THE AMBASSADOR (1984) Blu-ray
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Cannon Films took an Elmore Leonard noir novel and somehow turned it into a Middle Eastern political thriller with THE AMBASSADOR, on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

The Middle East is an unstable powder keg with Israeli Jews refusing to give settled land back to the Palestinians, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization refusing to recognize the state of Israel. Although the PLO has recently expressed a willingness to negotiate with Israel, a Syrian splinter group known as SAIKA opposes any compromise and employs violence to upset any peacemaking negotiations. Texas politician and American ambassador Peter Hacker (Robert Mitchum, NIGHTKILL) has somewhat naively stepped into the middle of things with the belief that he can establish peaceful coexistence by appealing to the young and idealistic students on both sides. When the meeting his sets up with PLO representative Assad (Uri Gavriel, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) is ambushed by SAIKA members from the ground and the Mossad (Israeli's secret service) from the sky, both his security officer Frank Stevenson (SECONDS' Rock Hudson in his final film role) and Israeli minister Eretz (Donald Pleasance, HALLOWEEN) urge him to be more cautious if not drop his plans entirely. When the Mossad covertly shoot of a film of Hacker's wife Alex (Ellen Burstyn, THE EXORCIST) in bed with PLO leader Mustapha Hashimi (Fabio Testi, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?) intended to threaten him with a scandal to drop his efforts, they claim ignorance when someone tries to use it to extort Hacker. Stevenson attempts to track down the film from Tel Aviv's only film studio through a series of increasingly undesirable hands while Hacker confronts his wife's lover, seeing Hashimi as the one to help him convince Palestinian students to enter into discussion and debate with the Israelis. As Hacker is stalked by hired hitman Stone (musician Shmulik Kraus), he may be leading himself, Hashimi, and several innocent students into a potential bloodbath when the SAIKA learn of their student summit.

Starting life as an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 52 PICK-UP and ending up with Leonard washing his hands of the project, the resulting script by TV writer Max Jack (THE DAY THE EARTH MOVED) bears only a scant resemblance to the source. Otherwise, it is a hopeless mess of plot threads that seems well-meaning on the surface with its splinter group terrorists and outside assassin while the unscrupulous intelligence gathering of the Mossad falls into the "wrong hands" but it is ultimately a tasteless exploitation film beneath the veneer gloss of Mitchum, Hudson, Burstyn, and Testi headlining a cast (the four billed above the title in the opening credits while only the former three make the front of the Blu-ray cover) made up of just about every Israeli actor of the period (including a handful of youngsters from Cannon's LEMON POPSICLE series). Perhaps more tasteless than the bloodbath at the climax – a sequence that probably would have opened one of Cannon's other less political action films – is that it and all that has come before is supposed to have tested and strengthened the main couple's marital bond (in contrast to the two or three innocents and the trio of villains they face in the original novel where it is the wife's political aspirations that are threatened by the husband's affair). Two years later, Cannon's Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus would mount a more faithful but not significantly better adaptation as 52 PICK-UP with Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret and John Frankenheimer (RONIN) at the helm.

Given scant release by Cannon and an early big box home video release by MGM, THE AMBASSADOR languished on the video shelves through the DVD boom and only earned a manufactured-on-demand DVD-R release through MGM's Limited Edition Collection in 2011 in a barebones anamorphic widescreen transfer. Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is probably from the same master, looking a bit drab as much due to the settings as much as the eighties film stock (the film looks nothing like some of the work cinematographer Adam Greenberg would do stateside starting with the Cannon remake THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN and 10 TO MIDNIGHT before taking on THE TERMINATOR). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track boasts clear dialogue, occasional lively sound design in the action sequences, and calls attention to some of the more subtly-mixed cues of composer Dov Seltzter (enough to notice that he would reuse one of his cues here in his nineties post-Cannon Globus production NIGHT TERRORS). There are no subtitle options.

The sole extra is an audio commentary by editor Mark Goldblatt with film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Goldblatt reveals that he became involved with Cannon through John Thompson (the on-location producer for a number of Cannon's Italian productions during the eighties) based on his work on THE HOWLING, which lead to him editing Golan's ENTER THE NINJA and OVER THE BROOKYN BRIDGE. He reveals that Golan tried to get him hired to work on a number of Cannon productions but some directors perceived him as Golan's stoolie. One of the director's that bit was this film's J. Lee Thompson (KING SOLOMON'S MINES) who defined this period of work as his "working retirement" and was most satisfied along with Golan with Goldblatt's temp-scored rough cut of the film. While Goldblatt conveys his opinions on the film and his other work with prompting from Thompson, Berger makes a case for director Thompson's jobbing filmography (not unlike his attempt with Ted Post's filmography on the commentary for NIGHTKILL) and the personal approach to storytelling and experimental editing belying the seeming impersonal and detached approach of much of his latter day filmography in the same manner one ascribes to Michael Winner's Cannon efforts. The disc also includes domestic and international theatrical trailers (4:47) for the film. (Eric Cotenas)