Categories: JoBlo Originals

The Best Movie You Never Saw: Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

THE STORY: A New York cop is unwillingly recruited as an assassin for a top-secret government agency, CURE. Re-christened Remo Williams (Fred Ward), he’s sent on the trail of an unscrupulous weapons dealer, but first must survive his training with Chiun (Joel Grey) master of Sinanju.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Fred Ward, Joel Grey, Kate Mulgrew & Wilford Brimley. Music by Craig Safan. Directed by Guy Hamilton.

THE HISTORY: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS…and ends, with this, the lone big-screen adventure of Remo Williams, the veteran of well over a hundred pulp novels (published as “The Destroyer” series – written by Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir). This was an attempt by Dick Clark (of all people) and the then-fledgling Orion Pictures to launch their own James Bond-style series of adventures. While people may laugh at the attempt now, they definitely had reason to think this could work, with the brain trust at Orion the same bunch who worked at United Artists when the Bond films were greenlit. They even managed to get some legit 007 veterans, like director Guy Hamilton, who did four Bonds (including Goldfinger), and writer Christopher Wood (The Spy Who Loved Me and – ahem – Moonraker).

Despite some good reviews, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins was a flop, opening in fourth place at the box office (behind Commando, Jagged Edge & Silver Bullet), eventually eking out only $14 million, not nearly enough to sustain a franchise. It eventually did well enough on cable and VHS that a pilot TV movie with a different cast was made, but it ultimately went nowhere.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins was a movie I loved as a kid. As a young’un, I remember catching a chunk of it on TBS one evening, which encouraged me to go rent the VHS, and I just about wore the bloody thing out with how much I watched it that weekend. What I liked about it then (and now) is how Remo is such a unique Hollywood hero, especially for the eighties. The middle-aged Fred Ward looks like a blue-collar, regular guy, and his recruitment and eventual transformation into an unstoppable hero (able to breathe underwater for an hour and dodge bullets at close range) was exciting escapism for me at the time.

More than thirty years after its initial release Remo Williams holds up, with some caveats. The elephant in the room is the very white Joel Grey as the Korean Chiun. His performance was so well-received at the time that he garnered a Golden Globe nomination (the makeup used on him was nominated for an Oscar). His chemistry with Ward is excellent, and their banter is fun (I always enjoyed Chiun’s love of American soap operas), but it’s dated.

If you can ignore this, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins has a lot to offer, such as great stunt work, a few really good set pieces, and an amazing score by Craig Safan, which ranks as one of the best action scores of the eighties. Sadly, the production apparently ran out of money towards the end of the shoot, meaning the conclusion is anti-climactic, and the villain is the generic type you’d see every week on “The A-Team”. Still, this is a damn fun slice of eighties nostalgia, and something of a seminal title for film geeks of my generation. Also, the late Fred Ward is amazing in a film that really should have launched him as a proper action star.

Great heroes need great villains; our movie villain was a guy selling cheap rifles to the government. We told them about that out there in Lala Land but of course they were all geniuses so nobody would listen to us. Too bad. – Interview with Warren Murphy

BEST SCENE: In the mid-eighties, the Statue of Liberty was undergoing construction, which meant it had a giant scaffolding surrounding it. The production was able to use this to brilliant effect in a show-stopping scene where Remo has to dodge assassins (one is Jon Polito!) while being chased all over – in a moment worthy of Hitchcock. Nothing else in the movie is quite able to match up to it, but it’s such a classic moment I can’t, in good conscience, post it here – as it needs to be seen in the film proper.

I had one day. But I was doing the one day on the Statue Of Liberty, which was in the process of being refurbished, so the island was closed to people, for the most part. I mean, there was nobody there. We only used the actors that were given permission to shoot. All I really did was chase the lead guy [Fred Ward] all over the Statue Of Liberty. So I had nothing really to do. The funny part about that movie is, I’m kind of known at this point for my voice, my gravelly voice. But in fact, they dubbed in my first line with some actor from England. – Jon Polito- Random Roles Interview

SEE IT: Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is a niche title, but it’s fared well on Blu-ray. You can easily find it and it’s also streaming as well.

PARTING SHOT: Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is a flawed, but exciting, piece of eighties action cinema. Fred Ward makes for a truly unique action hero, and the movie is fast-paced and fun, although the casting of Chiun is…problematic. If you can watch it in the right context, you’ll have a lot of fun with it.

Published by
Chris Bumbray