Always on the search for those ever-elusive “so bad it’s great” films.
McBain (1991) exists in that weird period of bygone years when Christopher Walken was seen as someone who could disappear into characters. This was before Christopher Walken opted to just play Christopher Walken in every movie.
Walken is great as Christopher Walken, though. Almost too great, so that when you see him being uncharacteristically un-Walken, it could throw you. Especially when Walken is portraying a gun-toting revolutionist in aviators and a Hawaiian shirt.
I’d just like to point out that only nine months after the release of McBain (1991) we see Walken play Max Schreck in Batman Returns.
Only nine months.
But back to McBain. I don’t want to bury the lead here either because McBain is, with profundity, “on fleek.” Did I say that correctly? Whatever, McBain is certified Dank and fun from start to finish.
McBain is written and directed by James Glickenhaus who has a distinct cult following. I didn’t know much about him so I perused his cinematography. My first thought was “Oh, shit! This is the same dude who did The Protector!” Followed by the immediate realization of “Ohhhh, shit. This is the same dude who did Maniac Cop.“
Glickenhaus, as an action director, helms the technical aspects and stunt work really well. The film surprisingly looks not just good, but competent. The cinematography shines, there’s some wonderful tracking shots, high dolly shots and they blow up everything. It’s got genuine moments of hackery but I’m honestly a little surprised that according to Box Office Mojo, McBain was only in theaters for one week.
The film starts with our hero McBain (Christopher Walken) held hostage in a Vietnamese POW camp in a… bamboo fight ring? It’s literally a Bamboo Thunderdome. McBain is rescued by a small group of soldiers who are also bloodthirsty as hell. In the first five minutes of this film, forty people are stabbed, shot, exploded, executed, strangled, and brutalized in other ways.
When I first watched this, it felt implied that these savior soldiers already knew McBain and were friends prior to his liberation. I think actually that they all become blood brothers after the POW liberation.
Cut to present day and one of McBain’s besties, Santos, is a Colombian revolutionary, a freedom fighter. In Bogota Santos stages and fails a coup, resulting in him being graphically executed on daytime television, live in front of the world.
This is actually super convenient because our hero McBain witnesses the entire ordeal over an open-faced ham sammy at a diner. Because all mid-day diners usually tune in live to South American politics.
The remaining freedom fighters in Colombia are severed without Santos as a figurehead, so Santos’ sister, María Conchita Alonso, pools all the money from the community and heads to America to solicit help from Santos’ blood brothers from the Vietnam War
I don’t know how much Santos told María Conchita Alonso about McBain or his other G.I. buddies, but María Conchita Alonso easily finds McBain after half a day, or maybe an hour of searching the entirety of New York City (although it’s maybe 10 seconds of screen time).
McBain, up to this point, has barely been in the film even though he’s the titular character. Luckily for María Conchita Alonso, McBain is a welder on the Brooklyn Bridge and the crew just… lets her walk up the cable suspensions to talk to McBain over the East River in an admittedly majestic shot.
María Conchita Alonso recruits McBain to her cause half-way down the globe, mostly it seems out of sheer boredom and desire to relive the “glory days” of war. But he can’t do it alone. The good news is that McBain (1991) by all accounts is an 80’s action flick even though it came out in 1991. That means McBain assembles his crew pretty damn fast.
We quickly get a rundown of McBain’s blood brothers, all of whom struggle to fit in with the monotonous day to day regularity of NOT routinely murdering people. There’s some push back, but most everybody wants to strike the band back up and add another 200 bodies to their collective kill sheets.
The only initial holdout is Michael Ironside’s character of Frank. Ironside plays the “Tech Guy” of the film but he’s really just that old guy getting into technology too late in life. The guy who always needs to read the instruction manual first. He’s not so much a tech specialist, is that he’s rich and tech seems cool?
Frank is the only one who’s well-off after the events of Vietnam, so he’s got no real need to pick up a new fight. Except McBain’s incredible argument of “but you’re bored, so come kill some foreigners with me:”
Frank, you’ve got the house. You’ve got the beautiful girl swimming laps in your indoor pool. You have THREE Ferraris. A yacht. A house in Aspen. Yet when I come to see you, you’re sitting in a chair like an old man, staring at the ocean! You having fun yet?
Trying to shame his buddy into murdering people for him
Now that the whole team agrees to collectively fuck shit up, there’s the small problem of funding the revolution. All of our heroes are broke except for Michael Ironside who’s generally cheap. So what do they do? They storm a notorious drug den in the city in the hopes they can raid and steal from drug dealers!
This particular scene is the one, above all, to highlight just how psychopathic our “heroes” are. They roll up on a drug den and without notice, or question, simply… open fire. With no regard for life, our protagonists murder ten people, in cold blood, simply because they’re dealing drugs.
They’re mowed down as if they were… zombies or Nazis or Nazi zombies. They were essentially “not real people” since it was all copacetic to kill them just because they dealt drugs. But at least it led to this amazing shotgun moment:
Needless to say, things don’t go super well. Sure, they all momentarily curb their blood lust, but the dealers don’t have much money; certainly not enough to fund a South American revolution. So what else can our heroes do?
They kidnap a mafia lawyer after smashing his car with a Mack truck, and then dangle him over the side of a skyscraper in the hopes that he would give in to their demands of “ten million dollars.”
In order to actually GET to Colombia, our heroes blow away even more drug dealers on a small airstrip and steal their little plane that had been used as a drug mule. The gang flies to Colombia where they shoot and kill everyone. They also explode and blow up everything, too.
Seriously, nearly the entire third act is just people gunning each other down. Even María Conchita Alonso gets in on the action to avenge her dead brother Santos and liberate the country. I know I’m glossing over a lot here, but it’s all good stuff. However, I’d like to skip to the end where McBain defeats (ie MURDERS) the antagonist, the evil dictator of Colombia:
It’s a quick clip and a lot happens in a short amount of time, so let me break it down for you. McBain, armed with an uzi, drops from the ceiling into the room with our evil dictator. Keep in mind that these ceilings are vaulted, so McBain drops thirty feet, while firing his uzi, and manages to land every shot while falling.
It’s a perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong with McBain (1991) and yet, everything that’s “just right.”
What? You miss the smell of napalm in the morning?
Ripping off the catch-phrase of a much more successful film
You guys are fucking with the wrong President!
Channeling his inner President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho