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The Silencers
(1996)
 

Director:Richard Pepin                          
Cast:
Jack Scalia, Dennis Christopher, Carlos Lauchu


Recently, PM Entertainment announced they were planning to make some movies for the theatrical market, instead of their usual practice of releasing their movies direct to video and cable. This didn't come as too much of a surprise to me, because I had noticed in the last few years their movies increasing in both budget and ambition. The Silencers is one of their most ambitious movies to date, a sci-fi action movie costing in the range of 7 to 8 million dollars. This budget, as you may expect, enabled producers Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin here to cram in not just more of their standard car chases, shoot-outs, and explosions, but on a scale few other independent movies manage to do. There's more than enough mayhem here to make this a very fun movie to watch, though there are a few glaring problems in the movie that Merhi and Pepin should work on before they take their first step onto the silver screen.

The opening scene immediately informs the viewer that this is not going to be the usual treatment for a made for video movie. The nighttime setting is graced by PM's usual sharp cinematography, and the musical score is more robust, good enough to belong to a theatrical film. The camerawork is also more extravagant, with the use of cranes and steadicam technology here and elsewhere in the movie. Plus, we are treated to some very impressive computer graphics in this sequence, which concerns a U.F.O. appearance over an isolated farm in the 60s. It's a pretty cool looking sequence, and even intriguing, raising some curiosity. Though after watching the entire movie, upon reflection it becomes apparent that this scene really isn't necessary for the plot at all. This brings one of the flaws of The Silencers; there are a number of scenes that really don't move the plot along that much, sometimes not at all. In the movie's defense, it should be mentioned these scenes aren't boring. For example, a  scene later in the movie with the two main characters in a car is graced by some amusing comic relief derived from the two greatly different characters talking to each other. Though there's only about 2/3 of a plot in this movie, there is always something going on to entertain us.

Back to where the opening scene ends, and the proper story begins. Brushing off reporters asking if he knows anything about rumors of extra-terrestrial life, Senator Rollings of California goes to an L.A. church one morning escorted by his bodyguards, including his chief security officer Rafferty (Scalia). Outside the church, a car full of mysterious Men In Black suddenly appears out of thin air, with its occupants immediately entering the church in order to assassinate the senator. A ferocious gun battle erupts, and Rafferty manages to get the senator out of the church, fleeing to safety. But one of the mysterious men catches up to them in a subway station and Rafferty is overpowered by the impossibly strong man, leaving the defenseless senator to be murdered. This lengthy action sequence is then topped by two subway trains colliding at top speed. Yes, this particular effect is  done by some pretty laughable model work, but the rest of the sequence is well done. For one thing, the action keeps moving not just in its relentlessness, but that the director takes the action from the church, then into the streets, then into the subway station and the subway itself.

If you're looking for a lot of action, The Silencers brings it to you in spades. There are a number of violent shoot-outs (several times, Rafferty grabs someone from behind, jams his gun into their back, and blasts bullets out of their chest,) energetically directed, and resulting in a very high body count. The highlight scene is a freeway chase, not too long after the assassination, where Rafferty (assigned by the military) tries valiantly to keep more of those Men In Black away from a tanker truck carrying an unknown cargo. The chase crams everything it possibly can; it has the protagonists and the adversaries driving on the wrong side of the freeway, cars flipping into the air and blowing up, and we see what is clearly Scalia himself (and not a stuntman) doing some very dangerous stunt work. They even bring a helicopter with a machine gunner into the chaos, and you simply won't believe your eyes when you see what happens to the helicopter. Though that's partly due that the presentation of this occurrence is done so badly, we have to make an assumption of what happened with what we clearly know. This whole freeway sequence is overall very well done, but there is some really bad editing here. How, for example, did those explosions suddenly occur on the road? And how come some of the car accidents involve cars that seem to come out of nowhere? Fortunately, this is the only part of the movie where the editing is this poor, except for the movie's climax, where two characters (introduced later in the movie) suddenly disappear, and are seemingly forgotten about.

Not long after that freeway chase, Dennis Christopher's character introduces himself to Rafferty. Though Scalia is top billed, and gives an adequate performance, it is Christopher who steals the show. He plays Comdor, an alien who has come to rescue earth from the evil alien menace, and teams up with Rafferty. Seeing Christopher, star of Breaking Away, in a role that gives him long hair and an earring, and seeing him shooting guns and (at least his stunt double) getting into hand-to-hand combat is....very odd. At least at first, because surprisingly, he fits quite well in the role. Though he doesn't look like the standard action hero, he does portray a determination in these scenes that's quite believable. In the lighter moments, he plays Comdor as a kind of hippie, sometimes even acting - dare I say it - spaced out. He's genuinely funny in these scenes, including one hilarious scene when he's at a U.F.O. convention. Together with the gruff Rafferty, there's some great comic chemistry in their dialogue. (Comdor: "I didn't reach puberty until I was 70." Rafferty: "How boring.")

Clearly, the writers were having a lot of fun with this comic book-like story. Maybe that's why there's a character in the movie named after comic book legend Jack Kirby. Though they wrote in a number of outlandish action sequences with a generous sprinkling of humor, there's also some moments where there is a pointed line of dialogue, or dialogue that's surprisingly serious. In one scene in a room full of military brass and politicians, someone comments that none of them would be in such powerful positions if there weren't enemies against the country. When they further discuss the alien situation, a southern politician comments that public knowledge of the aliens "would knock the socks off the Catholics and Baptists!" Later in the movie, when Rafferty observes out loud that Comdor's species shares a common power with the evil aliens, an upset Comdor blurts, "Do not associate me with them, because of it!" It's revealed that Comdor's planet has been fighting off the evil aliens, with Comdor's family dead because of it, so when Comdor later sees Rafferty's son playing with toy soldiers, Comdor turns away, crying silently. He then later tries convincing the boy of the other things he can do instead, like reading books or observing nature. This is a very nice sequence, and I'm glad the screenwriters put asides like this throughout, because it contributes more into making the movie rise further above the usual action junk. It also helps upon reflection of the movie, making it more likely one will think about these moments, rather than the obvious flaws seen elsewhere in the movie. The Silencers may be filled with goofs, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

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See also: Invader, Laserhawk, Retroactive

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