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Fifty/Fifty
(1992)

Director: Charles Martin Smith
Cast:
Peter Weller, Robert Hays, Charles Martin Smith


I certainly don't devote all of my time to watching movies and subsequently writing reviews of those movies for this web site. Not only do I have other hobbies, I also work outside of my home at a job where I earn enough money to support myself and my hobbies. As it turns out, that job that I have I happen to really enjoy doing. I know I am very lucky to have that job, and I realize that there are many people out there who have a career that they don't really enjoy or downright hate. There are some jobs that I think the majority of people would rather not be working at. For example, I am pretty confident that many people who collect garbage or work in a sewage plant would rather have a job that is somewhat more prestigious. But at the same time, I know the reality of the job market out there, and that having jobs like those particular two are more often than not better than having no job at all. However, there are some jobs that not only require a lot of training in order to land, but that the subsequent work that these heavily trained people have to do really seems to be a thankless job. For one thing, I can't understand why there are some people who would train to be a correction officer at a prison. Prisons are such depressing and dangerous places, I could never imagine myself going to such an environment day after day. I especially can't understand when the correction officers are not only women, but choose to work at a prison for male inmates. Just the idea of that can't help but make me wonder if these particular women have something seriously wrong with the logic portion of their minds.

There are other jobs that I don't always understand why some people would choose to make a profession by. Some of these jobs are illegal, like being someone who cultivates marijuana or brews moonshine in the back woods. Yes, I guess the money would be good, but for a straight-thinking guy like me, the money wouldn't be worth the risk of being convicted and thrown into prison, even if the prison would be filled by female correction officers. But I would like to really talk about one specific profession some people choose to follow that seems like there is too much stress and risk for the possible reward that it offers. And that is the role of a mercenary. Well, I admit that for a few select people, I can see some aspects of mercenary employment that might have some appeal. Some people are adrenaline junkies, and the prospect of being in battle after battle and risking one's life might satisfy the part of these people who crave adventure. And I am sure that for some other mercenaries, they find that the money can be good enough to risk putting their lives on the line. But for me, adventure and money don't outweigh the negative possibilities of having such a job. Getting killed certainly wouldn't be something to look forward to. Nor would getting captured and imprisoned or tortured. Those are obvious risks, but when you think about it some more, even more potential problems come up. What if, for example, you get offered to fight for a particular side in a conflict where you don't agree with the politics of the particular side that is offering you the mercenary job?

As I indicated from those two paragraphs above, it sure seems that acting as a mercenary is certainly more trouble than it's worth. At least for most people. Still, I will admit that there is one thing about mercenaries that makes them interesting, and that are the many movies they have Fifty/Fiftyinspired. I have seen over the years plenty of movies concerning mercenaries that I have found to be very entertaining, from Dark Of The Sun to The Wild Geese. Even the efforts that haven't been as good as those two examples usually have some interesting aspects that save them from total decay. When I came across Fifty/Fifty, there were several things about the movie that interested me about it. It was a Cannon film, albeit one made after Menahem Golan had left the company and Yoram Globus had stayed behind and was trying to keep Cannon alive. And its pairing up of actors Peter Weller (Of Unknown Origin) and Robert Hays (No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn) was certainly an offbeat casting choice. Weller plays a man named Jake Wyer, and Hays plays a man named Sam French. Both men are professional mercenaries, and while they are usually pretty friendly with each other, sometimes they find themselves on opposing sides, which is what happens in the opening of the movie. But in short notice, the American government, represented by a CIA operative named Martin (Smith, who also directed the movie), recruits the two of them to work side by side. In the Asian country of Tengara, a ruthless dictator by the name of Bosavi (Dom Magwili, Drive) controls the country, and the CIA requests Jake and Sam to train rebels in the country so that Bosavi can be overthrown. Both Jake and Sam accept the assignment and quickly get to work. But the two men don't know that they aren't being told everything, and eventually come to realize that they have to choose between a paycheck or doing what many would consider the right thing.

Before I actually sat down to watch Fifty/Fifty, there was something about the movie that perplexed me somewhat. And that was the presence of actor Peter Weller. Just a few years before he appeared in this movie, he was lead actor in some major Hollywood studio movies such as Robocop and Leviathan. So what on earth happened in the short time after making those movies that subsequently made him sign up for a low budget effort made by a dying B movie studio? (If anyone knows, please e-mail me with the answer.) Anyway, since I am talking about Weller, I might as well start by discussing how he comes across in this movie. While I don't know for sure if he entered this project with enthusiasm, I can say that the way he comes across doesn't suggest that. Weller often comes across as bored, as if he decided to phone in his performance instead of really trying to act. He seems too casual for the most part with his words, as if he can't take his character's situation seriously. When he grins, it seems like a sheepish insincere expression rather than an expression of genuine amusement. I will say this, however: Weller comes off a heck of a lot better than his co-star Hays. Hays is pretty much miscast. He tries to look and act tough, from sporting several days of beard growth and peppering his dialogue with a lot of harsh four-lettered words. But when you look into his eyes, you can all the same see the wimpish persona that worked better in past movies like Airplane! and Take This Job And Shove It, and you can see he simply doesn't belong in a role like this.

It should probably come as no surprise that when the two stars are paired up together in a scene, sparks don't exactly fly. Both Weller and Hays do seem comfortable with the presence of the other when they are paired up, but when they try to exchange rapid-fire banter or even outright hostility, you don't get the feeling that they are really connecting to one degree or another. There's no chemistry. To be fair to the two actors, the script they were working with didn't exactly give them good material to work with. The movie tries to be an often light-hearted action romp, but it fails at both extremes. The level of comedy, for one thing, is tired, predictable, and not the least bit humorous. Examples of the lame comedy include when Weller sees Hays strung up in a tree after parachuting and asks Hays, "Are you just going to hang around all day?", and when Weller while training the rebels in hand-to-hand combat asks for someone to help with his demonstration, and gets a very tough muscular volunteer. But while the scripted comedy is indeed abysmal in its writing, it is also tough to laugh because there are a number of bits of extreme violence sprinkled throughout. People are shot in the head or blown up into little pieces, and all this harsh carnage would make it difficult to laugh even if the script was funnier. I realize that my brief description of the violence in Fifty/Fifty may make the movie sound appealing to those craving action, but while the level of violence may often be harsh, it doesn't mean that the action sequences are exciting. Director Smith is no Isaac Florentine when it comes to action; the action does not unfold for the most part in a full throttle manner, unfolding in a slower and less exciting manner than it should have be. At best, the action plays along in a routine and familiar manner. If you have just seen one other action movie in your life, the action in this particular movie will come as no surprise at all.

Well, actually maybe I can give a little praise to Smith's handling of the action. For what had to have been a very low budget, Smith all the same does put a lot of stuff in the action. There are plenty of explosions and bloody squibs detonated, there are dozens of extras, and plenty of military equipment, even including multiple helicopters flying overhead at one moment. In fact, the rest of the movie looks pretty good as well, expensive and polished. The movie was shot mostly in Malaysia, which always gives the movie an eye-catching backdrop; both the indoor and outdoor locations have a feeling of authenticity to them instead of a cheap and rushed job by set designers. Smith also pulls of some impressive tracking shots with the camera here and there, which must have taken some time to choreograph. However, Smith apparently couldn't do much with the movie's characters and story. Once again in a movie, the CIA is up to no good, so when it comes to the two lead characters, it's no surprise at all when their perspective on the situation eventually changes. I will admit that Smith's handling of the movie's love interest (played by Ramona Rahman) does eventually end in a way that surprised me. But when it comes to the character of Bosavi the dictator, Smith can't do a thing. A movie like this really needs a great villain, but the character of Bosavi only makes two appearances, one near the beginning, and the other during the climactic sequence. Not nearly enough time to make him come across as a real threat. It also doesn't help that Bosavi in each of his two appearances doesn't seem all that evil. In fact, he comes across almost as benign. As you can see, with such a sorry script, poor performances, and inadequate direction, Fifty/Fifty is a movie that didn't have a chance of succeeding.

(Posted February 23, 2022)

UPDATE: Michael Prymula sent this in to explain Peter Weller's participation in Fifty/Fifty:

"Basically Weller had some time before he had to do Naked Lunch, he knew it was going to be an intense film (being a David Cronenberg project and all), so he chose to do Fifty/Fifty because it sounded fun and he needed a debriefing period before doing such a demanding and intense performance. (Similarly, Marlon Wayans chose to do that Dungeons and Dragons movie in between shooting periods for Requiem for a Dream because that was such a demanding performance in such a relentlessly depressing movie that he needed to do something more light-hearted just to keep his sanity intact.) And I can totally get the appeal and he certainly seemed like he was having fun to me."

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See also: Force 10 From Navarone, Take This Job And..., Treasure Of The Lost Desert

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