If Looks Could Kill (1991) poster

If Looks Could Kill (1991)


aka Teen Agent

USA. 1991.


Director – William Dear, Screenplay – Darren Star, Story – Fred Dekker, Producers – Neil Meron & Craig Zadan, Photography – Doug Millsome, Music – David Foster, Visual Effects – Introvision (Supervisor – William Mesa), Special Effects Supervisor – Martin Malivoire, Production Design – Guy J. Comtois. Production Company – Craig Zadan.


Richard Grieco (Michael Corben), Roger Rees (Augustus Steranko), Gabrielle Anwar (Marishka), Linda Hunt (Ilsa Grunt), Michael Silberry (Richardson), Robin Bartlett (Miss Grober), Tom Rack (The Abolisher)


When someone starts killing off European finance ministers, British Intelligence call upon the help of a top agent known only by the codename Michael Corben. At the same time, high-school student Michael Corben heads to France with his summer school French class. Unknown to him, the secret agent Michael Corben is also on the plane but is shot by enemy agents. Upon arrival, the teen Corben is then mistaken for Corben the agent. Outfitted with hi-tech gadgets, he is immediately plunged into the world of espionage where he has to stop one crazed finance minister who is planning to overtake Europe.

Everyone thinks that the fad for spy movie/James Bond parodies began with Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery (1997) but that was never the first to do so. It is hard to work out exactly which film was the first spy movie parody – many of the copies of the James Bond cycle back in the 1960s became so comically silly they could easily be classified as such – a perfect example might be Our Man Flint (1966). What you could call the modern spy movie parodies, which contain specific callbacks to the Bond films and spoofing of their style and cliches began here with If Looks Could Kill..

The next few years saw a number of James Bond and spy spoofs with the likes of James Cameron’s True Lies (1994), Spy Hard (1996) and Stephen Chow’s hilarious From Beijing with Love (1994). It was only after this that Austin Powers came and conducted the Bond movie spoof with considerable sophistication, not to mention took it to considerable mainstream success and spawned a whole fad for spy movie spoofs. (For a more detailed overview of the genre see my essay Spy Films).

One can get William Dear, Fred Dekker and co’s idea with If Looks Could Kill, of parodying the Bond films – sending up all the tuxedos, super-cars, casino sequences, super-villains, Q gadget scenes, henchmen and so on. However, good parody requires more than simply quoting scenes in extended slapstick sequences. The Dr No (1962) scorpion sequence is lampooned but it has no sophistication – the scorpion is dropped down a girl’s slip and in her struggles she knocks a stereo on and her subsequent death throes are mistaken for a dance. The film’s more appropriate level of humour comes in the scenes seeing Richard Grieco’s friend Michael Silberry using milkshake as shaving cream and then drinking it, or trying to stick his tongue in a girl’s ear.

Teen agent Richard Grieco along with Gabrielle Anwar in If Looks Could Kill (1991)
Teen agent Richard Grieco along with Gabrielle Anwar

If Looks Could Kill is passable as entertainment but only in an inane way. If it had been approached with style, pace and zaniness it might have been something. It seems to only have been construed as a vehicle to exploit the heartthrob popularity of teen idol Richard Grieco, then the star of tv’s 21 Jump Street (1987-92) and its spinoff Booker (1989-90). I mean how can one take seriously a James Bond copy who is played by a sloppy teen who wears mascara? Peculiarly, several of the characters throughout the film are named after comic-book artists – Richard Corben, Jim Steranko.

Director William Dear has had a strong genre association, having made the time-travel film Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1983), the cute Bigfoot film Harry and the Hendersons/Bigfoot and the Hendersons (1987), the remake of Angels in the Outfield (1994), the tv movie Santa Who (2006), the horror film Simon Says (2006) and the baseball fantasy The Sandlot: Heading Home (2007).

The film was also conceived by Fred Dekker who directed the genre homages Night of the Creeps (1986) and The Monster Squad (1987) and later went onto make Robocop 3 (1993).

Trailer here

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