9 April 2006 | paul_johnr
A great idea wasted
During an eight-year stretch of the 1980s when Charles Bronson made nine films, only one was released by a company other than the Cannon Group: 'The Evil That Men Do,' a TriStar Films pickup from Sir Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment firm. Bronson was already in the thick of his collaborations with director J. Lee Thompson, which ran through numerous actioners until 'Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects' in 1989.
Expectations should run pretty high with Bronson and Thompson working for a better-funded outfit like ITC, but 'The Evil That Man Do' is a great disappointment on many levels. While still from the low budget, B-movie mold of the 1980s, 'Evil' has tantalizing potential for a great film. Everyone in the production department, however, took an easy way out and sold hack work undeserving of Bronson's imprint. 'The Evil That Men Do' had a concept and technical resources that could have been used to make one of Bronson and Thompson's best films, but instead will go down as one of their most average.
This 1984 political thriller/actioner opens in brutal fashion with Clement Molloch (Joseph Maher), a British doctor, holding his special training class for political leaders in Surinam. The gray-haired, passive Molloch is an expert on torture methods who is employed by numerous political regimes. In the opening seven minutes, we witness Molloch using electrical current to inflict unbearable pain on Jorge Hidalgo (Jorge Humberto Robles), a dissident journalist. As you may expect, the scene is awful to watch and was cut from the original VHS release.
Hidalgo was none other than a friend of Holland (Bronson), a retired assassin who is enjoying life in the Cayman Islands. Holland was approached by the journalist years before to rid humanity of Molloch, but turned the offer down. A Mexican professor named Hector Lomelin (José Ferrer) visits shortly after Hidalgo's death to talk Holland into finishing the job, bringing videotapes of testimony from The Doctor's victims. While in denial at first, Holland eventually agrees to the dirty work, targeting Molloch and his doting sister Claire (Antoinette Bower) in Guatemala.
Holland enters Guatemala City with help from an adviser, Max Ortiz (René Enríquez); he poses as a tourist with Hidalgo's widow Rhiana (Theresa Saldana) and young daughter Sarah (Amanda Nicole Thomas) in tow. As with most of Bronson's later output, his character knocks off Molloch's henchmen one by one, crossing paths with a sleazy American diplomat (John Glover) and his supporting hit-man (Roger Cudney) along the way. A brutal ending takes place in the crevices of an opal mine, where The Doctor gets just deserts from several of his victims.
'The Evil That Men Do' is based on a forgotten novel by R. Lance Hill and jumps at American political dealings in Latin America during the 1980s. Indeed, 'Evil' is hard-boiled in every sense of the term, as it uses sensationalism and doses of brutality to cover up huge weaknesses in plot and character development. For every plus this film has, there are three or four minuses, resulting from shod craftsmanship.
While 'The Evil That Men Do' has a great concept, the film is never truly more than an excuse for Bronson to wipe out foreign-based scum. In the style of bad pulp fiction, 'Evil' is filled with cardboard characters that we never get to know or understand. Holland, despite being played strongly by Bronson, never talks about his inner feelings or explains what motivated him into becoming a killer for hire. Rhiana, a terribly weak part for Theresa Saldana, is disgusted by Holland for much of the way but later feels an affection for him. Where does her love come from, especially after watching Holland kill several people and wanting to go home just a few scenes before?
The most interesting characters are actually Molloch and his sister Claire, because so many questions can be asked of them. Naturally, we never find out what has brought them so close together, how and where their torture dealings started, what Claire's exact role in their business is
These plot holes can go on forever, especially with the paint-by-numbers storyline that seems to make things up as it goes along. Why is Hidalgo's daughter brought into such a dangerous situation, other than for her to be conveniently taken hostage by Molloch? If Molloch's bodyguard Randolph (Raymond St. Jacques) clearly saw Holland and Rhiana in the cockfight arena, why is he so friendly with them in a bar afterwords? Is his memory that short? And what really was the purpose, other than cheap theatrics, of Holland throwing Molloch's chauffeur Cillero (Jorge Luke) off a window ledge when the murder could have been handled more discreetly in Claire's apartment?
The overall acting is decent and somehow Bronson gives one of his strongest performances. J. Lee Thompson's direction is lacking at points, but may have been compromised by limited time on site. Besides Evil's filming in Mexico, the presence of ITC is clear through better production values, cinematography, and music. Rural locations are well-used to convey the hot and dusty atmosphere of Latin America and cinematographer Xavier Cruz provides rich color and clarity. The orchestral score by Ken Thorne ('Murphy's War') is refreshing in an era of synthesized junk. Oddly enough, these positives only add to the frustration of a good movie that is screaming to come out. Peter Lee Thompson's editing is better than usual, although with more laughable continuity errors.
'The Evil Than Men Do' was perfect grindhouse material for the early 80s and I find it hard to recommend for 21st century action fans. The DVD from Columbia TriStar Entertainment is an okay presentation, offering widescreen and standard format with four-language subtitles. While the video quality is well above average, 'Evil' was originally recorded in plain mono audio. The theatrical trailer is offered and actually has a grindhouse feel, with eroded color and fuzzy sound quality.
** out of 4