aka The Killing Man
Director – David Mitchell, Screenplay – Damian Lee & David Mitchell, Story/Producer – Damian Lee, Photography – David Pelletier, Music – David J. Weiss, Special Effects Supervisor – Frank Carere, Production Design – John Gillespie. Production Company – Killing Machine Productions Ltd
Jeff Wincott (Harlin Garrett), Michael Ironside (Mr Green), Terri Hawkes (Dr Ann Kendall), Michael Copeman (Steve Rogers), David Campbell (Turner), Calista Carradine (Jane), Richard Fitzpatrick (Tony Baker), David Bolt (Tom Hanson), Jeff Pustil (David Connors)
A man comes around in a mysterious government facility with no memory of who he is. He is told that he is Harlin Garrett and was a hitman for the criminal underworld. He died in a fire but has been brought back to life. The facility’s controller Mr Green gives Garrett the choice of working for them or being disposed of. Agreeing, Garrett is given the assignment of eliminating a gay activist and then a journalist with orders to make both look like an accident. He is next assigned to seduce Dr Ann Kendall, a lonely researcher at MIT. Ann has found proof that the AIDS virus was artificially manufactured but Green and his people want this information quashed. However, Garrett develops feelings for Ann and defies Green and his organization to protect her.
The Killing Machine is a Canadian-made action film. Producer Damian Lee regularly makes these B-budget action films, occasionally stepping in to direct. Although, when it comes to genre material, Lee’s directorial hand has usually been dreadful, he having made the hysterically awful likes of Gnaw: Food of the Gods Part II (1989) and Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe (1991). Director David Mitchell has worked as a producer for Lee and as director has made various action films, as well as a surprising number of frat rat comedies set around skiing with the likes of Copper Mountain (1983), Ski Hard (1995) and Ski School 2 (1995).
The Killing Machine starts out promisingly as a variant on the resurrected/reprogrammed action hero. At least the way the video box advertises it, the film seems to be a variant on Universal Soldier (1992) and its plot about soldiers being resurrected and turned into fighting machines. But one of the frustrations that quickly comes is that the film never clarifies whether the government agency has physically resurrected Jeff Wincott from the dead after he was burned in a fire, or they are merely referring to him being dead in the sense that that is what everyone believes he is and/or that he has made a near-miraculous recovery from his burns. Certainly, if Wincott’s character has been literally resurrected, there is zero discussion of the means whereby the government agency has done so. In fact, what we have here comes closer to the then recent Luc Besson hit Nikita/La Femme Nikita (1990) about an underworld figure being turned and made to fight for a covert government agency. Although, the work that The Killing Machine comes closest to is the Destroyer novels and the plot set-up of the film version Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985).
The Killing Machine starts out quite well in the scenes with the amnesiac Jeff Wincott trying to make sense of who he is and learning that he used to be a mob hitman. In these scenes, The Killing Machine almost seems on the verge of turning the idea of the resurrected action hero a la Universal Solider into a moodily internal Soul of the Assassin piece. Alas, director David Mitchell doesn’t display enough of an ability to get inside the hero or transcend the action movie formula and The Killing Machine remains prosaically centred around the action scenes.
The film starts to go out on a limb in a big way when it first has Jeff Wincott despatched to kill a gay rights activist (by posing as his chauffeur and, it is suggested, allowing the man to seduce him) and next being sent to eliminate Terri Hawkes and cover up evidence that proves that the AIDS virus was artificially manufactured. The film starts to become interesting from this point, as one has no idea where it is taking these ideas. The action film is a notably red-blooded heterosexual he-man genre – there has never for example ever been a gay action hero, at most gay characters in action films are regarded as comic fodder, at worst the butt of derisive putdowns – so The Killing Machine venturing into these areas can be greeted as either a film being interestingly liberal or bravely sticking its red-blooded neck out into decidedly un-PC areas and something potentially highly offensive. Alas, neither turns out to be the case, as The Killing Machine does nothing whatsoever with these ideas. Having raised the idea of AIDS being artificially created, the script fails to do the next logical thing and ask the looming question of who it was that manufactured it and why, not to mention the question of why Michael Ironside’s shadowy unnamed government agency wants the evidence eliminated. What the film needed was some climactic speech from Michael Ironside’s villain where he offers an explanation for everything that is going on.
The script soon settles down and becomes no more than a bunch of cliches about a lone action hero taking a stand against a gang of evildoers. There is no doubt from the outset that Jeff Wincott’s hero, despite his past as a hitman and willing readiness to step back into such activities, will eventually turn against his masters. The latter half of the film even turns away from the hitman on assignment angle and sidetracks off into another plot altogether with Jeff Wincott seducing and becoming involved with Terri Hawkes and the threat of her jealous wannabe boyfriend Michael Copeman starting to uncover Wincott’s past.
Director David Mitchell later went onto make The Ultimate Killing Machine (2006), also about men being resurrected as soldiers, although that does not appear to be a sequel or related to this. David Mitchell’s one other film of genre note was the action film City of Shadows (1986) about a cop pursuing his serial killer brother.
(Review copy provided courtesy of Ryan Kenner from Movies in the Attic).