A New York City cop (Fred Ward) is sitting in his patrol car one night, eating a snack and drinking his coffee, when he notices a man running away from two thugs. With a sigh, the cop gets out and advances on them as the thugs catch up with their quarry, and tries to break up the scuffle, but suddenly the assailants turn on him and an all-out brawl ensues, with even the victim who was being chased getting in on the act, but the cop is sufficiently skilled to knock out the three of them. Satisfied that they are now incapable, the cop returns to his car and resumes his snack, but his problems are not over as a huge truck appears behind him and starts pushing his vehicle towards the river...
It's an essentially optimistic act, making a movie, as you do so in the belief that someone wants to see your opus and that audience will provide you with the funds and kudos to make another one. Thus this, the first in the films adapted from the Destroyer series of novels had the subtitle The Adventure Begins, although in Britain it was simply called Remo: Unarmed and Dangerous, that title change as if to say, well, nobody's going to turn up to see another one of these. And so it came to pass that the U.K. distributor was correct, and Remo Williams became a footnote of those cinematic outings that hoped for yet never got another instalment.
It's easy to see what the turn off was here, and that was the action takes far too long to get going. Fair enough, the Remo character has to be given his origin and background story, but this takes up a whopping hour of a two-hour-long film, and you can imagine people growing restless with yet another training session when you really want our hero to make with the mission that we keep being promised. After the cop has been drowned in the river, he is revived and given plastic surgery to look even more like Fred Ward, then told he will now be called Remo Williams and given extensive lessons in unarmed combat.
The reason for this? He has been recruited by a group of shadowy operatives who have access to their own special internet (something this film appears to have predicted) that helps them track down evildoers on behalf of the President himself. Considering there only appear to be three people in this organisation, you have to wonder how often they are called upon, especially as one of their number is an eighty-year-old Korean martial arts expert. Well, he's supposed to be Korean, but he's actually Cabaret star Joel Grey under some very convincing makeup that is let down somewhat by his cod-oriental "Bruddy Irriot!" Benny Hill-style dialogue. Still, this is who Remo takes up half the running time hanging around with, learning his craft.
This was directed by Guy Hamilton, a sure hand with the James Bond franchise taking Moonraker scribe Christopher Wood with him in the hopes of creating a fresh moneyspinning series that was not to be. It's not all a dead loss, however, as there are bright spots: Ward is an agreeably wry presence once he settles into his character, and the stunt work is particularly excellent, with Ward's stand-ins performing such hair-raising acts as hanging from a ferris wheel and most famously off the Statue of Liberty while it is being renovated as a group of heavies try to make him fall. There's also a neat sequence where Remo has to outwit a pack of highly intelligent guard dogs as he tracks down a new spy satellite. The cast is somewhat less than starry, all very capable performers but unlikely to set the pulse racing of the average movie fanatic, and the impression is of a sincere attempt that lacked that spark of vitality; it's more like a TV pilot. Music by Craig Safan.