“Professional assassination is the highest form of public service.”

Ward starts the movie as Samuel Macon, a mustachioed New York City cop who occupies what is perhaps the sloppiest police car in the five boroughs. His underdog status is cemented by the fact that when we first see him he’s listening to a Knicks game in full sight of his New York Jets dashboard cup holder. All the poor guy really needs is a Boston Red Sox jacket and we could put a bullet in him and be done with it.

But no, the Fates have other plans for Officer Macon, plans that involve dumping him, squad car and all, into the East River. An indeterminate amount of time later he wakes up, clean shaven and with a new face. In steps Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston, perhaps best know as Judge Randolph in “A Few Good Men”), who informs Macon that his name is now Remo Williams and he’s been recruited as the enforcer of a shadowy organization. Officer Macon was (in an inspired filmmaking decision) something of a loner, which explains the ridiculous ease in which he accepts his new job, I guess. MacCleary takes “Remo” to meet mastermind Harold Smith (Wilford Brimley), who informs him that this secret cabal, known as CURE (and consisting only of Remo, MacCleary, and himself), reports directly to the President of the United States and is designed to correct “mistakes” in the legal system. We never learn what, if anything “CURE” stands for. Evidently it’s to be interpreted in the same way as Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra:” “Crime is a disease. Meet the…CURE.”

Vigilantism was a pervasive theme in the movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The American public at the time was convinced – thanks to balanced media crime coverage and soothing cinematic prognostications like “Escape from New York” – that those who could afford it would soon be living in giant fortress-like arcologies, while the less fortunate would be reduced to a feral existence, communicating in monosyllabic grunts and feasting on their own dead.

Okay, maybe that was just me. My point is, when was the last time you saw a “Dirty Harry” or “Death Wish” movie? There may still be plenty of current films about people who take the law into their own hands, but they’re either superhero flicks or movies about a man or woman “pushed over the edge.” It’s very rare nowadays to see a movie where someone decides that the system, as a whole, just doesn’t work and sets off to “take out the trash.”

So there’s your premise: lone wolf cop recruited by mysterious agency to kick some ass. Now all he needs is training. Enter Chiun.

“Watches are a confidence game invented by the Swiss.”

There have been few characters in movies quite like Joel Grey’s Chiun: he’s Korean, racist, sexist, and wholly addicted to American soap operas. Chiun is also the master of the ancient martial art sinaju, which apparently makes kung fu and aikido look like foxy boxing. Like the Thugs of ancient India, the practitioners of sinaju are/were assassins, and responsible for the accidental-appearing deaths of everyone from Alexander the Great to Napoleon. Chiun’s approach to enlightenment is perhaps a little…off by conventional standards, but at least he’s fairly enthusiastic about it. In any event, he sets about training the clumsy Remo (and reminding him of his clumsiness every two minutes, it seems) in the deadly arts.

Elsewhere, Smith is tracking the movements of Major Rayner Fleming (“Star Trek: Voyager’s” Kate Mulgrew) who, in turn, is investigating cost overruns on the High Altitude Reconnaissance Probe (HARP) program under development by Grove Industries (HARP being the film’s touchstone to the Star Wars missile defense program). The mastermind behind the program is one George Grove (Charles Cioffi), whom we see callously ordering an Army general to bury a report on the potentially deadly defects in his new line of assault rifles. Cioffi portrays the industrialist Grove as full of menace, if understated to the point of ennui.

Notable during this particular stretch of film is the comically repulsive way in which one of Major Fleming’s subordinates clumsily hits on her in the office. Shouldn’t a major in the U.S. Army be able to send a harassing lieutenant to the stockade for flogging? Or am I thinking of a different military?

Meanwhile, Remo’s training continues. And continues. Scarcely a month has passed, yet Remo is already adept at dodging bullets, running without touching the ground, and cooking vegetables in a wok. In spite of Chiun’s protests that he needs another 15 years of training, MacCleary decides Remo is ready for a little action. He sends Remo to scope out Major Fleming, who Smith feels is getting too close to HARP for her own safety. Unfortunately, a month’s training doesn’t count for much, and both Remo and MacCleary are made by Grove’s goons. Deducing that the best way to figure out who they are is to kill one of them, Grove sends a few evil construction workers to take Remo out while he’s training on (yes, on) the Statue of Liberty. After some initial blunders, Remo dispatches the bad guys (and I’m sure the construction workers’ union was thrilled to see it only took a couple hundred bucks to hire some hardhats to kill a man). Finally, and only an hour into the movie, the adventure really does begin.

Get the rest of the story in part three of FOOTAGE FETISHES: “REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS”>>>

Discuss Pete Vonder Haar’s “Footage Fetishes” column in Film Threat’s BACK TALK section! Click here>>>

Posted on April 15, 2003 in Features by

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