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Man on Fire (1987)
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by Jack Sommersby

"Grade-Z Action Thriller"
1 stars

Grossed just a little under $600,000 at the U.S. box office and came and went like the wind.

Poor Scott Glenn. After giving first-rate supporting performances as Debra Winger’s ex-convict lover in Urban Cowboy and the manipulative track coach in Personal Best he delivered an excellent star turn in the outstanding John Frankenheimer-directed action picture The Challenge, but since then his choice of projects has been anything but astute. He was emasculated by the visual bombast of the ridiculous horror-movie The Keep and left vulnerable to the enervating execution of the atrocious Wild Geese II. Glenn doesn’t boast conventional good looks of a superstar, but he’s uncommonly nuanced and forceful given a juicy role, and actors like himself aren’t given too many chances to prove themselves A-list stars, so it’s all the more depressing that he’s headlining an incomprehensible piece of dreck like Man on Fire that’s about as enthralling as a wax-museum tour given by a lobotomized guide. I haven’t read the same-title novel the movie is based on, but it’s hard to believe it could be this quintessentially vague and nonsensical; the two screenwriters (one of whom is the director) must have collaborated during detox sessions at the Betty Ford Clinic. Glenn plays a burnt-out ex-CIA agent by the name of Creasy, who, thanks to a former-agent buddy residing in the Italian capital of Milan, is hired to serve as a bodyguard there for the twelve-year-old daughter of a wealthy family, Samantha (Jade Malle); with his longish hair and shaggy beard, he looks more like a Skid Row bum than someone even remotely capable of thwarting violence. The city is prone to acts of terrorism and kidnapping, and after some initial resistance on Creasy’s part (he wishes no emotional connection to the kid being that he was unable to prevent the killing of another child during his CIA days as we‘re shown in flashback) he allows himself to become involved with the headstrong Samantha, reading the books she recommends and allowing himself to divulge some painful memories from his past; she’s eventually kidnapped, and after the wounded Creasy recovers he makes it his mission to rescue her after her captors have demanded a million-dollar ransom to be paid in three days. Naturally, the story has the makings of a full-throttle thriller, but the opaque plotting doesn’t manage to work up much momentum (how Creasy is able to locate the first of the kidnappers in a gay porno theater slipped right past me), and matters aren’t helped by the incompetent staging by Elie Chouraqui, who lights the scenes so murkily and choreographs the action so confusedly that half the time you can’t make out what the hell is going on. (I hope the studio didn’t expect the expense of filming in Italy was worth it in travelogue value in that there isn’t a single expressive image to be found anywhere. The whole thing looks like the celluloid had been processed in a filthy latrine.) For some unfathomable reason first-rate character actors Joe Pesci, Brooke Adams, Paul Shenar and Jonathan Pryce chose to lend their considerable talent to this appalling mishmash, and though Michael Kamen comes through with a reasonably good music score the only point of interest is the Creasy/Samantha relationship, with the always-welcome Glenn miraculously maintaining a strong screen presence despite the boo-hiss material and Malle wisely never going unbearably precocious on us. They give Man on Fire its only semblances of rootedness.

Though the 2004 remake is pretty bad, it's definitely preferable to this bottom-of-the-barrel swill.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29067&reviewer=327
originally posted: 05/18/15 22:24:59
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USA
  09-Oct-1987 (R)

UK
  N/A (18)

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Elie Chouraqui

Written by
  Elie Chouraqui
  Sergio Donati

Cast
  Scott Glenn
  Jade Malle
  Joe Pesci
  Brooke Adams
  Jonathan Pryce



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