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NO MAN ON EARTH COULD GET HIM OUT OF PRISON ALIVE. SEVEN WOMEN WILL TRY.

Starring legendary actors Oliver Reed (Gladiator, The Brood) and George Kennedy (The Delta Force and The Naked Gun series), Hired to Kill is an essential slice of ‘90s action fare featuring guns, girls and a plethora of budget-busting explosions for good measure.
Action movie staple Brian Thompson (whose brief turn in 1984’s The Terminator led to a starring role in the 1986 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cobra) stars as Frank Ryan, a mercenary sent to track down a rebel leader in hostile territory. Posing as a fashion designer, he won’t be going it alone, as he’ll be aided by seven beautiful – but deadly – female fighters.

Whilst the opportunity to see Oliver Reed chewing up the scenery behind an elaborate moustache merits the price of the admission alone, Hired to Kill is also noteworthy as being co-directed by Nico Mastorakis – the man behind such cult favourites as Island of Death and The Zero Boys.
(Taken from the official synopsis.)

Video


Arrow originally advertised this release as being remastered in 4K, and indeed the specs on the sleeve support this. However, in a recent change on its website Arrow has downgraded Hire to Kill to a 2K remaster. Frankly I was somewhat amazed when I saw the '4K' announcement, so it makes sense that it was an error. Even so the image is surprisingly detailed and free from defects for a low-budget direct-to-video film from the late eighties, with only the odd speck of dirt to be found here and there. The colour palette is natural in that eighties sort of way, but contrast is a little on the flat side, which lends the entire picture a slightly washed out look. Still, the overall impression is good and given its direct-to-video nature I doubt the film looked this impressive during its original run!

Audio


The audio portion of the disc highlights another discrepancy between the advertised specs and the contents of the disc. Before it was revised the Arrow website claimed that a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track would be included, and once again the cover art supports this. However, that listing is no longer shown on the website and the on-disc track is of the vanilla Dolby Digital 5.1 variety. Frankly it's probably no great loss given the original quality of the track and the artificial, compressed sounding nature of the remix, but it's uncharacteristic of Arrow to makes so many errors with its technical specifications. In any case, I stuck with the original 2.0 Stereo track, which is of the LPCM variety.

The original track is about what you'd expect from a film of this ilk, which is to say functional but hardly likely to get the pulse pounding. Dialogue is nice and clear, but it's tinny at the high end and there's no low end to speak of, even during the film's final act when things are blowing up left, right and centre. The cheesy 80s/90s soundtrack is also well-represented, but again it's nothing to write home about.

Extras


A fair modest collection of bonus material (by Arrow standards) is included, but then this was never likely to be the subject of a feature-length making of documentary. In any case, the extras break down like so:

  • Audio Commentary with editor Barry Zetlin
  • Hired to Direct: A brand new interview with director Nico Mastorakis on the making of Hired to Kill
  • Undercover Mercenary: A brand new interview with star Brian Thompson
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Stills Gallery
  • Original Freedom or Death Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM Content)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver

Overall


Although released in 1990, Hired to Kill is undeniably eighties. The clichés are all there, from the gruff,  muscle-bound hero with misogynistic tendencies and bevy of scantily clad beautiful babes (who look like rejects from a music video), to the obligatory training montage and gay kiss. Um, okay, so perhaps that last one is a bit of a curve-ball, but watching Brian Thompson and Oliver Reed awkwardly lock lips is actually quite amusing! Still, that's just about all of the enjoyment I got from Hired to Kill, which takes an eternity to get going. Sure, the final act sees the prerequisite number of nameless henchmen dispatched by our fearless 'girls with guns', but by then I'd all but lost interest. There are a couple of neat helicopter shots, but even those are hard to enjoy after you learn that a stuntman was killed during filming. Once upon a time I might have gotten a kick out of this sort of film—hell, I used to love the American Ninja films as a kid—but these days I'm a little more discerning. In my opinion it's a step down from Cannon's Chuck Norris output, which is probably all you need to know to decide whether or not it's for you…

Thankfully if this kind of film is your cup of tea you can at least be content with the fact that it looks and sounds just about as good as it's likely to get. The 4K inconsistency is neither here nor there for me, but I was a little disappointed to find that the advertised multichannel lossless soundtrack was actually lossy, but then again it sounds terribly artificial so the lossless stereo offering is probably the way to go anyway. The bonus material, while not as plentiful as some Arrow releases, is still entertaining and provides insight into the film-making process. This is definitely a release for the fans, or at the very least for fans of by the numbers B movies (or even C movies).

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the true quality of the source.

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