For every Hollywood franchise to complete the victory lap, there are those unfortunate ventures which fall at the first hurdle. The latter was definitely the case with 1985’s Remo Williams: The Adventure Begin, which is brought back to life in this peerless transfer from Arrow Video. From the film’s subtitle alone, it’s clear there was the intention of turning this adaptation of a series of pulp action novels into a long-running big screen development, further signposted by bringing veteran Bond director Guy Hamilton onboard. It’s certainly easy to see why it didn’t fly, yet amongst the film’s many issues, there’s an intriguing protagonist and origin story struggling to get out.
In what could be an early precursor to the Bourne adventures, the film begins with the death of an honest and hard-working war-hero-turned cop (an awkward-looking Fred Ward) being faked by a shadowy government agency. Waking up to find his face has been surgically-altered (cinematic shortcut: moustache shaved off and new haircut) the cop has also been given a new name, identity and a role within the organisation who orchestrated his ‘demise’. Assisted by head spook Wilford Brimley and his all-seeing super computer (which looks surprisingly like a clunky prototype of YouTube) Remo, now a contract killer, is put under the tutelage of an elderly Yoda-type Korean martial arts expert, Chiun (played by Cabaret’s Joel Gray, complete with eyelid prosthesis and generic Far East accent).
Aesthetically, Remo Williams resembles a handsomely-budgeted eighties action show. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing (you half expect to see that freeze-frame executive producer credits at the end), the stilted stop and start nature of the narrative, combined with the thoroughly uninvolving, poorly-defined villains, does little to transcend that small-screen feel. It lacks the verve of either Indiana Jones or Bond (the closest comparison in that era), and the main character’s sudden upheaval and new life as a patriotic US assassin is never really addressed in a thoughtful or interesting way. That’s not to say that it’s a complete wash-out. The film comes to vivid life during Remo’s ridiculous yet hugely entertaining training sequences, and there are flashes of inventiveness and personality elsewhere. It’s just a shame that more often than not, the film feels like a stunt performance showreel – complete with distracting pre-CG concealing wire work – with not enough investment in character or pacing.