By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Matthau goes globe trotting.
Veteran CIA Agent Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) is angered when his boss Myerson (Ned Beatty) decides to demote him to a desk job due to a technicality. Miles decides to get his revenge by threatening to write a book about his past exploits and divulge top secret information. He does this while traveling the globe and making it almost impossible for the government agents to find him, or keep up with him.
Matthau’s character is very similar to the one he played in Charley Varrick where we’re given someone who looks very much like an average Joe and is unwisely underestimated by those around him only to get the last laugh when he proves how very shrewd he really is. The concept is great and it is a fantastic role for Matthau, but in Charley Varrick we at least had some tension and intrigue because the bad guys where really nasty and Matthau’s cunning was a necessity for survival. Here the bad guy is nothing more than a pompous ass and Miles’s exploits, while clever and slick, are done for his own ego and to have an excuse to show-off. Without having any real threat this charade becomes derivative and redundant.
The idea to cast Glenda Jackson as his love interest and confidant is a strange one. In House Calls the two worked well because they had such contrasting personalities and styles, but here that never plays out and for much of the movie they are not even seen together. Her character is given very little to do and the sparring that made them a hit in their first feature is nowhere to be found here. However, their wine conversation that the two have near the beginning deserves a few points.
The Myerson character is over-the-top enough to get a few cheap laughs. The best moment in the whole film is when Miles hides out at Myerson’s own home and when the FBI surrounds it in order to get him out Myerson has to watch helplessly as all the windows in his place get shot out with bullets. Herbert Lom as the Russian spy Yaskov is appealing simply because after spending years playing a cat and mouse game with Miles the two end up finding a mutual friendship with the other.
The biggest issue I have with the film is the ending. Supposedly Miles has been able to rig an old plane to be remote controlled and then when the agents track it down with a helicopter he blows it up making it look like he went down with it and thus freeing him from being chased anymore. However, aside from the fact that rigging a plane to be remote controlled should prove to be quite complex and beyond the scope of Miles, who may be smart but most likely not that smart there is also the fact that the men in the helicopter can see him on the ground running towards the plane like he was going to get into it. Of course he doesn’t, but instead somehow runs back to a shed where he controls the plane with his remote and then eventually explodes it with a press of a button. My question is, and it is the same one that I had twenty-five years ago when I first saw it, is how is he able to run back to the shed without being detected? It was an open field without any bushes, or trees, which should have made him highly visible to anyone once the plane left the ground. To me this is a cop-out ending done because screenwriter Brian Garfield had exhausted all of his clever ideas and didn’t know how else to finish it, but it is never good when a movie ends with a big loophole.
END OF SPOILER WARNING
Matthau’s laid-back charm is always entertaining even with the weakest of scripts, but he seems to be almost sleepwalking through this one. The musical score is filled with some classical works, which helps.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: September 26, 1980
Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes
Rated R (Due to a plethora of ‘F-Bombs’ said by the Ned Beatty character)
Director: Ronald Neame
Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection), Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video