Ted Angelo (Franco Nero) is a writer, drunk and down on his luck in Colombia. Back home in the States, his ex-wife and publisher, Maureen De Havilland (Mary Stavin, former Miss World 1977) pressures him to pen a new bestseller. Through his Colombian girlfriend, Ted learns of a lost Spanish treasure hidden in a mountain cave and hatches a plan with his art historian friend to sell the loot to the highest bidder. Soon afterwards, Ted’s pal turns up dead, killed by assassins working for Heinrich Holzmann (George Kennedy), a Nazi war criminal-turned-smuggler seemingly out to seize the fortune for himself. When Ted eventually enters the cave, he finds more besides a fifteenth century Spanish galleon. Turns out the cave is actually a UFO that crash-landed five hundred years ago. Aided by attractive art historian June (Deborah Moore, daughter of Roger Moore), Ted goes on the run from gun-toting assassins - including spaghetti western regular William Berger - and uncovers a vast conspiracy involving Nazis, the CIA, the KGB, and shape-shifting aliens intent on world-domination.
After working together on the belated spaghetti western sequel Django Strikes Again (1987), Italian icon Franco Nero and journeyman director Nello Rossati re-teamed for what ranks as one of the star’s nuttiest movies. Also known as Alien Terminator, Top Line is a demented genre mash-up somewhat akin to a Hong Kong movie only without the same level of insane energy. Compare this threadbare effort to the similarly-plotted Legend of Wisely (1987) for an example of how to carry off a barmy idea with greater panache. Exploitation rip-offs of popular hits were once the life-blood of the Italian film industry. Things were fine when their role models were westerns, spy thrillers and horror films, but low-budget producers had a hard time keeping up with the rise of the Hollywood blockbuster. As its alternate title suggests, both Alien (1979) and The Terminator (1984) were the source inspiration here, as indeed were the Indiana Jones films. Rossati’s tepid direction can’t help but leave Top Line looking threadbare by comparison despite a budget that seems healthier than usual for Italian exploitation. However some paranoid sci-fi conspiracy elements coupled with an unforgettably outrageous twist ending elevate an otherwise humdrum effort into something close to sublime.
Things start out sober enough as a south-of-the-border adventure akin to Nero’s earlier hit, Race to Danger (1986). The film also riffs on Romancing the Stone (1984) with its faintly racist depiction of Colombia as a land of hookers, smugglers, drunken oafs and child thieves, and as Deborah Moore (still best known in Britain for an ad campaign for Scottish Widows insurance) transforms from prim librarian into sexy and confidante heroine. Special guest star George Kennedy - whose then-faltering career picked up with the release of The Naked Gun that same year - gives a hammy turn enhanced by his ludicrously dubbed German accent, but Nero delivers a gregarious comic performance, growing more incredulous with each crazy plot twist. Ted Angelo is a far more vulnerable and desperate hero than one would find in a Hollywood action action, often reliant on luck or the ingenuity of his allies to get out of a tough scrape.
Rossati delivers one nicely suspenseful set-piece when Ted’s escape from the assassins is unexpectedly hindered by hordes of friendly street kids, but the action is otherwise plodding, repetitive and stubbornly earthbound. Until that is the last insane twenty minutes wherein Ted and June are pursued by a curly-haired killer in a loud red jacket who turns out to be a cyborg! “This just can’t be true!” gasps June. Oh, but it is as his face melts to reveal the circuitry underneath. Of course Arnold Schwarzenegger never met his match in the form of an enraged bull! Well, he was wearing a red jacket. And then there is that jaw-dropping twist ending wherein a major character morphs - quite impressively, it must be said - into a hideous alien beastie. Ted looks ready to throw up. And with good reason, if one considers the implications for his, er, romantic history...