[box cover]

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

On paper, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985) looks like it could be another Big Trouble in Little China or Buckaroo Banzai — one of those weird, cool adventure films that somehow got financed by a major Hollywood studio in the 1980s, failed at the box office, then went on to achieve "geek cred" in the video aftermarket. Like Big Trouble, Remo Williams features a goofy, comical take on martial arts; like Banzai, it builds its film around an offbeat leading man; and like both those cult classics, Remo is fondly remembered by a certain substratum of geeks who first saw the film in their teens and thought it hinted at a larger, stranger world of adventure cinema. Unfortunately, Remo hasn't aged nearly as well as its groovier counterparts. Sure, the movie stars Fred Ward — radiating his peculiar sex appeal through that gnarled stump of a mug — as the film's titular hero. Sure, the movie features a politically incorrect performance by heavily made-up white man Joel Grey — playing a wee Korean martial-arts master who spews racist diatribes, watches soap operas, dodges bullets, and walks on water. Sure, the movie puts Kate Mulgrew in a smart little Army uniform that's totally incongruous with her Hepburn-lite mannerisms. Sure, it features Wilford Brimley as the head of the lowest-rent covert agency in film history. And sure, the movie's based on the "Destroyer" pulp series by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir — a series that stands at roughly 130 paperback titles and counting. (And by the way: Isn't The Destroyer a vastly better title than Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins?) Still, despite all the above, the movie quickly wears out any cult cred it might have mustered for three simple reasons: 1) Christopher Wood's script is TV-movie pedestrian whenever it doesn't feature Grey training Ward to be a covert assassin; 2) Director Guy Hamilton and the producers obviously thought they were kicking off some kind of blue-collar James Bond franchise, and Hamilton (director of Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever) shoots the movie in the listless style of the lesser 007 movies — complete with perplexed bystanders as "comic" relief; 3) The pre-CG action scenes are inventive — the fight on top of the Statue of Liberty is well worth a rental — but they're shoehorned into the story in a way that's sort of insulting, leaving us feeling like we're watching one of those "Stunt Spectaculars" at Universal Studios instead of a cohesive adventure film. All that said, there's a certain goofy charm to the whole enterprise, particularly in the scenes with Ward and Grey; one just wishes it had been a little goofier. MGM's DVD release of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins features a full-frame presentation with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
— Alexandra DuPont



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