New to Blu: Arrow Video: Hired to Kill

Andrew reviews the straight to video action flick, Hired to Kill.

With all the controversy fresh in mind regarding the notion of female driven action thrillers, notably surrounding the release of Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters, it’s curious to find a low budget straight to video action thriller about a band of undercover female assassins who do everything the internet wanted Feig’s film to do over twenty years earlier.  Helmed by Island of Death and The Zero Boys cult Greek director Nico Mastorakis, the 1990 military rescue mission thriller Hired to Kill manages to give character actor Brian Thompson (the punk who gets his stomach punched through in The Terminator as well as the son-in-law of the director) a leading role for a change as an action hero, Oliver Reed a place to continue drinking as the stereotypical villain and its cast of female characters action roles with camaraderie, death defying stunt work and their own set of unique personalities.  It’s a pretty cut and dried undercover rescue flick about an assassin who is asked to go undercover as a gay fashion designer with his posse of hot models who are actually expertly trained assassins.  Somewhere between Commando and the Chuck Norris Cannon Films, Hired to Kill makes no bones about what kind of flick this is.  While ostensibly a B grade action flick whose leading man is decidedly one note with a premise potentially offensive to politically correct sensibilities, this low budget action romp sadly died a quiet death with the very real helicopter related tragedy on set before fading into VHS rental obscurity.  Only now thanks to Arrow Video’s recently released blu-ray edition can all the estrogen packed action and startlingly death defying (and causing) stunt work be seen in all of its home video glory.

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For the most part Hired to Kill looks, sounds and feels like Commando’s bastard child with some outrageous dialogue, cornball villains including Oliver Reed’s alcohol drenched performance.  Made in an era where Reed had trouble finding work due to his hellraising ways, according to director Mastorakis in a retrospective interview, the actor responded to Mastorakis’ demands in a climactic action scene by publicly urinating on the set.  The film also includes overqualified stars George Kennedy and Jose Ferrer but they mostly take a backseat to the cast of femme fatales hired by Thompson who make up a dangerous gang of angry cats ready to claw each other up at the drop of a hat.  Modern viewers may be put off by Thompson’s goof on the gay stereotype but he sells it pretty well including catching Reed off guard with a kiss on the lips.  Still, the action stunts and pyrotechnic effects are much bigger than you would expect from straight to video fodder and the characters surprisingly resonate with action heroines who step up to the plate and go to war.  Watching Hired to Kill, I was taken aback by just how many nerve wracking helicopter stunts there are in this, including a couple of shots where one of the actors hangs from beneath the chopper with the ocean clearly below his feet.  Watching the extras I was horrified to learn (and see actual footage) of the on-set helicopter accident which claimed the life of stunt man Clint C. Carpenter and I have to wonder how many more years of helicopter accident related deaths post-Twilight Zone: The Movie needed to happen before ceasing the practice of using real helicopters on film sets altogether.  Without spoiling anything, Hired to Kill ends somewhat abruptly but upon learning the cast and crew was grieving over the recent on-set tragedy, it’s a miracle they finished the film at all.

Seen today, Hired to Kill is cheap by the numbers trash at first glance.  As a fan of low budget action fodder, Cannon Films and one who believes strongly in the action movie heroine, this little movie goes surprisingly far out on a limb to produce believable action packed stunts.  Yes the main character is a one note cliché, the synthetic score sounds almost identical to James Horner’s Commando soundtrack and there’s no denying we’ve seen better films of this kind.  Still, I was really surprised how much this film managed to do with so few resources.  Learning of the on-set tragedy and seeing footage of it in the extras threw something of a dark shadow over the proceedings, one which actor Brian Thompson referred to as 'the worst day' of his life.  Oliver Reed’s behavior on set is the stuff of legend and there’s a question of whether or not his presence benefitted himself or the picture.  Yet as a run of the mill action flick, I was entertained and thought this was more than a cut above the Cannon Pictures schlock Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus have become infamous for.  It takes a while to wade through the silly chauvinism but once you arrive to the ass kicking, bullets and explosions and tits, it is definitely worth the wait.  


- Andrew Kotwicki