Friday, September 16, 2016

Retro Review: MISSION: KILL (1987)

(US - 1987)

Directed by David Winters. Written by Maria Dante and David Winters. Cast: Robert Ginty, Merete Van Kamp, Cameron Mitchell, Olivia d'Abo, Sandy Baron, Henry Darrow, Brooke Bundy, Eduardo Lopez Rojas, David Kaufman, Clement St. George (Clement von Franckenstein), Miguel Angel Fuentes. (R, 96 mins)

After cementing his place in cult movie history as the title vigilante in 1980's THE EXTERMINATOR, Robert Ginty (1948-2009) stayed busy in B and usually C-grade exploitation fare throughout the '80s before drifting into directing in the '90s. Prior to THE EXTERMINATOR, Ginty first gained notice on a two-season stint on the NBC WWII series BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP, starring Robert Conrad, and from his co-starring gig on the first season of CBS' THE PAPER CHASE. He also had a supporting role in 1978's COMING HOME, but it was THE EXTERMINATOR that set the course for Ginty's career. He would still log time on TV with guest spots on shows like DIFF'RENT STROKES, SIMON & SIMON, QUINCY M.E., and KNIGHT RIDER, and even had his own short-lived ABC series HAWAIIAN HEAT in 1984, but he was also a regular presence at drive-ins and on video store shelves in the burgeoning '80s home video explosion. In addition to the Cannon-produced sequel EXTERMINATOR 2 (1984), Ginty also starred in films like the Thai actioner GOLD RAIDERS (1982), the Italian ROAD WARRIOR ripoff WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD (1983), the Spanish horror film SCARAB (1983), the Sig Shore political thriller THE ACT (1984), the French emeralds-and-chainsaws adventure WHITE FIRE (1985), and the long-shelved Empire horror film THE ALCHEMIST, shot in 1981 but unreleased until 1985, and directed by Charles Band under the pseudonym "James Amante." 1987 was Ginty's most prolific year as a B-movie headliner, with the TERMINATOR ripoff PROGRAMMED TO KILL, where he pursued cyborg Sandahl Bergman (it also featured a 14-year-old Paul Walker); the French-made Eurocine horror film MANIAC KILLER from BURIAL GROUND director Andrea Bianchi, co-starring a slumming Chuck Connors and Bo Svenson; the little-seen and even less-loved Cannon actioner THREE KINDS OF HEAT; and MISSION: KILL, a fixture in every video store in America in the late '80s that's just been rescued from oblivion with a new Blu-ray from Code Red.

Released in 1987, but sporting a 1985 copyright (and, if a calendar on a kitchen wall in one scene is any indication, shot in 1984), the shot-in-Mexico MISSION: KILL (onscreen title: THE MISSION...KILL) is a mostly standard explosion-filled action movie with some ambition beyond its paltry budget. Ginty is J.F. Cooper, an ex-Marine and demolitions expert who's just arrived in Arizona to visit his old Vietnam buddy Harry (Cameron Mitchell). Harry is jumpy and preoccupied, and his younger wife (Brooke Bundy) and teenage son (David Kaufman) are concerned. A trucker by day, Harry has a side gig running guns through Mexico to deliver to freedom fighters in the fictional Central American country of Santa Maria. The rebels are waging war on despotic El Presidente Ariban (Eduardo Lopez Rojas) and Harry talks Cooper into going on a delivery run with him. Of course, they're ambushed and Harry is killed (Mitchell exits the film and heads to the hotel bar around the 20-minute mark), prompting an enraged Cooper to take out the Ariban soldiers responsible. This leads to him assuming the identity of a dead British mercenary/gunrunner named Ian Kennedy (Clement von Franckenstein, under the less distracting pseudonym "Clement St. George") and becoming a significant figure in the revolution against Aliban, with the help of some glowing hype in the press from cynical reporter Bingo Thomas (Sandy Baron, later to play SEINFELD's Jack Klompus). Naturally, a furious Ariban and his chief lackey and supporter, wealthy aristocrat Borghini (Henry Darrow, smirking as if to say "I'm almost Robert Vaughn") use everything at their disposal to stop Cooper/"Kennedy" and quash the rebellion.

Directed and co-written by David Winters, MISSION: KILL plays like a low-budget knockoff of Oliver Stone's SALVADOR (which hadn't been made yet), with generous helpings of Michelangelo Antonioni's THE PASSENGER (outsider assuming the identity of a dead gunrunner) and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (the hero getting endless press hype from an ambitious reporter who sees him as his ticket to the big time). Of course, any other comparisons to such higher brow material are absurd, but MISSION: KILL has a little more on its mind than most of its contemporary mid '80s Robert Ginty vehicles. The British-born Winters got his start directing episodes of THE MONKEES as well as TV variety show specials for Ann-Margret and Raquel Welch as well as Alice Cooper's 1975 concert film WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE. He drifted into feature films with the 1979 Bert Convy SHAMPOO ripoff RACQUET, but really made his mark with 1984's underrated meta horror film THE LAST HORROR FILM, with MANIAC stars Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro. Shoddily-made but demonstrating some clever ideas and genre deconstruction before such things were cool, THE LAST HORROR FILM displays an ambition that's carried over into MISSION: KILL. Winters isn't exactly making Oliver Stone statements, but he's also not making a mindless, jingoistic, "America! Fuck Yeah!" shoot 'em up, either. Alas, neither Winters nor co-writer Maria Dante possess quite the chops required to pull off the Thinking Man's Action Movie for which they're aiming (they would later seemingly give up on seriousness altogether with their next collaboration, the MST3K favorite SPACE MUTINY). Any time MISSION: KILL takes a step forward, it's immediately followed by two steps back, whether it's the mismatched and clumsily-integrated stock footage of explosions or Olivia d'Abo's embarrassing performance as one of the freedom fighters, saddled with a laughable wig and using an even worse accent ("Jew take care of deese peeg!"). Though it's a middling, forgettable action movie at the end of the day, MISSION: KILL has moments where it's really trying to be something more but just doesn't have the money or behind-the-scenes talent to pull it off.

Robert Ginty (1948-2009)
Winters and Mitchell would work together again on the South Africa-shot SPACE MUTINY and RAGE TO KILL (both 1988) and both would reunite with Ginty for 1989's CODE NAME: VENGEANCE, co-starring Shannon Tweed. Winters would later oversee the 1990s straight-to-video company Action International Pictures, producing such Blockbuster shelf mainstays as RAW NERVE (1991), CENTER OF THE WEB (1992), DOUBLE THREAT (1993), RAW JUSTICE (1994), and others, almost all of them directed by David A. Prior. Ginty continued to star in things like Umberto Lenzi's Miami-shot Italian cop thriller COP TARGET (1990) but also managed to land some supporting roles in major-studio releases. He played a young Patrick Dempsey's befuddled dad in the gigolo pizza delivery comedy LOVERBOY (1989), was one of the houseguests from Hell in the John Larroquette/Kirstie Alley-starring MADHOUSE (1990), and got some laughs as a chatty chopper pilot helping Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson in HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991). Ginty directed himself in a pair of low-budget action films, THE BOUNTY HUNTER (1990), and VIETNAM, TEXAS (1991) before shifting his focus to directing throughout the 1990s. His efforts behind-the-camera included the Bo Derek erotic thriller WOMAN OF DESIRE (1994), along with episodes of TV shows like EVENING SHADE, DREAM ON, NASH BRIDGES, LOIS & CLARK, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, and CHARMED. Ginty acted very sporadically during the '90s, and his final onscreen appearance came with Dennis Hopper in 2001's THE PROPHET'S GAME, a SE7EN ripoff from his WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD director David Worth. Ginty spent his final years directing theater productions in Los Angeles before succumbing to cancer in 2009 at the age of 60. Though most of his career was spent making undistinguished and forgettable movies that are most likely to be found today only if you spend time scouring through battered, dusty, and musty boxes of VHS tapes at antique malls and flea markets, he was a solid pro who loved what he did and never stopped working. And even if he accomplished nothing else, he'll always be THE EXTERMINATOR.


  1. In 1961,Winters appeared as A-Rab in the movie version of WEST SIDE STORY (1961), recreating the "Cool" dance sequence, which was choreographed for him.

  2. Thanks for yet another great review Mark!

    I have this on VHS and remember enjoying it, although it's been a few years since I saw it. Walter Hill regular Luis Contreras, also has a small role in this if I remember correctly.

    How does the Code Red bu-ray look? I'm guessing no extras to speak of. Sadly Bill Olsen does not make it easy to get his product, especially for us outside the US.

  3. Thank you, sir! The Blu-ray looks pretty good. Actually, quite good, considering the low-budget. There's a trailer as far as extras go.