Sunday, July 30, 2017
Three things are conspicuously absent from one-time only director Oscar Santaniello's ''Bounty Killer for Trinity" (**1/2 OUT OF ****) that he co-helmed with the notorious Aristide Massaccesi, a.k.a. Joe D’Amato, who served not only as co-writer but also cinematographer. First, we don’t see those rugged, sculptured, Spanish mountains. Second, where are those ubiquitous and a Gatling guns/machine guns? Finally, the hero isn’t captured and beaten within an inch of his life. Otherwise, this made-in-Italy oater is standard-issue. The hero dresses like Lee Van Cleef’s Colonel Mortimer from "For A Few Dollars More," and he rides around with an arsenal that includes a crossbow. The crossbow is nice touch, and he gets around to using it the same way Woody Strode did in “The Professionals,” attaching dynamite to the arrows. Another nice touch is that our hero sometimes runs out of bullets during the gunfights and seems surprised by this revelation. Otherwise, this town taming western will keep you entertained if you love double-digit body counts, meatball villains, and over-the-top dubbing. Jeff Cameron, a.k.a. Goffredo Scarciofolo, who made as many as twenty Spaghettis, doesn't pack a whole lot of charisma. Little is known about Scarciofolo who made Spaghetti westerns and sword & sandal epics. According to the Internet Movie Database, Scarcifolo made his cinematic debut in 1962 in director Michele Lupo’s “Colossus of the Arena.” As long as he keeps knocking down bad guys like ten-pins in a bowling alley, Scarciofolo makes a stalwart, if not greedy hero. He insists that he get paid $2-thousand for each man that he kills along with any bounty on the dastards. He also gets a down payment of $6-thousand dollars from one of the town fathers. Interestingly, no sooner has he cleared out the bad guys in Trinity than he receives a summons to provide the same action in Carson City!
The frontier town of Trinity is as beleaguered by a rabid outlaw gang as the poor peasants were by rogue bandits in “The Magnificent Seven.” The desperate city fathers don’t immediately resort to a high-priced vigilante. Initially, they turn to the government, but the harmless old geezer sent doesn’t stand a chance against these trigger-happy hellions. The bandits promptly liquidate him without batting an eyelash. Basically, they have an inside source on the city council. Unfortunately, the identity of this quisling, Pizarro (Antonio Cantafora of “Demons 2”), is revealed almost immediately so we don’t have a chance to figure out who he is based on our own ingenuity. The Elios studio sets, Osanna Guardini’s wardrobe, and the sounds of the gunshots are distinctly Spaghetti western. One thing that I enjoy the most about European westerns are those gunshot reports. American westerns have nothing to compare with them. Sadly, the formulaic screenplay by Joe D’Amata and “Zombie Holocaust” scripter Romano Scandariato contains no surprises, and characterization is restricted to the costumes wore by each actor or actress. “Django the Bastard” composer Vasili Kojucharov’s orchestral score isn't worth searching for on either vinyl or CD, but at least it isn’t the bottom of the barrel. Nevertheless, Spaghetti western fans will find this trim, 85-minute horse opera devoid of pretentions. The interesting side note is that the town is named Trinity, presumably because Trinity suggests good memories of Terence Hill as the comic gunslinger. Although production designer Oscar Santaniello received credit as the helmer, I have the feeling that prolific veteran Aristide Massaccesi may have exert more artistry on this western.
“Extreme Prejudice” director Walter Hill’s most audacious crime thriller “The Assignment” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) might eventually emerge as a cult item after the controversial LGBT criticism about it dies down. This exploitative Canadian independent film release concerns a disgruntled female plastic surgeon who turns a professional, pistol-packing assassin into a female without either his knowledge or consent. “You’ve been a very bad man,” Dr. Rachel Jane (Sigourney Weaver of “Alien”) condemns homicidal Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez of “The Fast and The Furious”), in an audio recording left behind for our protagonist to listen to after his surgery. “This is your opportunity for redemption.” Basically, Dr. Jane radically changed Frank because the latter had iced her worthless, cocaine-snorting, playboy brother, Sebastian (Adrian Hough of “Underworld: Evolution”), who was drowning in debt to the Miami mob. Dr. Jane had given her brother enough money to liquidate his gambling debts, but he recklessly blew every cent. After her brother’s demise, she spent a small fortune tracking down the elusive Kitchen. Improbably, Jane believed the sex change would make Kitchen into a better woman than a man! After our angry protagonist recovered sufficiently from this shocking ordeal, he sets out to exact a terrible toll on those dastards who had a hand in the appalling sex change operation that turned his life upside-down. Along the way, Kitchen realizes that a long-time, criminal accomplice, Honest John Hartunian (Anthony LaPaglia of “Empire Records”), whom he had trusted, sold him out to Jane. When everything becomes clear to him, Kitchen realizes an attractive nurse, Johnnie (Caitlin Gerard of “Magic Mike”), with whom he had a one-night tumble, was also a part of the set-up.
While the hopelessly frustrated Kitchen contends with his own quandary, the megalomaniacal surgeon, Dr. Jane (Sigourney Weaver of “Alien”), who quotes Shakespeare and considers herself an artist, has been locked up at the Mendocino Psychiatric Facility in Northern California. Psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Galen (Tony Shalhoub of “Men in Black”) must evaluate Jane, lashed up in a straitjacket for her own good, to determine if she is competent to stand trial for a massacre at her clandestine surgical facility. After receiving an anonymous tip, the San Francisco Police had taken Jane into custody. They found the good doctor unconscious on her own operating table surrounded by four bullet-riddled men. Jane’s male surgical nurse and sometime lover Albert Becker (Ken Kirzinger of “Freddy vs. Jason”) lies dead with a pistol in his hand. Ballistics matched the slugs from Becker’s gun that he had used to kill not only the three men, but also to wound Jane in the shoulder. Meanwhile, Kitchen sets out to find Dr. Jane after gunning down several other criminal contacts that he suspects may have conspired with Jane. Kitchen’s luck runs out initially when she confronts Jane. Jane’s henchmen take our transgendered heroine captive, but they fail to frisk her. Ultimately, this proves to be a fatal mistake. Meantime, Dr. Galen refuses to believe Dr. Jane’s alibi that Kitchen shot her three bodyguards, Albert, and wounded her. A major point of contention between them is the existence of Frank Kitchen. Galen doesn’t believe the man exists, despite Dr. Jane’s assertions to the contrary. Instead, he is convinced Jane “invented Frank Kitchen to protect the memory of Albert Becker.”
Predictably, “The Assignment” provides Hill with an opportunity to orchestrate several indiscriminate, B-movie fire-fights that easily rack up a double-digit body count. Apart from its bizarre premise, this gritty exercise in murder and mayhem resembles one of Walter Hill’s brutal, old-fashioned, shoot’em ups. Hill has helmed classics like “48 HRS,” “Hard Times,” “Last Man Standing,” “Bullet to the Head,” “The Driver” and “Red Heat.” Unfortunately, despite gunfire galore and the glee with which our merciless protagonist devastates the opposition, Michelle Rodriguez is not entirely convincing as a guy. The biggest liability is the bogus beard that looks like it has been attached to her face with glue. Meanwhile, Hill achieves more success with computer-generated-imagery. Rodriguez cavorts about in private during an early scene as a nude dude displaying a hairy chest and abundant male genitalia. Not surprisingly, Rodriguez makes the most of this outlandish role, and she finds herself trapped in some confrontations that are quite entertaining in a pulp fiction way. Sigourney Weaver has a field day as the cold-as-a-scalpel surgeon who castrated Frank. Deep down, Weaver’s Dr. Jane is thoroughly despicable; she would have been in good company with Hitler’s demented surgeons who exploited Jewish prisoners in the Nazi death camps. Categorically, Weaver steals the show with her nuanced performance and detailed character. All the other characters blend into the background with British Columbia locales that have been dressed to resemble San Francisco. “The Assignment” evokes memories of an earlier Hill epic “Johnny Handsome.” In that movie, a deformed gangster went under the knife, and the surgical procedure changed him into a nice guy. Inevitably, his evil past came back to haunt him. For the record, “Turk 182” scenarist Denis Hamill dreamed up “The Assignment” back in 1978, and Hill rewrote it many times before finally making it. Ironically, during the first few minutes of the film, we hear Kitchen confess that he had killed a lot of people during his time, and his comeuppance (the sex-change operation) was preferable to death. Admittedly, Hill and Hamill have a tough time making this sex change gimmick work. Nothing about Kitchen’s discovery about his castration is played strictly for laughs, and Hill and Hamill keep “The Assignment” from degenerating into lowest-common-denominator camp. Whether you’re either transgendered or a traditional enthusiast of hard-boiled thrillers, “The Assignment” (talk about a generic title) will take you by surprise, if it doesn’t ultimately alienate you. Obviously, this is just the kind of movie that few people would want to see, and perhaps least of all want others to know that they had seen. For fans of 75-year old writer & director Walter Hill, “The Assignment” qualifies as a departure from the norm that delivers.