For British people of a certain age, Lewis Collins occupies (still, probably) a big place in their psyches. As the former SAS paratrooper and mercenary turned anti-terrorism operative Bodie, Collins and Martin Shaw (as Doyle) kicked ass, indulged in light-to-medium sexual harassment of women and saved the day for the UK in “The Professionals”, which ran from 1977 to 1983. Loved by many, but…I never watched it. I was 7 when it finished and, so the story goes, Martin Shaw almost immediately disowned it and blocked any repeats til the mid 90s, by which time I was firmly in the grasp of the nerdy interests I still have. Collins, on the other hand, loved it, and got himself a black belt and joined the Paratroop regiment of the Territorial Army – he was also a drummer in early 60s Liverpool and turned down the chance to audition for the Beatles, the idiot.
So, “The Professionals” was a huge hit, and afterwards Martin Shaw went off to a long career in TV and film. Collins, on the other hand, had a slightly different arc, meeting with producer Cubby Broccoli for the part of James Bond (which he lost due to being too aggressive in the audition, apparently); making the hit movie “Who Dares Wins”; then signing a contract with some German / Italian producers to make three action films which were commercial flops, of which “Code Name: Wild Geese” was the first. After that, he did bits and pieces of TV before retiring from acting to sell computer equipment in the USA.
Collins’ director for his three Italian / German movies was Antony M Dawson (Antonio Margheriti), who also directed ISCFC non-favourite “Yor The Hunter From The Future”, and had a hand in the Andy Warhol-produced “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” movies too. I discover, delightfully, that these movies represent the end (along with ISCFC favourite “Strike Commando”) of the “Macaroni Combat” genre, Italian movies, with Spanish or German involvement, often filmed either in Italy or the Philippines – a genre that lasted from the early 60s to the late 80s. This is a long preamble to a movie which, realistically, doesn’t deserve that much, or any, research.
I’ve not even mentioned the weird casting! As well as Collins and his gang of European soldiers, there’s Ernest Borgnine as their DEA handler Fletcher; Lee Van Cleef as the helicopter pilot who signs on to help partway into the mission; and weirdest of all, Klaus Kinski with a dubbed English accent playing Charleton, the rich guy who’s funding Fletcher’s mission out of the goodness of his heart. That mission is to go into the “Golden Triangle” and destroy some opium refineries and distribution systems, so off set Commander Robin Wesley (Collins) and his guys.
To say it’s one-note is almost an insult to things that are one-note. They go into the jungle; kill some drug producers and blow up a refinery; some of them die; go to another place and blow something else up; more of them die; by the time of the last thing to blow up most of them are dead. A woman shows up at 35 minutes, but she’s really not that important and feels like she was inserted because one of the producers realised at the last minute it was a total sausage-fest. There’s also the twist reveal of who the real villain is, which is so obvious I was sure it was going to be a double-bluff – sadly, that was crediting the movie with too much intelligence.
Borgnine and Van Cleef have a grand old time, both seemingly doing it for the sake of a free holiday – although Margheriti directed many of Van Cleef’s spaghetti westerns, and I suppose he wasn’t that expensive to hire by the late 80s. Kinski goes nicely over the top, but his accent is so weird that it was difficult to concentrate on him. Collins, though, was a complete charisma vacuum, a stoic who betrayed no emotion at any time – if it was a character choice, then it’s a really weird one. It’s not like Collins didn’t have the range (he got his start on a sitcom) so, er, I got nothing. It’s hard to have any sort of connection to a lead character when he’s just a blank slate, I guess. There’s a thing about his son dying due to drugs, and this making it personal for him, but you’d never guess that was the case.
The thing is, its very relentlessness and curious choices make it rather entertaining. There’s very little down-time in terms of action and bizarre conversations (seeing Ernest Borgnine act opposite Klaus Kinski is just entertaining in itself), so if you give its leading man a pass, you’ll probably have a good time with this. Just don’t expect too much.
Rating: thumbs in the middle