It’s the same story we told about The Shadow. After Burton’s Batman, Hollywood wanted tentpole movies that could make sequel after sequel. So why not turn to men’s paperbacks, like The Destroyer, a series of 152 books written by the team of Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir (as well as some ghostwriters) that have 30 million books in print?
Sam Makin (Fred Ward, The Right Stuff) was a tough New York City cop who died in the line of duty before being resurrected as Remo Williams, now the CURE organization’s front man in the war against the enemies of the United States. Now with a new face, no fingerprints and training in the assassination skill known as Sinanju from the Korean martial artist Chiun (Joel Grey, who is not Asian and is actually a Jewish man from Cleveland), Remo is ready to battle corrupt weapons dealers and save Kate Mulgrew’s military officer character.
I’ve been begging Becca to watch this movie for years and she responded to it by asking, “Was this a real movie or one of those ones you like that no one knew about?” It was an actual movie. Maybe people didn’t care as much as me, because in 1985 I was fully into The Destroyer thanks to Marvel publishing a black and white comic book version.
Watching this film years later, it’s weird how little happens. “Are they ever going to do anything or is this the entire movie?” my wife asked. “This is his origin story,” I tried to say, but she’s right. For all the amazing things Remo learns to do, he gets to do very little of them.
But hey — Wilford Brimley is great as Remo’s boss, Harold Smith. And Michael Pataki is always a welcome face in a film. There’s enough to like in this one, like cameos by Reginald VelJohnson (Die Hard) and William Hickey (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation).
This was intended to be a blue-collar James Bond. Which makes sense, once you realize that they used Bond screenwriter Christopher Wood (The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker) and Bond director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun).
Sadly, there was a 1988 TV spinoff of the movie that never made it past the pilot stage, starring Jeffrey Meek as Remo and Roddy McDowall as Chiun (who was British and also not Asian).
The original DVD of this film is out of print, so you’ll probably pay $10-15 for a used copy. Arrow Video did release it awhile back, but not in a U.S. friendly format. There’s a limited edition at Diabolik DVD that you can hurry up and get, too. You can also find it on the VUDU streaming service for around $3.