Tag Archives: Val Avery

Russian Roulette (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to stop assassination.

When a Soviet leader decides to visit Vancouver the Russian Embassy puts the Canadian authorities on alert about Rudolf Henke (Val Avery) who moved to Canada many years back, but is reported to still hold grudges about the Soviet Union and could be a sniper threat. Timothy Shaver (George Segal) is then secretly hired to kidnap Henke while the Soviet leader is in town and then let him go once that leader has left. However, when Shaver gets to Henke’s apartment he finds out that he has already been abducted by somebody else, which leads him to believe that he is being made a pawn to an even bigger conspiracy and that he may become their next victim.

The story is based on the novel ‘Kosygin is Coming’ by Tom Ardies and the first 45 minutes of this are actually quite diverting. Director Lou Lombardo gave his actors the freedom to ad-lib and he instills some quirky humor, which made me believe this was going to be a new wave-like actioner that deftly mixes in the offbeat perspective with a story that had an intriguing mystery angle.

Unfortunately the second half devolves into cheesy action flick with all the usual formulaic trappings. The biggest problem is introducing the Russian bad guys who speak in inauthentic, corny accents that made them become like caricatures that lessens the tension instead of heightening it. The film would’ve been better served had it not shown the villains at all until the very end and kept things solely focused on Segal as he tries desperately to figure out what is going on while being chased by a mysterious group of people whose motives are unclear.

There are a couple of stupid moments as well.  One of them occurs when Segal and his girlfriend played by Cristina Rains return home. She immediately runs into the bathroom to take a pee, but then just as quickly comes back out wearing a strange expression. Segal then walks in to see a dead body of a murdered stranger sitting on the toilet. I know this may make me sound like a sexist to some, but the truth is women have a tendency to scream when they are startled and sometimes for a lot less than an unexpected sight of a corpse in their bathroom, so having her not instinctually scream here (hell even I would’ve probably let out a shrill yell at that point) is dumb.

Another part has Segal and Rains handcuffed and sitting in a backseat of a car that is being driven by one of the Russian bad guys. Segal, in an apparent attempt to escape, kicks the Russian guy in the back of his head, which sends the car reeling off the road and overturning into a ditch. However, this to me seemed dangerous because what guarantees that Segal and Rains wouldn’t be injured when that occurs. As it turns out the driver ends up conveniently dying in the crash, but miraculously the couple get out of the badly banged up car without even a single scratch, which is beating astronomical odds!

Segal wasn’t the best choice for the role. He spent the 70’s decade playing mostly in light comedies and romances, which he is more adept at, but presumably took the part to help stretch his acting resume and avoid being typecast. It doesn’t fully work and there were other actors who would’ve been better able to reflect the film’s gritty tone although watching Segal do mostly his own stunt work as he climbed out to the top of the roof of The Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver does deserve kudos.

The supporting cast proves to be more interesting. I enjoyed seeing Louise Fletcher in her second movie after coming out of a 10-year hiatus. She has only a small role here, but she makes an impression nonetheless and it’s interesting seeing her play a person with such a sunny disposition when later that same year she portrayed the dour Nurse Ratched, which only proves what a talented actress she really is.

Val Avery is equally good in a part that has no lines of dialogue, by his own insistence, but still ends up being a scene stealer not only at the end when he stumbles into a scared crowd while wearing a bomb, but also in an earlier scene where he plays a cruel trick on a group of children playing roller blade hockey in the street.

Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t have enough of a payoff. The action gets overplayed and the blaring music takes away the sophisticated feel and puts it more on the level of a bubblegum TV-show. Some good potential gets marred by an indecisive director who reportedly was suffering from drug addiction at the time and the effects show.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lou Lombardo

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

Heroes (1977)

heroes

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to civilian life.

Jack (Henry Winkler) is a Vietnam Vet. still suffering from nightmares from his war time experiences. He has been in and out of the psyche ward at the veteran’s hospital, but has come up with an idea that he feels will makes both him and his buddies a lot of money. He wants to start a worm farm to be used as fisherman’s bait, but must board a bus to California to do. There he meets Carol (Sally Field) a woman who is engaged to be married and was a war protester during the 60’s. The two don’t get along at first, but eventually a relationship is made as she and his cousin Ken (Harrison Ford) help Jack fulfill his dream.

The movie is well filmed for the most part and even has a nicely shot and exciting foot chase down the busy streets of Manhattan, but the script by James Carabatsos, who was a Vietnam Vet. himself is too loosely structured and only glosses over the many issues that veterans face, which gives the whole thing a very shallow feeling. The only time we ever see any type of flashback’s to the experiences that Jack had while fighting in the war is at the end even though I felt the film would’ve been much stronger had this been shown throughout. The comical segments are misplaced and the story would’ve worked better had it just stuck to the drama.

The film also spends too much time with Jack and Carol’s budding romance, which for the most part comes off as forced. The cutesy ways that the two are shown constantly bumping into each other as their relationship ‘blossoms’ is contrived and having the two already as a boyfriend/girlfriend from the very start would’ve helped focus things more solely on Jack, which it doesn’t do enough of. I also felt that the segment where Carol pays for damages that Jack does at a café and then goes with him and his buddy Ken to an isolated location where she is promised to get paid back for it didn’t seem realistic. I realize this was the ‘70s where people were more relaxed about meeting strangers, but it still seemed dangerous and impractical for a lonely woman to be driving off with two men she had only met and were already acting peculiar to begin with.  A normal person would’ve simply sued him in small claims court to get back the money that they felt was owed.

Winkler does a terrific job in the lead and I felt it was a shame he hadn’t pursued his film career further instead of languishing away in television. Field is good as well as is Ford playing against type as a country hick. Character actor Stuart Margolin has a fun bit as a driver who picks the two up as they are hitchhiking and Val Avery is amusing as the bus driver who becomes increasingly annoyed at Jack’s antics.

The film has its share of pleasing moments, but on the whole it’s shallow and forgettable. There have been so many other better films on the subject that this one seems barley worth even mentioning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeremy Kagan

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video