Color, 1986, 96 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by David Winters
Starring Robert Ginty, Merete Van Kamp, Cameron Mitchell, Olivia d'Abo, Henry Darrow, Brooke Bundy, Sandy Baron, Clement von Franckenstein
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
You certainly can't say producer-director David Winters had a boring career. After starting off as a Jet on Broadway in West Side Story (and appearing as A-rab in the film version), his acting career largely went into television before he turned to directing, starting off with episodes of The Monkees, a pair of extravagant Ann-Margret TV specials, and the immortal, ultra-flamboyant Raquel!. His move to feature films resulted in a bizarre range of credits including the odd 1979 racquetball snobs-vs-slobs comedy Racquet with Bert Convey and the even odder Cannes Film Festival meta-slasher opus, The Last Horror Film, with Caroline Munro and Joe Spinell. Somehow he then swerved into action territory with Mission Kill (or as the title card puts it, The Mission... Kill), one of several vehicles for Robert Ginty (who also produced) in the wake of the success of The Exterminator. Though he never quite recaptured the glory of his signature role, Ginty managed to turn it into a busy '80s stint with a number of action films like this one, which seemed to populate video store shelves in every single mom and pop store for years.
J.F. Cooper (Ginty) makes his living coordinating the demolition of high-rise buildings in New York, something he loves so much "I would've done it for nothing." After finishing a big job, he heads out to visit an old Vietnam buddy, Harry (Michell) and his much younger wife Katie (Bundy), which seems to go well until Katie pulls Cooper aside to whisper that her husband is up to something shady. Over beers during a female oil wrestling match at a country and western bar, Harry fesses up that he's involved in weapons running to help rebels in a South American country called Santa Maria under the thumb of a maniacal dictator. After jumping in the oil themselves, Cooper agrees to go along for a run south of the border because, well, it's in the script, where they tangle with corrupt government officials and mercenaries on the way to a big paycheck. A huge bulldozer pushes Harry's truck off the side of a mountain, which leaves a distraught Cooper comforting his dying friend and deciding to carry on his work -- by burning Harry's killers alive and doctoring his passport to pose as one of the dead mercenaries. After picking up a blonde stranded traveler named Sydney (Van Kamp), he ends up in prison and strikes up a hard-bitten friendship with writer Bingo (Baron) who wants to turn the story of the rebellion uprising into his masterpiece.
A typical '80s action film if there ever was one, Mission Kill shoots straight for the middle ground and gets the job done with no muss or fuss apart from the explosions and gunfire on screen. This was shot during a flurry of Ginty starrers alongside films like The Alchemist, Exterminator 2, White Fire, and Programmed to Kill, though due to the vagaries of indie distribution and the VHS market they ended up being released over a three-year period. He's fine here but less interesting without the psychotic undertones of his most famous role, while Mitchell gloriously chomps the scenery left and right before exiting the story less than a third of the way in. The great character actor Henry Darrow gets a few choice moments in as well, while Olivia d'Abo (Conan the Destroyer) has the most absurd role stuck with a bad black wig as a South American revolutionary with an axe to grind. Winters would go on to direct the skateboard gang favorite Thrashin' and another Ginty title, Code Name Vengeance, which has been out of circulation for a very long time.
Mission Kill comes to Blu-ray from Code Red sporting the same action-packed artwork that graced the omnipresent Media VHS release, later briefly reissued as a cheapie LP-speed version from Video Treasures. Obviously the Blu-ray looks quite a bit better, restoring the intended wider framing and looking pretty decent overall if on the dreary side due to a drab color palette and some pretty clogged-up blacks during darker scenes. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds fine if unremarkable (it's a very flat '80s mix), and the sole extra is a dupey trailer.
Reviewed on July 16, 2017.