I already linked to a long recap of this film, but felt that since I've submitted short versions of Island of Terror
and King Kong
'76 which also have longer reviews elsewhere, I ought to do the same with If Looks Could Kill
. If Looks Could Kill
Copyright Company and Date: Warner Bros. 1991
Submitted by KooshmeisterThe Characters
- Michael Corben: Richard Grieco! Your average American teenager played by a guy in his twenties who gets mistaken for a spy.
- Augustus Steranko: Roger Rees! Scenery-eating Eurotrash villain. Winds up underneath a falling helicopter....after falling out of it and getting buried in gold coins.
- Mariska: The obligatory good hot spy girl who aides Michael on his mission, out to avenge the death of her father.
- Ilsa Grunt: Linda Hunt! Steranko's short, whip-wielding henchwoman. Steranko ultimately deems her expendable.
- Mrs. Grober: Michael's easily flustered French teacher.
- Zigesfeld: Steranko and Ilsa's henchman who has a robotic hand. Immersed in molten gold while also being crushed by a falling cage.
- Kent and Melissa: Michael's classmates, just here to be endangered.
- Areola Canasta: The obligatory hot bad spy girl and Steranko's arm candy. Stung by a scorpion, then blown up with a rocket launcher.
"Is this the movie with the X-ray glasses?" This and questions like it are commonly asked about this film. It's "one of those movies." You know what I'm talking about. The kind you've probably seen once or maybe even twice, and can remember vivid details about, but can never remember the title
. Why, I don't know. If Looks Could Kill
" in the UK) is living proof that the 80's bled over into the 90's in many respects. Almost everything about this movie just screams "the 80's," from the music to the hairstyles. The main character was also obviously inspired by Ferris Bueller in how he dresses and acts.
A staple of daytime television during the early-to-mid-90's, If Looks Could Kill
concerns one Michael Corben of Detroit, Michigan. He's, like, the ultimate slacker and instead of attending his French class he spent the entire school year "dating and partying" (if his father is to be believed). Come graduation, all of his debauchery catches up to him and he fails the class, and discovers that he cannot graduate without a French credit. Luckily for him, the French teacher Mrs. Grober is taking her class on a trip to France, and Michael's parents (somehow) manage to persuade her to take him along so he can make up the credit, even though Mrs. Grober hates his guts and doesn't even try to hide it.
In the meantime, "somewhere in Europe" (which later turns out to be France, making me wonder why they even bothered being coy), we meet the villainous Augustus Steranko, and his faithful henchpeople, Ilsa Grunt and Zigesfeld. Steranko is some kind of bigwig in the European economic world, seeks to steal all of the gold in Europe and use it to mint his own coins because, uh, well just because. It's part of a pretty vague scheme to take over the world (or at least Europe). Nobody actually suspects this, though, except the secret agent "Blade," who launches a one-man assault against Steranko's mansion. Zigesfeld falls victim to a trap set by Blade and gets his hand cut off (in a PG fashion) in an ATV crash. Blade himself then falls victim to Ilsa's necklace that unfurls into a whip.
At the airport in Detroit, Michael winds up accidentally swapping places with an American CIA agent also named Michael Corben. For Michael, this means sitting in first class. For his doppleganger, this means missing the plane and being murdered by Ilsa in disguise as a cleaning woman. Upon arriving in Paris, Michael is immediately taken to be the dead Agent Corben by one Derek Richardson, a guy from British Intelligence, the only genuinely likable non-villainous adult, and whisked off to some kind of secret gadget-testing facility headed by vuxom female scientist Vendetta Galante.
As it turns out, the late Agent Corben's mission had been to protect Augustus Steranko, who, again, nobody knows is evil, and has been murdering European finance ministers as part of his dastardly plan. Despite his efforts to explain that he isn't the Corben they think he is, Michael relents and agrees to play along once it becomes apparent that he will be allowed to utilize high-tech gadgets, including X-ray glasses, exploding chewing gum and sneakers with suction cups, as well as a Lotus sports car. So off he goes to watch over Steranko, although one has to wonder why he just doesn't ride off into the sunset and forget the whole thing.
In the meantime, the plot gets more than a little convoluted. First, Mrs. Grober's noisy search for Michael has both Steranko and British Intelligence believing her to be an assassin codenamed the "French Teacher." First Ilsa sends a henchman to impersonate their tour bus driver and keep an eye on her and the kids; he
, then, is killed by an agent from Intelligence, who takes his
place. And neither Mrs. Grober nor any of her students find the constantly changing drivers at all odd.
While this is going on, Ilsa (who hitched a ride back to France on the same plane as Michael, disguised as a flight attendant) assumes that the Corben she killed in Detroit was a decoy, and assigns Zigesfeld, now a kind of super-henchman with a robotic hand to replace the one he lost earlier, to kill Michael. He fails, though, after Michael accidentally launches a rocket from the Lotus that blows up Zigesfeld's car (although Zigesfeld manages to escape in the most ridiculous means possible, by throwing open his door and, uh, grabbing the road with his robo-hand and letting it yank him from the moving vehicle).
Steranko himself sends scorpion-loving femme fatale Areola Canasta to pick up the slack. She manages to seduce Michael and almost murder him with her pet scorpion, but Michael's quest for condoms allows him to shirk the arachnid, which winds up down Areola's dress, leading to the film's silliest sequence in which Areola gryates and wiggles trying to get the scorpion out of her clothes, and Michael assumes she's dancing - especially after she bumps into and turns on the stereo! She herself is then done away with by Zigesfeld (with a rocket launcher
, no less!), after Ilsa sends him to do away with Areola behind Steranko's back because....they never say why, but it's implied Ilsa is jealous of Areola or something.
The various attempts on his life make Michael re-think the whole spy thing, but he's shanghaied into helping a mysterious blonde girl named Mariska avenge the death of her father, who is....Blade! Remember? Being the daughter of a real
spy should mean that Mariska is therefore better skilled at fighting evil than Michael is, and, indeed, for a while she handles herself way better than he does (especially during a ridiculous car chase) but towards the climax of the film she devolves into being a typical damsel-in-distress. Anyway, Michael agrees to help her avenge Daddy's untimely demise, and it's a good thing he does, because Mrs. Grober and the French class need rescuing, due to Zigesfeld doing away with the British agent driving the bus and taking them to Steranko's mansion.
The pulse-pounding climax of the film takes place entirely at said mansion, and despite being briefly captured and imprisoned by Steranko's henchmen, Michael escapes by using the exploding chewing gum (blowing an unfortunate henchman to bits in the process) and manages to rescue his classmates who were going to be lowered into a huge vat of molten gold in a cage in Steranko's gold foundry. Firefights ensue, and finally Michael throws down with Zigesfeld on top of the gold vat. The cyborg henchman hands Michael his ass, but ultimately gets killed when the cage that previously held the French class lands on him.
Afterwards he and his friends go and break up some kind of party Steranko was throwing, stopping him and Ilsa from serving the guests poisoned wine in some evil plot only vaguely connected to the gold scheme. And mind you, this shindig is happening in the same mansion
. And they somehow didn't hear the gunfire and explosions going on in the foundry which is in the freakin' basement. Anyway, Michael exposes Steranko for the two-timing rat that he really is in front of all his rich friends. The mansion starts exploding for no reason other than to provide an exciting final confrontation between the hero and the villain.
Steranko kidnaps Mariska and tries to escape with her in his private helicopter with all of the gold coins he made. It's too heavy so he throws Mariska out, then Ilsa, and finally he himself falls out of the thing and gets buried in coins, then dies as the pilotless chopper drops down and lands on him in one of the most ludicrously over-the-top villain deaths ever. Not satisfied with this, the movie then has the chopper do this goofy flip and the still-spinning rotor blades come off and "chase" Michael and Mariska across the roof (!). They escape both this and the continuously exploding mansion which has gone up like a tinderbox by using the sneakers with suction cops on the bottom to walk down the side of the building.
Michael is then reunited with his friends as Richardson and British Intelligence show up, having missed all the fun, and Mrs. Grober gives Michael the credit for the class finally. Wow, and all he had to do was defy death! Just when you think it's going to be revealed to the authorities that Michael isn't a spy, it isn't, and the movie just ends with him and Mariska walking off to "go learn some French." Certainly the weirdest euphemism for sex I've
Often billed as a comedy, I really classify this as a plain old action movie with some humorous moments. It certainly isn't the "spoof" of spy movies people say it is. Although the elements in the above plot description are indeed silly, the entire thing is treated with dead seriousness. There's none of the "nudge-nudge, wink-wink, aren't-spy-movies-silly" humor found in the later Austin Powers
movies, and none of the out-and-out weirdness of Casino Royale
. Considering the idea for the movie came from Fred Dekker, the man who gave us The Monster Squad
, one can then take If Looks Could Kill
as one big love letter to spy movies rather than a spoof of them. Whether or not it works is another matter.
The movie's main problem is that it can't seem to decide precisely what to do with Michael. At times, he behaves the way a normal teenager probably would in a situation like the one he finds himself in. He leaps at the chance to experience the thrills the life of a spy provides, but becomes understandably scared when the reality of how dangerous it is rears its head. However towards the end the movie just tosses this out the window, and Michael suddenly knows how to use a machine gun and take on an army of trained killers. The way he mows down Steranko's henchmen brings the climax of Commando
But the movie is still worth seeing, for two reasons. One is Richard Grieco's earnest performance as Michael. Although the character may be uneven, Grieco's acting isn't and he does the best that he can with what he's given. The other reason is the three main villains. Steranko himself is pretty much a one-dimensional ham, but an entertaining one, while Ilsa is finely acted by Linda Hunt, and Zigesfeld is the best kind of homicidal maniac. I dislike Steranko throwing Ilsa out of the helicopter at the end (where are the villains that actually appreciate their henchpeople?), but up until then everything involving these three is fantastic.LESSONS LEARNED
Gold is a highly explosive metal in its liquid form.
All you need to be accepted as a bus driver in France is the right kind of hat.
A guy can walk into a hotel with a rocket launcher and no one will notice or care.
American high schools don't inform students that they're failing a class until it's too late to do anything.
When taking off, airline personnel just grab any random person to serve as flight attendant.
Airport security guards in France carry machine guns.
Linda Hunt is awesome.STUFF TO WATCH FOR
00:05:44 - RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A FRENCH GUY!
00:06:04 - RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A SNOWMAN!
00:24:54 - Cameo by the director!
00:34:16 - Kent isn't wearing a hat.
00:34:23 - And now he suddenly is.
00:34:25 - Kent loses his hat to France.
01:01:24 - Words of wisdom from Zigesfeld.
01:10:40 - RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A WINE GLASS!
01:15:25 - Why is Zigesfeld lowering himself down on a chain?
01:15:43 - The glove apparently rips off of its own accord.
01:18:17 - There's no henchman standing next to Ilsa.
01:18:18 - And now there suddenly is.
01:18:22 - Where did Steranko get that gun from?NOTABLE QUOTESLarabee:
Listen to me carefully, Corben. An operative will be meeting you on the plane.Michael:
Yeah, right. Gimme a break. I know who this is. If you guys are on a speakerphone, tell your sister she has nice tits.Haywood:
Oh, really, Corben! We shan't do anything of the kind.Michael:
Not my French teacher. Listen, that woman's been on my tail ever since she spotted me at the first class counter in Detroit. You know what I think? I think she thinks she thinks she knows me, but I don't think I know her. But I think she knows my name. I think that sounds logical. What do you think? Can you think of somethin' to get rid of her?Stewardess:
Just tell her you can't think right now.Michael:
So basically, you want me to blaze down to Aurnberg, hang out for a while, right? And keep an eye on this Steranko guy?Vendetta:
More or less.Michael:
Uh-huh. In this car?Vendetta:
So, I can drive this baby outta here right now, right? Without you guys?Richardson:
Look at that babe!Mrs. Grober:
Kent, stop looking at babes!Steranko:
Don't kill him yet. I want to talk to him.Ilsa:
Why do you want to talk to him?Steranko:
I never get to talk to anyone.Ilsa:
Talk, talk, talk! Talking is your tragic flaw, Augustus!Steranko:
And you, Grunt, are singlehandedly killing the art of conversation.Michael:
You're history, pal! I'm gonna nail your ass to the wall!Steranko:
That sounds...very painful.