Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Remo Williams - The Adventure Begins (1985)

Does anyone remember the 'Destroyer' series of paperbacks originally written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir? I certainly do. Back in the late 1970s you couldn't move for them in newsagents, railway station bookracks, and department stores like Woolworths. The original series ran for an amazing 145 paperbacks so it's not surprising that when, in the mid-1980s, Orion Pictures was looking for a subject for a potential new franchise, they figured a movie about the adventures of Remo Williams and his Korean mentor, Chiun, could possibly kick start a series of James Bond proportions.

 With that in mind they hired Christopher Wood, writer of one of the best Bonds (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), one of the worst Bonds (MOONRAKER) and creator of the tatty British sex comedy series that began with CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER  to come up with a script. They also got Guy Hamilton, a Bond director (GOLDFINGER, LIVE AND LET DIE) to film it. Sadly, REMO - UNARMED AND DANGEROUS, or REMO WILLIAMS - THE ADVENTURE BEGINS didn't do anywhere near as well as anyone was expecting, which is a shame as it's actually a charming piece of mid-1980s action-adventure.

Fred Ward is a New York cop who has his death faked and his face altered. After the back of a hospital bedpan provides inspiration for his new name (a nice touch), newly christened Remo Williams discovers that he's been recruited by a secret organisation known as CURE. It's run by Wilford Brimley who never gets out of his chair, and Remo's mentor in all things unarmed and dangerous turns out to be an elderly Korean called Chiun (Joel Grey in Oscar-nominated makeup by FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2's Carl Fullerton). Soon Remo is on his first mission, fighting baddies on the Statue of Liberty, and  taking on evil weapons dealer George Grove (Charles Cioffi from KLUTE and THE X FILES).   

Slower paced than movies of today (and some of its 1980s contemporaries it must be said), REMO WILLIAMS - THE ADVENTURE BEGINS shares a number of interesting similarities with Paul Verhoeven's later ROBOCOP. In both an average policeman is 'recreated' as someone / something else, and both boast a witty script that's bursting with quotable lines. Performances are all absolutely fine, with Grey a winner in the most endearing role, and Ward making a likeable hero who grows on you as the picture progresses. There are some fine action set-pieces, most notably one that wasn't in the script at all, but which was inspired by Guy Hamilton noticing the scaffolding around the Statue of Liberty in preparation for its centenary celebrations. 

The only real problem with REMO is its pacing. The film takes a bit too long to get going, and if anything the set-pieces are in the wrong order, with the final showdown with the villain a bit of a damp squib compared with what's gone before. That shouldn't put you off watching it, though, especially if you're of the generation that loved Saturday afternoon American television adventure fare like THE A TEAM or THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, because REMO feels just like an extended episode of one of those shows. 
Arrow Films is releasing REMO WILLIAMS - THE ADVENTURE BEGINS on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The print is clean and bright and the original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 PCM soundtrack presents Craig Safan's unexpectedly subtle and meticulous score in all its glory on an isolated channel. Extras include an interview with Safan who talks about the difficult of melding a Korean ensemble with a 65 piece studio orchestra. There's also a brief history of eighties action heroes, an audio commentary with producers Larry Speigel and Judy Goldstein, interviews with Joel Gray and Carl Fullerton, a trailer, a booklet by Barry Forshaw, and a reversible cover.
  REMO WILLIAMS - THE ADVENTURE BEGINS is a lot of fun. Much lighter than its contemporaries (FIRST BLOOD, COMMANDO, etc), which of course may have been the reason for its financial failure, it remains a well-made, well-acted and thoroughly enjoyable piece of Saturday afternoon adventure hokum. In another age it would have run to a series and deservedly so.

REMO WILLIAMS - THE ADVENTURE BEGINS is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Films on 7th July 2014