Do you remember that Simpsons character, Rainier Wolfcastle? The thick-necked Austrian actor who’s a dead ringer for Arnie? You know: “My eyes! The goggles do nothing!” And d’you remember those hilarious action movie parodies he appeared in on the show, the fictitious McBain series?
Well, it turns out that there’s a real-life gung-ho actioner called McBain, too…
Arrow Video, those champions of all things cult, recently launched a range of budget DVDs under their Arrowdrome imprint. One of their first wave of titles was James Glickenhaus’s 1991 movie, McBain, which is billed on its poster as “a macho action fantasy”. Never having heard of it but being able to recite the Simpsons McBain scenes by heart, I just had to see the film. If it’s in any way like the cartoons, I thought, this should be fun…
But straight away it’s clear that this isn’t the sort of Arnie/Sly/Dolph-style star vehicle I’d imagined.
Despite the fact that in the film McBain is a steelworker and Vietnam veteran, both of which are about as broad action-hero clichés as they come, he’s played by Christopher Walken. And while Walken’s a great actor, he’s no Chuck Norris. He probably chose to play the role a little shell-shocked to add a dash of realism to the character, but with his empty-behind-the-eyes stares into camera and slim physique he comes across more like Brian from Spaced than Bruce Willis.
Though this doesn’t really matter all that much, as the film’s actually more like the A-Team than Rambo III.
Here’s the plot: at the close of the Vietnam War, a unit of GIs help bust McBain out of a PoW camp and make a pact that if any of them are ever in trouble in the future, they’ll be able to count on one another for help.
Flash forward 18 years and one of the group, a hot-blooded Colombian called Santos, has become a guerrilla revolutionary attempting to overthrow the corrupt, drug-peddling Colombian president. But alas, this would-be Che Guevara is killed on live TV during an attempted coup, which leads his sister to flee to New York to track down his old army buddies and McBain.
Naturally their first instinct is to reunite and head off to avenge Santos’s death, so after collecting some money to finance the trip by blasting a coke-dealer’s hideout to smithereens, they fly over to Colombia, liberate the natives from their coca-induced stupor, storm the president’s palace and fill him full of lead.
Perfunctory, I’m sure you’ll agree, but then you don’t watch a pre-1995 action film for the plot, do you?
While McBain didn’t make much money on its initial release (Glickenhaus says it only “broke even”), it’s gathered a fair following over the last couple of decades on home video owing to its relentless violence and absolutely massive body count.
The number of bullets fired, explosives detonated and extras slain in this thing beggars belief. IMDB says that there are 240 people wiped out on screen in the course of the movie, and that’s not to mention the number of planes, tanks, cars and buildings that are blown to bits over the film’s 99 minutes. It is, in fact, the closest thing I’ve seen to the Bloodiest Movie Ever scene from Hot Shots! Part Deux since Troma’s War.
The film’s not light on daft action set pieces either, with the scene where McBain shoots down a plane using a pistol being one of the more ridiculous sights in the history of cult cinema…
As I’ve said, McBain was released in 1991, but the film is every bit an 80s throwback in both appearance and execution. It was mainly shot in the Philippines, just like pretty much every other Vietnam-based action flick of the 80s, the American characters wander around in Miami Vice-style Hawaiian shirts and Michael Ironside appears as one of the GIs sporting that most 80s of hairstyling errors, the pony-nub, at the back of his head.
The way the film is edited is also very much in the tradition of aged Cannon Group action flicks like Invasion USA, cutting rapidly from one scene to the next without much in the way of exposition, giving the movie a pretty relentless pace.
Despite these clichés, though, there’s some real technique on display, too. For instance, I found myself rewinding one shot a number of times in order to fully appreciate it. It’s briefly glimpsed in the trailer below, where the camera pans up from a Grand Theft Auto 1-style top-down view of Manhattan traffic to a character dangling over the edge of a skyscraper. And Glickenhaus keeps the directorial innovations coming thick and fast throughout the film, perhaps to the viewer’s surprise, considering what sort of movie this is.
Oh, incidentally, Arrow’s new release of the film clears up any speculation about whether or not it was made as a Simpsons cash-in. On the DVD Glickenhaus claims to have got the title from a Sergio Leone movie and the Simpsons connection was pure coincidence. Something, in fact, he’d rather play down. So there you are.
All in all, McBain’s good, wholesome, gun-toting fun for all the family. Especially those members of the family who like to get in from the pub after closing time all fired up on Stella and testosterone. So, while McBain’s not the Arnie knock-off you might expect, it’s still an action film with the power to (I can’t resist; sorry) blow you away…