After a slow start, the British thriller The Internecine Project gains momentum and novelty by presenting a meticulously planned conspiracy. The tension never quite reaches the high level that it should, characterizations are a bit half-hearted, and the film’s attempt at generating a romantic subplot is weak. Nonetheless, the presence of familiar actors in roles that suit their skills, as well as the heat generated by a couple of genuinely exciting scenes, make the film worth a look. James Coburn stars as Robert Elliot, an American spy whose cover is that of a Harvard professor temporarily operating out of London. When Robert is offered a coveted job as a financial advisor to the U.S. government, he is told to clean house—in other words, to kill all of the operatives with knowledge of his espionage activities in Europe, lest their secrets come back to haunt him while he ascends through public life. To realize his insidious goals, Robert contrives an elaborate scheme wherein his operatives are manipulated into killing each other, since each operative is told that he or she has been entrusted with eliminating the weak link in the organization.
In theory, this is ingenious stuff—clever and dangerous and thrilling. In practice, it’s merely okay, because the filmmakers fail to place believable and significant obstacles in Robert’s path. Barring one crisis stemming from an operative who temporarily loses his nerve, things go quite smoothly till the final twist. That said, suspense of a lukewarm sort abounds, and Coburn gets as much mileage as possible out of inherently repetitive scenes during which he sits in his lair and waits for signals from his troops. Better still, some of the vignettes depicting operatives preying upon each other have real muscle, especially the horrific scenario that unfolds when middle-aged psychotic Albert (Harry Andrews) attacks glamorous prostitute Christina (Christian Krüger). Less effective, by far, is the material concerning American journalist Jean (Lee Grant), who becomes romantically involved with Robert while all of this murderous business is unfolding. At the beginning of the picture, director Ken Hughes and the film’s three screenwriters have fun striking love/hate sparks between Jean and Robert, but then Jean merely becomes a plot device.
From start to finish, however, good acting and solid production values compensate for the story’s shortcomings. Coburn had a singular way of portraying cocksure evildoers, so he’s fun to watch, while costars Andrews, Grant, Ian Hendry, Krüger, Michael Jayston, and Keenan Wynn add degrees of humanity and menace as needed.
The Internecine Project: FUNKY