a few moments during the interview when he seems to take the film a bit more seriously that one might expect. The High Rising Productions produced featurette is short but appreciated with clips of the film intercut with the video interview. The ArrowDrome screener I received was a check disc and did not include final the artwork with reversible sleeve or the booklet with writings from Calum Waddell. Nice presentation and a short but sweet feature, not too shabby.  

Special Features:
- Introduction by Director James Glickenhaus
- Reagan Flexes Some Muscle: McBain and the Golden Age of the American Action Film Collector's Booklet by Calum Waddell
- Blast 'Em Up - The Making of McBain (13:56) 16:9

Verdict: I won't lie to you McBAIN is just not a good film, in fact it's pretty bad cinema, a guilty pleasure of an absurd actioner overflowing with nonsensical machismo mayhem. My advice to you is to turn off your brain and board this testosterone fueled twin-prop plane to a napalm fueled fever dream of non-stop action and unintentional hilarity. **1/2 (2.5 outta 5)