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MOVIE REVIEW : 'McBain's' Mission: Attack Colombian Drug Lords

September 23, 1991|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With "McBain" (citywide), writer-director James Glickenhaus, a skilled exploitation film veteran, turns a macho action fantasy into a surprisingly effective and provocative revolutionary epic. He delivers the spectacular mayhem that action audiences expect, yet at the same time creates a stunningly cinematic film. He and his cameraman, Robert M. Baldwin Jr., bring to 'McBain" a graceful fluidity, a driving pace and constant flow of striking imagery that bring to mind Brian De Palma at his best.

What's more, Glickenhaus brings a wry, witty commentary on contemporary political realities to this story, and he's not afraid to throw in a touch of the outrageous for comic relief. How gratifying to find a filmmaker who refuses to lower his sights even when working on the kind of movie that typically goes into release without benefit of press previews.

The film opens in Vietnam in 1973 with a bravura rescue sequence in which Santos (Chick Vennera) leads a charge that frees McBain (Christopher Walken) from North Vietnamese captors. Santos tears a $100 bill in two, giving half of it to the grateful McBain, saying: "If the other half reaches you, you can pay me back."

Cut to the present: Santos is leading an uprising against the Colombian government and its drug lords but is slain when expected CIA backup fails to come through. He has given his half of the $100 bill to his sister and fellow revolutionary, the impassioned and eloquent Cristina (Maria Conchita Alonso), who finds McBain, an ironworker of few words and much intestinal fortitude, on top of one of Brooklyn Bridge's arches. Amusingly, Christina, a determined type, climbs up to the top of the arch herself to hand McBain Santos' half of the bill.

McBain promptly rounds up four of the old Rangers (Michael Ironside, Steve James, Jay Patterson, Thomas G. Waites), who represent your typical cross section of middle-age American males, and they're off to Colombia to complete the job for Santos. As for financing the liberation, no problem: The ex-Rangers dangle a Mafioso from a crane atop a Manhattan skyscraper under construction and shake him down for $10 million.

Structurally, "McBain," whose Colombian sequences were shot in the Philippines, is daring in that it spends its first half setting up its mission, yet is lively and involving the entire distance. "McBain" (rated R for standard battlefield bloodshed, language, some drug use) manages to present quite deftly a challenge to America to live up to its moral responsibilities to Colombia.

'McBain'

Christopher Walken: McBain

Maria Conchita Alonso: Cristina

Michael Ironside: Bruce

Chick Vennera: Santos

A Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment presentation. Writer-director James Glickenhaus. Producer Boyce Harman. Executive producers Leonard Shapiro, Alan Solomon. Cinematographer Robert M. Baldwin Jr. Costumes Shan Jensen. Music Christopher Franke. Production design Charles C. Bennett. Art director Toto Castillo. Set decorator Sammy Aranzamendez. Sound George Bossaers. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for strong war violence, and for language and drug use.).

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