HIRED TO KILL (1990) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Nico Mastorakis, Peter Rader
Arrow Video USA

Nico Mastorakis' immaculately cheesy action flick HIRED TO KILL hits Blu-ray/DVD combo via Arrow Video on both sides of the pond.

"Brat pack" mercenary Frank Ryan (Brian Thompson, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2) needs "a few good women" when he is hired by businessman Thomas (George Kennedy, BOLERO) to bust out imprisoned leftist rebel Petros (Jose Ferrer, BLOOD TIDE) – aka "The Brother" – to overthrow the bankrupt US government-installed military dictatorship of the island of Cypra before it can get in bed with the competition. Posing as gay fashion designer Cecil Thornton, Ryan and his team are to travel to Cypra to debut his collection at the invitation of minister of cultural affairs Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed, BURNT OFFERINGS) who is looking for good publicity amidst rumors of death squads. Together with former associate Sheila (Barbara Niven, PSYCHO COP RETURNS) – eager to prove herself after abandoning Ryan during a previous mission – and Daphne (Kendall Conrad, WAXWORK), the daughter of an exiled former Cypra cultural attaché, Ryan recruits smuggler Sivi (Kim Lonsdale) from a Turkish prison, treasonous ex-CIA agent Joanna (Jordana Capra, MIRACLE MILE) from San Quentin prison, catatonic and mute knife expert Katrina (Penelope Reed, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD II) from a Sardinian asylum, and former Israeli assassin turned American fashion photographer Dahlia (Jude Mussetter, LESS THAN ZERO) to "look good, move well, and kill quick" (cue a dual training montage in which the women practice combat and their moves on the catwalk while Ryan gets his hair gelled and learns to tie a tie). Upon arrival in Cypra, they find Bartos seeking confirmation of Cecil's sexuality imposing his mistress Ana (Michelle Moffett, DEATHSTALKER IV) on the fashion show as a possible spy. After hooking up with island contact "May" and Louis (David Sawyer, CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT), one of Bartos' guards turned double agent, Ryan and his team learn that Petros is to be moved to a high security facility and will be stopping overnight in a remote fortress. Under the guise of seeking a scenic backdrop for a photo shoot, the team plot to take out Bartos' guards and infiltrate the fortress; but there are spies everywhere and possibly a traitor within Ryan's team of misfits.

Set across the globe but shot in Greece – with Ryan's training residence the same Corfu mansion seen recently in Mondo Macabro's arty Greek exploitation flick MEDOUSA – HIRED TO KILL is not only Mastorakis' highest-budgeted and most technically ambitious production, but also a surprisingly quirky and immaculately cheesy take on the action genre. Boasting expansive Corfu locations slick lensed by Mastorakis' regular Greek cinematographer Andreas Bellis (THE WIND) and Steadicam operator Anastas N. Michos (TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D) and multiple quick cut fashion montages highlighting the toned and tanned bodies of its female cast, the film is consistently entertaining even before the pyrotechnics-filled climax. Usually cast as punks and imposing muscle, Thompson is quite engaging in an early lead role up against Reed (whose offscreen antics seem to have deflated his performance somewhat). Kennedy and Ferrer get by with their dignity while the uneven female cast mostly acquit themselves well, as does Sawyer as the only other guy in Ryan's team. Besides the training montages and fashion shoots, we also get a pan pipe-scored, backlit sex scene, a couple girl-fights, and a series of detonations triggered by Lonsdale while reciting "This Little Piggy." The aerial stunts were coordinated by Mark Wolff (A VIEW TO A KILL) and photographed by Adam Dale (CLIFFHANGER).

Whereas Arrow Video's release of THE ZERO BOYS was extremely grainy in places (true to the original cinematography), HIRED TO KILL's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks slick, sharp, and bright throughout, owing to its sunny settings and the more polished photography. The original Ultra Stereo mix is provided in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo while a 5.1 remix is oddly given a lossy Dolby Digital encoding (presumably culled from Mastorakis 2000 remaster). Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Accompanying the film is an audio commentary with editor Barry Zetlin, moderated by Michael Felsher, which is more of a career-wide discussion starting with his beginnings with Roger Corman doing animation on BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and editing GALAXY OF TERROR (on which he claims that James Cameron directed the worm rape scene) to his brief dalliance with Cannon (BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO) to Charles Band (from Tim Kincaid's and David DeCoteau's no-budget T&A to GHOULIES 2) to the second incarnation of New World (he was responsible for moving the diner scene to the end to try to create a shock ending for CHUD) and the MPAA slashing of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (pointing out that the cutting made some death scenes seem more brutal while the uncut versions were meant to be cartoonishly excessive). The discussion finally turns to Mastorakis at just over the one hour mark with Zetlin becoming involved with Mastorakis through co-director Peter Rader on the Mastorakis-produced GRAMDMOTHER'S HOUSE. He recalls the opportunity to edit the film on location in Greece as well as the tragedy that befell production (more on that below).

In "Hired to Direct" (27:25), Mastorakis describes the film as "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN with women" and using his then son-in-law Thompson on the lead. He reveals that co-director Rader was in over his head with the larger scale production and contrasts Reed's bad behavior with that of other professionals Ferrer and Kennedy. He also recalls the tragic helicopter crash that took the life of one of the film's stunt performers, Clint Carpenter, to whom the film is dedicated. Peppered throughout the featurette are samplings of the German, Italian, and French dubs of the film. In "Undercover Mercenary" (17:33), Thompson discusses his nepotistic casting, Reed's behavior during the climactic shot, and suggests that Rader's focus was clouded by his attraction to co-star Moffett. He does become emotional discussing the helicopter crash but is generally light-hearted and amusing (especially when discussing the funny in retrospect problem with an actress' bust for a topless scene). The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:50), stills gallery (7:18), and the original "Freedom or Death" screenplay PDF as BD-ROM and DVD-ROM extras. Not supplied for review were the reversible sleeve (featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys) and the fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver. (Eric Cotenas)