Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Spy Who Flubbed Me: AGENT ON ICE (1986)

Bondsploitation is one of the things we haven’t really had a chance to delve deeply into on the blog outside of the occasional review here and there.  It is something we’ve considered doing one of our theme weeks (meaning a month, really) on, but we just can’t handle the pressure of doing it right now as the thought scares the living daylights out of us.  After all, this is a huge subgenre as since James Bond’s cinematic debut in DR. NO (1962) anybody who had a tux, a camera and an actor with a British accent felt they could cash in. Hundreds of Bond variations have come from literally every corner of the globe and most have left audiences shaken and not stirred (ah, boo yourself). Logistics aside, I also don’t think the world is quite ready for Tom’s master thesis on the spy world styling of Lindsay Shonteff.  Until it is, we’ll keep doing one off reviews for your eyes only and our latest entry is this oddball ‘80s espionage flick.

AGENT ON ICE lives up to its title almost immediately as it opens in Hungary (translation: upstate New York) as man named Jacobi (Peter Wing) is skidded off the road (with a 2x4 win nails in it covered in snow) and killed by a man with an axe in the snow covered hills.  Seems our opening victim is a former undercover CIA agent and his killer is Frank Matera (Louis Pastore, who also co-produced and co-wrote).  Naturally, this sends the agency into a tizzy since mafia man Matera was supposed to have been killed by a team consisting of Jacobi, Salzman (Jaroslav Stremien), Melby (Richard Maynard) and station chief John Pope (Tom Ormeny).  Bossman Kirkpatrick (Clifford David) and his underling Cory (Thomas Kopache) are disturbed by the event, but obviously not disturbed enough to notify and warn Pope, who is now a drunk and working as an insurance adjuster with a pending divorce.  Damn, talk about civilian life transition shock.  One minute you’re fighting for your country, the next you are thumping guys who are trying to file phony claims.

Anyway, Matera returns to the United States (dressed as a priest) and, with the help of his brother Joey (Matt Craven), decides to enact revenge on the spooks who tried to snuff him out.  But not before going to visit mama, who looks like Roseanne Barr.  Yes, all good Italian boys listen to their mama (and get creepy oil backrubs from her).  Frank leaves the business of killing Pope to his kid brother, who proves time and again not to be cutout for this line of work.  First, he misses Pope by a mile while trying to run him down with a car. Later, he shoots up Pope’s office, but forgets to check if it is really a body under that blanket on the couch.  Nope!  Pope is on to you and, after chasing down the car (he slips and falls on his ass in what I’m sure was a goof), he sinks his teeth into finding out just who is trying to get him.  As he tells Salzman, “I’ve got no present and I’ve got no future, so it must be someone from my past.” And you wonder why his wife left his cheery ass.  Anyway, Joey actually succeeds in kidnapping and killing Melby (the kidnapping happens in broad daylight right in front of his house).  Pope teams up with Salzman, who now spends his time running a mortuary, and gets little help from Kirkpatrick and Cory.  This is hardly a surprise as both these G-Men are in the heroin business with Matera, but they don’t like him showing back up in America and ruffling their business feathers.  So why don’t they just have Pope eliminate Matera?  Who knows?  All I know is Pope is one hell of an honest insurance investigator (he chokes a guy offering him a cut of a fake claim), so he probably won’t like his former CIA bosses being dirty.

Although my plot summary makes AGENT ON ICE sound rather mundane, it does have some oddball entertainment value. Director Clark Worswick and producer/writer/star Louis Pastore were responsible for the cult mafia flick FAMILY HONOR (1973) and felt enough of their collaboration to re-team a decade plus later.  Worswick has a pretty interesting history, having been a teenager who moved to Afghanistan in the 1950s and began a prolific photography career by snapping the heretofore unseen sights of the Middle East.  Unfortunately, his eye for the exotic doesn’t extend to this film.  Truthfully, there are some good shots here (the capturing of NYC in the winter is great) but everything is so humdrum at times.  It doesn’t help the film that our action hero John Pope is a normal looking guy who looks like George Stover’s handsome brother and the angriest we see him is when confronting a guy trying to commit insurance fraud. Seriously, Pope doesn’t even get angry when he is shot multiple times.  The staging is also so bizarre at times.  For example, there is a bit where Melby’s wife calls the CIA to find out where her missing husband is.  The minute she gets off the phone, she turns on the TV to see a live news report about NYC’s rivers and – shock of shocks – the reporter stumbles upon Melby’s dead body.  L…O…L!  Later Pope shows up at the wife’s house and, expert spy that he is draws a gun on her kid when the boy makes the mistake of wandering in the room and dropping a toy.  This is done for dramatic effect, but comes off so silly especially with the synth score by Ian Carpenter blasting on the soundtrack.

The biggest pleasure (if you can call it that) I took away from the film is some really strange dialogue.  I’m always a sucker for a film that aims high and ends up completely off the map in the screenplay department.  Characters in this say some of the oddest things.  For example, Pope has an Irish secretary who berates his slovenly ways and then delivers the classic line, “I took good care of my husband and he never complained. He just died.”  Isn’t that the ultimate complaint?  WTF?  Later there is a scene where Pope is outside a little NYC grocery store and the following exchange takes place.

Pope: “You got any gloves”
Owner: “No, we’re out of gloves. You want condoms? How big are you? Me? I’m two inches…from the ground. I’ll give you a good deal on a gross. What’s that for a stud like you, a month’s worth? C’mon.”
Pope: “I gave it up for Lent.”
Owner: “Hey, listen, you hear the one about the penguins and the nuns?”

WTF x 20!  My all-time personal favorite though was Salzman talking to an underling about doing the make up on a corpse and how to treat the family when they come for the viewing. “If I see you paint a flower, I’ll feed your balls to my parakeet,” he threatens.  As our good buddy Jack Burton would say, “I don’t even know what the hell that means.”

Obviously this movie isn’t going to replace the Bond films and is never going to be better than even the worst Bond film. Well, it is better than THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999). But if you are looking for some oddball espionage with some vintage ‘80s NYC location shooting, you can’t go wrong with AGENT ON ICE.  Of course, you can’t go right either.

Believe it or not, this got into theaters in May 1986:


Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. I used to work at the Shoppingtown Theatres, but I started in '87. I have no recollection of this playing with BLOOD BEACH at the Lakeshore, because I would've seen that double bill. I must've been out of town that weekend.

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