Sapph Pacific

IHLOF lips

I’ve just watched In Her Line Of Fire, directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. It’s basically a lesbian action thriller, with Mariel Hemingway (an actor offering mucho gay film subtext, thanks to Personal Best) as Delaney, a Secret Service bodyguard trying to rescue the Vice President from kidnappers after their plane crashes near a remote Pacific island. The Veep is played by David Keith (not to be mistaken with Keith David) – possibly best known for acting psycho in Donald Cammell’s White Of The Eye, as well as paying-the-bill roles in things like The Two Jakes & Major League II, and we learn that he’s a straight-talking (ahem), honest ex-soldier, who served with Delaney in Gulf War 1. They share a comradely concern for each other, but the only sniff of sexual tension is – unusually for this genre – between Delaney and a young (female) reporter who was on board the plane when it crashed, Sharon Serrano (Jill Bennett). It definitely makes things run a bit more interestingly, because this is a run-of-the-mill actioner, though as the director, Brian Trenchard-Smith, has explained, there are two versions circulating, one being, if you will, a pink-reduced cut, which strips out all but the most subtle moments between the two women.

Aside from the lesbian angle, it’s all pretty straight forward: it’s set in the country of ‘San Pietro’, which is at one point described as being “in the Solomons”, although all the locals look or sound to me either Maori or Samoan (it was filmed in New Zealand/Aotorea). There’s some sort of civil war going on, with a rebel army holed up in the jungle of a small island, Barago, training to overthrow an unseen dictator, under the tutelage of a motley band of mercenaries. The mercenaries are led by an American, Armstrong (David Milbern), who is meant to be some sort of crazed psychopath, as well as a venal hired gun, and a piqued, cast-aside warrior (“my dad served two tours in Vietnam, my brother’s in a VA hospital in Virginia with stumps for legs”) – kind of a blend of Tommy Lee Jones (Under Siege), Bruce Payne (Passenger 57) and Ed Harris (The Rock). Only not as good, because for the most part he prats about like a muscle mary with roid rage.

The most interesting character for me was the actual rebel leader (or at least the most senior we see in the film), Petelo (Robbie Magasiva). Magasiva throws a whole load of seriousness into the part – he puts across very human qualities into what comes across as a thoroughly underwritten (or brutally over-edited) part. He’s full of rage and despair at the state of the country, yet he has himself compromised the struggle against the unnamed dictator by hiring a bunch of Western nutjobs, who swan about like feudal warlords. He also fails to assert more than the most basic authority in the camp – until a crucial turning point – choosing instead to act as an underling to his own sub-contractor… But yeah, he’s good. I’ve seen him before, in the Kiwi Lock, Stock-teefing Stickmen (pool supplanting poker). Deserves some decent parts he can make his own.

Sorry, I’m meandering. I wouldn’t say it’s a great film – not even in its genre – but it’s certainly interesting, and rattles along at a pace. The fight scenes aren’t the best, but they work, though it’s one of those movies where getting shot requires stunt dudes to do that throwing-their-feet-in-the-air thing, followed by the landing-on-their-backs-with-loud-grunt flourish. Ketchup-free GSW, all very A-Team. And talking of The A-Team, it also shares that whole overused location syndrome – you keep seeing the same stretch of river, the same trees in the jungle, the same beach, all the way through. Sure, the jeeps and bikes and rebels may be moving in different directions, but sometimes the camera seems to be in exactly the same place.

On a more positive note, the armourer seems to have had fun; I don’t think I’ve seen a Carl Gustaf M/45 in film since Uncommon Valor (or the wack last series of Tour Of Duty). And Brian Trenchard-Smith strikes me as a pretty imaginative genre director, who despite revelling in some clichés also avoids others (eg the ‘terrorist’ word is used only once, and only then in reference to the American mercenary). And yes, the use of a lesbian hero – without pretext, without excuses – is interesting, especially in a film that is not ‘worthy’.

In fact, BTS – who I’ve only really come across as the director of BMX Bandits and The Siege Of Firebase Gloria – appears to be a very approachable hack, judging by his posts on the IMDb message boards, discussing his work (I don’t use the word ‘hack’ as an insult, btw):

TIDES and IN HER LINE OF FIRE are gay-lite movies. I would have been happy to have made their gay issues more front and centre, but that would have involved additional shooting time and post production that the budgets would not cover. A gay and a straight version of each film was needed to recoup the cost from an international television market that is not particularly progressive. The straight version of each film recovered the lion’s share of the investment.
As a straight man, father of 2 sons, I was happy to make films with a message of tolerance. Gay people are just as capable of extreme acts of heroism as straight people. Sexual preference has no influence over courage. As a film maker I enjoy genre cocktails; so it amused me to do a Lesbian Rambo and a gay riff on Crimson Tide/Run Silent Run Deep. But the realities of the market place means the mixture must be created in 15 shooting days, 14 in the case of In Her Line Of Fire. And most people will end up seeing the straight less interesting version. C’est la vie.

From ‘Gay-themed action movie’?! (thread on Tides Of War IMDb message board)

So, erm, in conclusion – In Her Line Of Fire: worth catching, but don’t expect the best film ever, or even the best action film ever.

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