Friday, March 1, 2013
Mortal enemies bound by fear.
They were each other's only chance to survive.
After some embarrassingly cheap graphics, Fatal Mission just begins. We don't know where we are. It looks a lot like other C-grade action films of the time, like McBain, so there's no reason not to believe this is 1990 and literally the Philippines. Over time, though, we see that this is North Vietnam, which means this is during the war.
Andrews (the timeless and iconic Peter Fonda) is filming a rally, either protest or support (there are no subtitles, even as the general/dictator speaks, that would cost money). Mai (the eternally attractive Tia Carrere) is sneaking about in black. Along the sides, military/police wait with guns. Andrews, with a smirk, has his hand in his camera bag, raises the bag and shoots the dictator three times! Panic! Mai is clearly disappointed she didn't get the kill. Andrews escapes with the crowd.
In the jungle, Andrews skips/traipses through a foggy forest lit like a sexy music video and meets with his pal, Trang, played by Mako. "Purple haze!" Fonda calls back, "Jimi Hendrix." (I like Mako, and do a really good Mako impression. "Long ago...") They talk about how this isn't like that time in Saigon, so we know they are pals who have been through a lot. Otherwise, no dialogue of value and still no grasp of what's going on. In time, I picked up that Andrews is C-I-A and this was a covert mission. Going down/up river, the two pals are pursued by Mai and her gang of whomevers, with lots of automatic rifle fire. They go over a waterfall, too.
A helicopter waits for Andrews and Trang, piloted by The Major (James Mitchum). While Andrews holds off the attackers, Trang, with a comically large grin, is stabbed by Mai. And there's a blood burst! For a stabbing! And then Mai throws a grenade in the hovering chopper. And an actual helicopter is blown up on the field! As she flees, Andrews shoots her.
Andrews pulls The Major to safety and they talk awhile. "This war isn't what I thought it was," Andrews says. The Major replies, "It's the only one we got." (Note: This was Mitchum's second to last credited movie appearance.)
That night, Mai returns. Andrews tells the dying (?) Major to cover him. The Major lifts his gun and Mai shoots him! And then captures Andrews. (I use their names, but those aren't revealed really for another 20 minutes or so, or that they're being attacked by NVA patrols. Nary a single American, or Brit or Canadian, is seen.)
The rest of the film literally is Andrews and Mai together in the jungles. Fonda's apparent John Wayne impression becomes clearer as, bound, he calls his captor "stupid bitch" repeatedly. They walk all day. Take a break at night. He taunts her more. She erupts, reveals she can speak English. Also that she is Chinese and an assassin with the government. (Note: Like our President, Carrere is a Hawaii-born America. But six years younger.) Also, that guy who was killed was a three-star general. Good to know.
The same night/rest period, NVA troops arrive and are mean to Mai. She kills one, beats up the other with an assist from Andrews, showing he's not heartless. The next day they arrive at some lovely ruins, and we see that Carrere is lovely even with a disdainful scowl and playing convincingly sick from an untreated gun wound. Andrews gets the jump on her, binds her, even has her on a leash! But that night he treats her wound out of compassion, so she won't die.
Later, she taunts Andrews by asking why The Major was trying to kill him, which is why she killed The Major. "You must've been smoking something," he retorts. She says, "I know what I saw." Adds, "You may have more enemies than you think."
An interlude. Some C-I-A guys talk about how Andrews survived and how they had, indeed, planned to "cover their tracks." So no mystery there.
They elude more NVA as he makes her lead the way to Saigon. They arrive at what was once a tea plantation and is still very beautiful scenery. She tells more about her origins, he spits out a line about how he had a job to do, etc. She taunts him again about killing the man who was trying to kill him.
And then I guess the big finale. They encounter some monks at the former plantation, but also some NVA. There's a shootout in the verdant forests. "It's a hell of a time to ask," he says to Mai, "But are you with me on this?" She replies, "What do you think?" He gives her a gun and together they fight off the attackers. It is tedious. But clearly they trust each other now.
That night, she is naked in a pool or lake and he scowls, but then joins her and they smash and rub against each other in an awkward simulation of, I guess, love-making? It is supposed to be passionate, I assume, from the context, but the music is dark. Tone's all screwy.
The next day, with no more chemistry than before but a functioning partnership, they spot a plane in a field. "You fly?" she asks. He growls, "Right now I could fly a rock!" So they fight, shoot the NVA and he takes the plane and takes off. Mind you, they never talk. So it is a surprise when he just leaves her, but apparently that was the plan. And he doesn't go to Saigon like he's been saying, but instead goes to Laos to the embassy, which then takes him to Saigon.
The ending. The C-I-A people don't like that Andrews survived to tell the brass about his mission and so they wait for him. Andrews is nicely dressed, unsuspecting. And is shot. He falls in slow motion. The end.
The two reviews I've read of Final Mission, from Comeuppance and from a writer I greatly respect, Marty McKee, both say that a hinted conspiracy plot fell through in six writers' scramble to put something together, but I think it's clear that there's nothing there. They sent the guy in to do the dirty work and didn't want him coming out to tell about it. And so they killed him. It's not a failure, it's just not clever.
Nothing really goes on in this movie. It doesn't do anything interesting, has nothing clever to say, and isn't about anything. It's not about Vietnam, though apparently it's set during the war. It's literally nothing more than the two walking through "the jungle" shooting NVA. Action filler.
Fun fact: Peter Fonda has two writing credits listed on IMDb. Easy Rider, for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and this film.
BUT, it isn't anything less. It is simple, and undeniably competent. Well filmed with crane shots and explosions and whatnot. Real actors giving real (albeit simple) performances. Elevating the film is that the music is good and it photographs some really beautiful locations. I didn't care about what was going on, and there was, in fact, nothing going on, but I wasn't bored. In fact, it was a pleasant watch.
Even if the end credits music is like something from a Full Moon production about a killer doll.
Fatal Mission has 36 votes on IMDb (as Enemy) HERE. I watched it on the 1990 Media VHS. (Surprisingly it is the only video from Media I own.) It isn't streaming or available on DVD as of this post.