Convicted cat burglar Karen McCoy (Kim Basinger) is out after six years in jail. Determined to go straight she struggles to land a job while coping with sleazy parole officer, Gary Buckner (Gailard Sartain). She also tries to reconnect with her son, Patrick (Zach English) whom, thanks to her no-good ex-husband (Nick Searcy), believes his mother is dead. Unfortunately it turns out Buckner is in cahoots with crime kingpin Jack Schmidt (Terence Stamp), the man responsible for landing Karen in prison. Schmidt wants Karen to pull off another bank heist together with nice-but-dim small-time crook J.T. Barker (Val Kilmer) and goes to desperate lengths to ensure she cooperates.
Here is another example of the Hollywood sausage factory at work. Author Desmond Lowden penned the crime novel Bellman and True adapted into a similarly gritty and character driven British thriller of the same name by director Richard Loncraine in 1987. Somehow its American remake wound up as a would-be glossy vehicle for Kim Basinger proving a shapely substitute for the original male protagonist provided by the, perhaps, less conventionally sexy Bernard Hill. It was for this movie that Basinger abandoned the lead in the infamously awful Boxing Helena (1993), a decision that resulted in a high-profile lawsuit that had an adverse effect on her career.
Even so, Basinger made the right decision and while a notch below her convincing turn in Walter Hill’s otherwise lacklustre remake of The Getaway (1994) is pretty good in the lead here. The plot does involve us in Karen’s plight but for a caper movie The Real McCoy is surprisingly leaden. Eighties MTV stalwart Russell Mulcahy was coming off the nigh-incomprehensible Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) and presumably either decided or was told to dial down his rock video excesses. But the film is neither gritty enough to involve as a character driven crime drama nor abounding with the kind of pulse-pounding excitement one expects from a conventional caper film.
It retains the angsty personal drama that drove both the novel and the original British film, with a lot of time focused on Karen’s attempts to bond with a son who has no idea she is his mother. Although no fault of the actors, these scenes that should be the emotional backbone of the movie descend into dull soap opera slush. An air of lethargy and disinterest hangs over proceeds as the caper aspect of the plot takes a heck of a long time to get going. Karen repeatedly rebuffs Jack until he arranges the kidnap of her son. Even after that there follows a long stretch where she tracks corrupt parole officer Buckner to his cabin by the lake where she believes he has Patrick captive, only to end up brutally beaten. Not something one imagines many Basinger fans would want to see, save perhaps any weirdos who think 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) should have gone a lot further.
Things pick up late in third act but in the run up to the reasonably involving neon-lit heist the film is strangely low on suspense. Mulcahy struggles to make the methodical planning that goes into the heist compelling in any way. He also has a shaky hold on his actors: Stamp grapples with an atrocious Southern accent while Val Kilmer seems to be taking the piss. He plays his clumsy good ol’ boy thief much like Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies which may account for why he gets considerably less screen time than one would expect of a then fairly big star.
Australian director with a flashy visual style. A former music video director - most notably for Duran Duran - Mulcahy made an impact in 1984 with his first real film, the Outback creature feature Razorback. 1986's fantasy thriller Highlander was a big cult hit, and its success led to a foray in Hollywood in the 1990s, which included thrillers Ricochet and The Real McCoy, the superhero yarn The Shadow and the sequel Highlander II: The Quickening. Subsequent work has largely been in TV.