REVIEW: REMO WILLIAMS – THE ADVENTURE BEGINS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: GUY HAMILTON / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER WOOD / STARRING: FRED WARD, JOEL GREY, WILFRED BRIMLEY, KATE MULGREW / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins wanted to be James Bond so much it hurts. Based on The Destroyer, a long-running series (149 titles so far!) of pulp novels created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir concerning the exploits of super-agent Remo Williams, the movie version roped in Bond director Guy Hamilton and sometime Bond screenwriter Christopher Wood. But the magic didn’t happen; it seemed that the world was quite happy with the James Bond it already had and didn’t really see the need for what was described on the film’s release as a “red, white and blue-collar” version of 007.
Nearly thirty years later and Remo reappears in a beautifully packaged new Blu-ray from Arrow which more than does the title justice. It’s a charming little film but perhaps its downfall lies in the fact that Fred Ward’s Remo, a New York cop recruited against his wishes into a covert espionage organisation, just isn’t brutal enough. The tone of the film is relentlessly tongue-in-cheek, much of it is played for laughs and too much time is spent focusing on Remo’s training. He’s paired up with inscrutable Korean martial arts guru Chiun (played, uncomfortably, by famously non-Korean actor/dancer Joel Grey). Chiun teaches Remo how to harness his own body’s innate hidden strength and abilities to turn him into a ruthless human killing machine (although he never actually kills anyone). It’s all good fun stuff with Remo falling off wires, plunging into sand dunes and hanging from fairground ferris wheels but it takes an age for the actual plot to get going – and when it does it’s a mundane affair involving a corrupt weapons procurement scam. Snooze.
But despite its stodgy pace and idling, unhurried narrative, there’s plenty to recommend in The Adventure Begins (also released as Unarmed and Dangerous). Craig Safan’s fabulously 1980s synth-drenched score is instantly memorable and the Blu-ray is worth the price of admission just for the breathtaking action sequence set on and around the Statue of Liberty, covered in scaffolding at the time of the filming. Years before CGI and green screen took much of the real skill out of this type of big set-piece, the sequence is all the more impressive because it’s done with real stuntmen on a real location taking what look like insane risks for the sake of a motion picture. It’s a fantastic scene but acrophobics may want to look the other way.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins was a franchise-to-be that arrived stillborn but the intervening years haven’t treated it too shabbily. Tonally it’s all over the place but Fred Ward’s a likeable, craggy lead and, with a better focused script and less comedy shenanigans, Remo Williams really could have been a contender. But sadly, the adventure begins and ends here.
Extras: Commentary / 70-minute documentary on 1980s action cinema / Joel Grey recollections / Collector’s booklet / Trailer