Tag-line: The government denied they exist. The men in black are among us!
Sample dialogue: “So, you’re the human responsible for my delirious ride…”
There was a wonderful period some time between the late-80’s and mid-90’s when, for just a small amount of money, a Hollywood film director was able to smash up as many cars and blow up as much shit as he wanted, with hardly a single computer generated effect in sight.
The advent of CGI, while often lauded for making stunts and spectacle much cheaper, seems to a layman like me to have done the opposite. Recent stunts combining on-set vehicular destruction and CGI wizardry in films like Drive Angry, Transformers and Fast & Furious (I’m specifically thinking of the nonsense with the rolling oil truck) manage to be ludicrously expensive while looking fake as shit.
How great it is then, to discover a director like Richard Pepin, whose peak was in the early Nineties with a string of action B-movies, with the emphasis heavily on the action, at the expense of just about everything else.
Take, by way of example, his hugely ambitious sci-fi conspiracy adventure The Silencers, which hit the shelves of video stores around the world in 1996. With what was, I’m sure, a fairly modest budget, Pepin adopted a very respectable strategy – don’t waste money on the script or on any big name movie stars. Spend it on car chases, gun fights and great big explosions.
To suggest that the plot of The Silencers doesn’t make sense would be unfair. The huge amount of exposition expunged in the five minute interludes between action sequences (only half of it in English, the rest in some invented and subtitled alien language) probably plugs up the plot holes about as well as you could hope. It’s difficult to say. After the first cow gets zapped into the air and hauled into a sinister space ship you’re probably going to stop paying attention to little things like plot.
In broadest possible terms, there are several members of an alien race called the Marcabians living in secret on Earth, in cahoots with the US government to open a portal to their own world and covering up all their evil deeds by masquerading as ‘Men In Black’, turning up at the scene of UFO sightings and wiping the memories of all involved.
We first see the MIB’s in action at a farmhouse in 1966, where some little green men have just murdered the male farmer and made off with one of his cattle, in that order. The cow, for her part, seems nonplussed. When the MIBs turn up, appearing out of a shimmering haze in a black sedan, they tell the farmer’s widow “This never happened”. Then they’re away again. I’d love to be able to tell you this prologue has any relevance for the rest of the film, but it doesn’t.
The movie doesn’t really kick off till we meet secret service agent Rafferty (Jack Scalia), assigned to protect a Senator attending a church choir performance who’s been receiving a whole heap of death threats. If I were a Senator receiving shit-loads of death threats, I might just go ahead and skip the church performance, but this chap won’t be dissuaded. He’s only been in the church a matter of moments though, when a team of heavily-armed assassins burst in, led by the evil alien Lekin, who looks and dresses like Michael Jackson circa ‘You Rock My World’.
What follows is the first of many extended, over-the-top action sequences, as Rafferty’s men face off against Lekin in hand-to-hand combat and gunfights within the church, out on the street, into a shopping mall, finally climaxing on a runaway subway train (because when the senator your assigned to protect is under gunfire, the obvious thing to do is hurry him onto some public transport and just forget about the ten or so limos sitting right outside). As I said, it’s an ambitious film.
And if you enjoy that, you’re gonna just love the nearly ten-minute-long highway chase, as the MIB’s black sedans and helicopters descend on Rafferty’s military convoy (delivering a super secret payload), switching lanes into oncoming traffic and wrecking what feels like fifty cars in the process. It’s deliriously smash-happy stuff. The kind of action scene I would frequently create on the rug with my own toy cars when I was 5, but never got to see so accurately and lovingly recreated on film.
At the end of this exhausting sequence, Rafferty appears to be the only survivor, when out of the wreckage comes Comdor (Dennis Christopher), the super-secret payload I mentioned. Comdor is a noble warrior from another alien race, sent to Earth to defeat the evil Marcabians. At this point, The Silencers gives up almost any pretence to being a gloom-laden sci-fi conspiracy thriller and becomes a mismatched buddy movie, with Rafferty and Comdor teaming up to take down Michael Jackson, Clarence Williams III’s plastic doppelganger and anyone else connected to the Marcabians’ invasion plan. Hooray!
If I sound like I’m being remarkably kind to The Silencers, that’s only because the film is so much damn fun! For all the exposition-heavy clunk, it employs a very successful formula, which demands that every five minutes of dialogue scenes be followed immediately by five minutes of explosions, car chases and gunfights. And once Rafferty and Comdor are introduced, the dialogue scenes become much more bearable. Dennis Christopher genuinely puts his all into the role as the endlessly polite and enthusiastic Comdor, ridiculous as he is, while Jack Scalia… well, Jack Scalia can scream “NOOOOO!” really well and cocks a cynical eyebrow like nobody’s business.
There’s plenty of stuff here that’s not great. The plot is ridiculous, the dialogue stupid, the acting, (beyond Christopher) is pretty terrible. The action, too, while hyper-energetic and always well-shot, is often not very well edited, leading to some pretty confusing sequences, though for anyone familiar with modern frenetic chop-editing techniques this is nothing new.
But there’s just so much going on and it’s all as entertaining as holy hell. I’ve not even got space to go into the sub-plots about Rafferty’s home life, the hot journalist working to uncover the conspiracy, the second act detour into a ufologists convention, or the infuriatingly hypocritical scene where Comdor is disgusted by the sight of Rafferty’s young child playing with toy soldiers. After all, Comdor, he’s just a kid playing a game. You’re the one who’s shot about forty people dead in the last two hours. Be disgusted with yourself!
Worse yet is his pious lecture to the kid about finding things other than GI Joe to entertain himself: “Bobby there are so many things that you could play besides war games and pretend killing. There’s books and art, science and music. There are so many things.”
“But that’s boring,” says Bobby. And good for him. Nobody needs a stern talk about pursuing more intellectual pass-times in a film where you’re never more than five minutes from another gunfight. Don’t damn yourself, The Silencers. There’s plenty of people who’ll do that for you. Be proud of yourself. Books, art, science and music may be boring. But this ain’t.
Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Beer movie