Hardboiled assassin, Holland (Charles Bronson) is coaxed out of retirement on his paradise island when a journalist friend is brutally tortured to death. Word reaches Holland courtesy of Dr. Hector Lomelin (José Ferrer), who hires him to eliminate the culprit: Dr. Clement Molloch (Joseph Maher), an infamous torturer employed by right-wing regimes around the world and responsible for hundreds of deaths. Holland goes undercover in South America, with his late friend’s wife, Rhianna (Theresa Saldana) and daughter posing as his own wife and child. He fishes out Molloch’s acolyte, Randolph (Raymond St. Jacques) and sister, Claire (Antoinette Bower), but his killings draw the attention of American consulate, Paul Briggs (John Glover - Lionel Luthor in TV’s Smallville). Since the U.S. government have been employing Molloch for decades, Briggs sets out to foil Holland by any means possible.
By the 1980s, the partnership between stone-faced tough guy, Charles Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson lapsed into a series of increasingly lazy, misogynistic action-thrillers. Most of these were made for those quick-buck merchants Cannon Films, but The Evil That Men Do was produced by Sir Lew Grade’s ITC. Cheap and shoddy looking, the film musters meagre thrills on a purely pulp level, but Bronson is on autopilot and Thompson’s direction is strictly by numbers. You’d scarcely believe this comes from the man behind Ice Cold in Alex (1958) and The Guns of Navarone (1961), nor does it feature the zany flair Thompson brought to more off-kilter projects like The White Buffalo (1977).
We open with Molloch lecturing a group of South American generals on the finer points of torture. He attaches electrodes to a naked victim’s genitals and gives them a good roasting. Ouch. The faintly camp sadism is underlined by Joseph Maher’s effete, yet appropriately dead-eyed manner occasionally evokes those Nazi exploitation movies churned out during the seventies. “Human rights violations? There is no such thing. There is only the state and the security of that state!” sneers Molloch, like a villain from a pantomime written by George Orwell. Less easy to laugh off are the litany of his crimes recounted by victims: breaking children’s bones, forcing people to eat their own excrement, raping a woman with a broken bottle. Truly disgusting, but present only in words. Most of the onscreen violence comes courtesy of Bronson.
Supposedly inspired by the CIA’s covert support of right-wing regimes in South America (which reached an all-time high under Ronald Reagan when this film was made), The Evil That Men Do suffers from severe, narrative inconsistencies. Holland initially rebuffs Dr. Lomelin request, then inexplicably changes his mind and works for no charge. For a hard-bitten assassin, he’s rather a softie, kind to children and animals. Symptomatic of the film’s muddled morality is poorly written Rhianna. She calls on Holland to take action, then chastises him as a cold-blooded killer when he does. Bronson’s earlier Borderline (1980), successfully merged action with social commentary, but this film fails to explore the complexities behind sending one hired killer to despatch another.
Like so many Bronson vehicles of the period, this just lines up bad guys for him to gun down, with shootouts and car chases executed in a perfunctory manner. What we’re left with are a handful of almost endearingly camp moments: including Bronson luring one villain into a trap by suggesting a threesome (“Three’s alright with me!”), and a scene where he hides under the bed while Molloch’s sister has sex with her lesbian lover. Bronson fared better in his next collaboration with J. Lee Thompson, Murphy’s Law (1986).