Code Name: Wild Geese

Director: Antonio Margheriti 
Lewis Collins, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Klaus Kinski

Frankly, I find it kind of amazing that after all these years of running this web site, and writing hundreds of movie reviews all of that time, I can still find fresh topics to talk about in every new movie review. Or find a new angle on a topic I have already discussed in an earlier review. In any case, I've certainly discussed a wide range of topics, giving something for every kind of possible reader who comes to the web site. Many times I have discussed topics that really aren't my fancy when it comes to the kind of movies I like, like the quality of family movies. But I am a man, and being a manly man I enjoy the things manly men are known to like, such as rip-roaring action and blood and guts horror. Newcomers to this site might have guessed by now that I also like those old reliable exploitation standards: sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. I've certainly looked at the topic of sex with movies like Robotrix and Naked Killer. And I have looked at the subject of rock 'n roll with movies like Disk-O-Tek Holiday and Hot Summer. But when it comes to drugs, well, I am shocked at myself for pretty much not dealing with the topic at all. As I put my brain to a workout, while very quickly scanning the index page of my web site containing all the titles of the movies I've reviewed, the only times it seems I have dealt with movies dealing with the subject of drugs was when I reviewed Crack House and French Connection II- and that was more than a decade ago! Not only that, I didn't really go into depth about drugs in both reviews; with Crack House, for example, I talked more about the movie being an unintentionally hilarious exercise than anything else.

Thinking more about Crack House - which happened to be a B movie - some interesting thoughts come into my mind when it comes to B movies dealing with the subject of drugs. Thinking about all the B movies I've seen over the years, I've realized that precious few deal with the subject of full blown addicts who lead hellish lives because of their addiction. When people take drugs in B movies, you usually see people of their own free will toking up on a joint, or having a snort of cocaine to give themselves a temporary energy boost. True, there are some B movies that do deal with people who are full blown drug addicts, but I've observed that even in these portrayals, the filmmakers seem somewhat reluctant to show how really horrible the life of a drug addict must be. But whether the drug users are using drugs recreationally or as part of a habit, these characters only seem to be a relatively small section of the portrayal of drugs in B movies. When it comes to most B movies dealing with drugs, drugs are typically shown to be shipped and traded, but not as often shown to be actually used. I'm talking about B movies where the villains are drug traffickers, and the hero or heroes are determined to stop those drugs from ever reaching the streets. As you've probably seen, this basic plot has been done an incredible amount of times, and shows no signs of going away any time soon. And it's understandable why audiences don't seem to mind seeing this plot over and over. Many people have seen or heard about how drugs lead to death, additional crime, and other dark stuff. And the real life war on drugs seems to show no end. So watching a movie where a crack dealer gets a shotgun blast to the stomach is very pleasing.

I must confess that I regularly see the ravages of drugs on my city streets on a regular basis, with drug addicts either begging for money so they can score a hit, or drug addicts attempting to shoplift from the store where I work. So I get pleasure from seeing movies with people who deal Code Name: Wild Geesewith drugs getting blown away. Also, it's a great excuse to deliver the B movie goods, whether the determination to destroy drugs results in tons of people getting shot, or the drug dealers having addict girlfriends who will take off their clothes in order to get a fix. That's why I was attracted to the anti-drug movie Code Name: Wild Geese when I found it. But there was more to the movie that added to its appeal - namely that the producers managed to round up Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, and Klaus Kinski - all in the same movie! The central character of the movie, however, is played by Lewis Collins (The Final Option). In the movie, Collins plays Robin Wesley, a seasoned mercenary who leads a band of fellow mercenaries on any assignment they may be given. Not long after the start of the movie, Wesley is called in by the American drug enforcement agent Frank Fletcher (Borgnine, A Bullet For Sandoval) and his foreign associate Charleton (Kinski, Salt In The Wound). We learn the two have hired Wesley and his fellow mercenaries to go to a jungle location in Asia (exactly where is never revealed) and wipe out an illegal operation in the jungle that is churning out a great deal of illegal opium. Wesley and his men have agreed to take on the assignment, and after Wesley convinces the authorities to free an old associate named Archie "China" Travers (Van Cleef, The Magnificent Seven Ride!), the band of mercenaries head off into the jungle. They eventually come across a secret plantation that's part of the illegal operation and proceed to blow it and everyone in it up, along the way rescuing Kathy (Mimsy Farmer, Hot Rods To Hell), a reporter being held prisoner. But Wesley and his men soon learn their hard work is not over, with new problems ranging from the drug criminals in the area preparing to retaliate to one of Wesley's men turning traitor. Soon the situation becomes the men's toughest assignment ever, and it will take all their skills to both complete the mission and get out alive.

Although Code Name: Wild Geese does involve mercenaries on a mission that threatens to get over their heads, other than those plot points the movie has no relation to the Richard Burton/Roger Moore movie The Wild Geese, which came out six years earlier. Obviously the Italian producers were trying to cash in on that earlier film's success. Personally, this ripping off didn't bother me - I have long been used to Italians ripping off ideas from foreign films (and sometimes from themselves like with Django). I was more concerned with if this movie, rip-off or not, delivered the goods. Does it? Well, I'll start with a look at the cast and their characters. As I indicated earlier, having Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, and Klaus Kinski all in the same movie is definitely something not to be sneezed at. However, the way these three B movie stars are used will most likely give you a very twitchy nose. Borgnine, for one thing, doesn't have a terrible amount of footage. If you were to put all of his appearances together, most likely you wouldn't have much more of a length of five minutes. Not only that, his character has so little impact on the narrative that he could have easily been eliminated without requiring much of a rewrite. The use of Kinski is also disappointing, since he has about the same amount of footage as Borgnine, though his character does have somewhat more influence on the story. In a bizarre decision by the filmmakers, he is dubbed with a British accent, though I will admit that the sight of Kinski saying lines like, "I say, isn't that funny?" with a posh voice did get me giggling somewhat. As for Van Cleef, he gets a lot more footage than Borgnine and Kinski combined. But despite this, like his two co-stars, he isn't given that much to do. His character is a crucial helicopter pilot, but apart from flying a couple of helicopters, that's about all he gets to do that is significant. He doesn't even pick up a gun until more than two-thirds of the movie has passed.

So while Code Name: Wild Geese may have star power, it greatly wastes its talent. But it's not just with those three that the movie disappoints when it comes to its characters. A movie like this needs clear cut protagonists and antagonists, and the ones in this movie simply don't make the cut. You might think that there would be a chief bad guy running the opium farm who makes regular appearances, constantly revealing his evil intents. But believe it or not, we not only have to wait more than an hour before he shows up, he only shows up that one particular time. A second chief bad guy does reveal himself before the end, but only for a few minutes before he is dispatched for good. The good guys in the movie aren't handled that much better. Lewis Collins is greatly underwhelming as the mercenaries' commander. I don't really blame Collins for a lacklustre performance, because he is given very little to work with. Apart from learning he's long mourned a dead son, that's all we learn about him - he has no real personality or quirks, certainly doesn't appear as a true leader or professional in his field, and in the end comes across as just another anonymous soldier. The soldiers under his command are no better, with the only noteworthy aspect is that the movie resurrects the tired cliché of one of them being named "Kowalski". While I'm on the subject of clichés, I will admit that the movie does not go for the predictable and make Mimsy Farmer's character fall in love with Lewis Collins' character. But that actually contributes another problem to the movie, since there seems to be no real reason why Farmer's character is in the movie. It would take absolutely no effort to write out this character since she doesn't have any bearing on any event in the movie once she is introduced.

I realize that the intent of Code Name: Wild Geese was to be a B-level action movie, and that I've just spent the last two paragraphs talking about stuff that many potential viewers won't care about. These viewers care more about stuff like eye candy and action. But even if you are one of those less demanding viewers, chances are you'll still be disappointed. I will admit that the movie has a little visual flair. The movie was shot in Hong Kong and the Philippines, so the backdrop in whatever scene looks authentic, though frequently director Antonio Margheriti (Mr. Superinvisible) seems reluctant to pull the camera back so we get a wide view of whatever is going on. This results in some oddities like the opium farm coming across as not that big. As for action sequences, while there is certainly a lot of action throughout, just about all of it is not very exciting. The more entertaining action sequences are the ones that use miniature models of cars or helicopters. While I certainly wasn't fooled into ever thinking these miniature models were the real deal, I had to admit they had a goofy charm that made me interested in what was going on at the moment and shook me out of my near slumber. That near slumber came from the fact that the majority of the movie is so unbelievably DULL. It wasn't just from the weak characters and their insipid dialogue, but also from the majority of the action sequences. The shootings, stabbings, explosions, and just about everything else action-oriented is so by the book, so unbelievably mechanical, that it often feels like the movie was purposely directed in a manner that would not let any fun or excitement creep in. Nobody in front of or behind the camera shows any passion or sense they are having any fun, instead seeming to be treating the project as an obligation. While there's often a lot of fun to be had seeing various kinds of enthusiasm on the silver screen, there is absolutely no enjoyment to be had from observing people working simply for a paycheck, and this movie is proof of that.

(Posted September 21, 2016)

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: The Mercenary, Salt In The Wound, Treasure Of The Lost Desert