Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Project: Kill (1976)

Shot in the Philippines by an American director with American leading actors, this shoddy action/thriller picture contains a handful of moments that almost work, but the movie overall is incoherent and inept. Leslie Nielsen, back when he was still a wooden dramatic actor, stars as John Trevor, the chief instructor at a secret training camp for government operatives. He’s grown weary of using drugs and mind control to transform recruits into killers, so he flees the base and seeks refuge with former war buddies who are based in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the government sends John’s lieutenant, Frank Lasseter (Gary Lockwood), to track him down. Complicating matters is the fact that both men use the same drugs as their trainees, so John is going through painful withdrawal. Another wrinkle is the murky presence of a Filipino crime boss, Alok Lee (Vic Diaz), who wants to find John before Frank does. In theory, Project: Kill should be a simple chase story. In practice, however, it’s a mess. Director William Girdler, who generally fared better in the realm of monster movies, can’t do much of anything with the jumbled script, which is credited to David Seldon and Galen Thompson. Moreover, Girdler botches many scenes by creating logic gaps the size of the Grand Canyon. For instance, many scenes feature characters walking away from fistfights and/or shootouts as if nothing happened. Similarly, John spends most of his time romancing a pretty Chinese woman, Lee Su (Nancy Kwan), even though he knows his brain is disintegrating and even though he’s supposed to be finding a safe hideout. Furthermore, the picture’s action scenes are confusing—Frank and John are supposed to be super-deadly martial artists, but Lockwood (who is genuinely terrible in the film) and Nielsen move with the grace of skid-row drunks. Project: Kill also suffers from cheap production values and nonexistent transitions between scenes. Capping all of these problems is the difficulty of taking Nielsen seriously, given his subsequent career as a comic actor. In fact, one scene features a line Nielsen could have delivered in one of his Naked Gun movies—while lamenting to Lee Su that it’s hard to shake his mind control, John says, “I’m not programmed to love.”

Project: Kill: LAME


Unknown said...

Reading this, I suddenly flashed back to 1967's "Code Name: Heraclitus" in which Nielsen is the handler of a kind of proto-Bourne, a man devoid of memory or emotion who is "built" into a spy known as Gannon played by Stanley Baker. This seems downright thematic, as if the makers figured "Okay, we know they can be kind of wooden -- but maybe we can make that an asset."

bistis6 said...

If you've never heard the audio commentary that Stella Stevens and Carol Lynley recorded for THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, I highly recommend it. Not only are they genuinely hilarious women - Lynley especially, who knew?! - they expound with glee upon Nielsen's woodenness, cackling with hysterics at his classic delivery of "Oh, my God". They make great fun of themselves, as well. Well worth a listen!

Great blog.

Peter L. Winkler said...

"This seems downright thematic, as if the makers figured 'Okay, we know they can be kind of wooden -- but maybe we can make that an asset.'"

It's not a bug, it's a feature.