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Blu-Ray Review: Synapse Films’ McBain (Collector’s Edition) 


Christopher Walken is McBain. Not the Simpsons’ McBain but the Vietnam Vet who takes on the entirety of the Columbian Military, for half of a $100 bill.  New to Blu-ray from Synapse Films.

The Film 

Writer/Director James Glickenhaus is the kind of director that’s low on budget but high on creativity and inventiveness. The scripts for his films are always sharp enough to attract great talent.  McBain (along with his equally brilliant and brilliantly deranged Shakedown) stands as his magnum opus.  A film so good its plot has been stolen time and time again, most famously by The Expendables.  Though the Stallone franchise didn’t have one thing McBain has (yet)… CHRISTOPHER FUCKING WALKEN!!! 

As we know Walken makes everything 10% better but in the 90s it was more like 25%.  McBain is the kind of film that begins in Vietnam with a cage fight between a massive lumbering dude and Walken and ends with the kind of rah-rah freedom freeze frame that says; IT’S MILLER TIME!!! More like it’s WALKEN TIME!!! 

The power of McBain is that it moves.  The film races and tears through the narrative like nobody’s business so much that you won’t notice that no one ages in the 20-year time jump, or that the citizen of Columbia look oddly like the citizens of the Philippines (where the film was filmed).  None of this and other plot contrivances matter.  Glickenhaus understands the pomp and circumstance of a great action scene or the scene chewery of the great game cast fills those bumps in the road -so to speak.  

Walken stands front and center as McBain.  There’s a laconic but still weird eccentricity to Walken during this era.  This is Walken more subdued than in King of New York, but there are few Walken performances as arched as that one.  Here McBain is the other side of the Frank White coin.  The heroism and sense of duty to his fellow Vets is never melodramatic but there’s an anger in his cool disposition that drives McBain into Mercenary work that’s essentially pro-bono.  

Glickenhause also understands that casting a crew of great supporting players only makes his star greater.  What a cast he has surrounded Walken with.  Maria Conchita Alonso, Michael Ironside, Steve James, Tom Waites (actor, not singer/actor), Chick Vennera, and Jay Patterson fill out Walken’s fellow Mercenaries that help their fellow fallen Vet to get his vengeance.  Alonso is quite great as the sister of the fallen soldier that takes charge of roping together a force to take back her country.  There’s a chemistry to the group that really feels like they’re not just friends but people who’ve worked together.  

McBain does take a bit to get to the meat of the story and action but when it does there’s a scale here that many will not expect.  The kind of lunacy that one expects from Glickenhaus if they’ve ever seen Shakedown.  One would rather have B-Movie Action fans discover the fried gold cracker jack action set pieces for themselves rather than ruin them.  Needless to say that if you’re a fan of the ridiculous… buckle up buttercup because McBain has it and then some.  

McBain is as butter and fattening as the popcorn you’re going to be munching on while you watch this Cult Classic.  

The Transfer

The transfer provided to Synapse Films is another winner.  The handsome image pops off the screen.  The film’s transfer has a beautiful patina of grain that gives it the look of an archival 35mm print that could have played at the New Beverly for a Glickenhaus Double feature.  Along with the created for this release 5.1 sound mix, the transfer is going to surprise and delight fans of the film and make a few new ones.  

The Extras

They include the following;

  • Audio commentary with director James Glickenhaus and film historian Chris Poggiali
  • Original theatrical trailer

The archival Audio commentary with director James Glickenhaus and film historian Chris Poggiali begins with an introduction by the duo. Some of the details include shooting the Philippines for Vietnam – and Columbia as well; the way that things were shot in this era (late 80s and early 90s) – the physical or real for reel and lack of CGI; details around the production of the “cage fighting” drawn from history and also how the scene was constructed; working with Christopher Walken – from both on a production level and artistically collaborative actor; the character on the Simpsons McBain – and whether or it was a homage or satire based on this movie; the work of Tom Waites; the work and passing of Steve James – the tragedy of his passing; why he loved working with the same actors on his projects; a great Dennis Hopper story; the work of Maria Conchita Alonso – and a discussion of a bit of her personal history; the Brooklyn Bridge scene; the “aging” FX work thirty years ago versus today; the Woodstock monologue – that Glickenhaus pulled from his own experience because he was there; the way he approached the storytelling from a classic perspective ala Once Upon a Time in the West – which he uses as an example; a side conversation about real Picasso he owns and is featured in the film; a side conversations about the reality of Arms Dealings; the work of Michael Ironside; the realities that changed the independent studios and financing later in the 90s and forward – how that changed his work as well; the raid on the drug slum – including the work of Luis Guzman; a larger discussion about Christopher Walken – how Glickenhaus got him in the role, the work he did in prep, and much more; a discussion of the rebel raid on the drug facility and how this was accomplished; the production schedule and working on-location in the Philippines – and the realities of a long shooting schedule; the Philippines Government allowing to shoot with real jet fighters – how all those sequences were put together; the theatrical release structure and the plan on the release – all aimed to get a splashy home video release; the reason why he left making films; working as a producer on various films he did not direct – and his dream to do so but in the current atmosphere he couldn’t; and much more.  Glickenhaus provides an honest and informative commentary track.  

Original theatrical trailer (1:25) 


The Final Thought 

McBain is a truly great B-Movie Action Epic long forgotten.  Synapse new Blu-Ray should solve that issue.  Highest Possible Recommendations!!! 

Synapse Films’ Blu-Ray edition of McBain is out July 11th

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