Last Friday I stopped by Blockbuster Video at Windsor Commons in Red Lion, PA, looking for something different to add to my movie collection. I found Give 'Em Hell Malone, an action film by Russell Mulcahy (of Highlander fame) that I enjoyed immensly. I payed $9.99 for a previously viewed copy that didn't have a single scratch, fingerprint, or mark on it, so I had to ask myself--was the movie so bad that nobody was watching it? Let's find out!
“In my world, you have to knife before you’re punched and shoot before you’re knifed, because there’s one golden rule that can never be broken -- once you’re dead, you stay that way.”
--Thomas Jane as Malone, Give ‘Em Hell Malone
Along with all the other things I love about movies, I love it when a movie pays homage to film noir and gangster-era themes. My favorite movie of all time, L.A. Confidential, pays homage to hardboiled detectives and crime novels of the 1940’s and 1950’s, which are quickly becoming the only books I read.
So when a movie comes along that pays homage to film noir, hardboiled crime fiction, and yet creates something new entirely, what do you expect me to do? Sit on my hands and let it slip under the radar? To be truthful, I almost did, if it weren’t for a recent trip to Blockbuster Video at Windsor Commons in Red Lion, PA, where I found Give ‘Em Hell Malone, previously viewed, for ten bucks.
The film opens with a massive, visceral shootout between Malone and at least twelve guys in an empty hotel. Malone (Thomas Jane) narrates over this with wry, period-appropriate dialogue, informing us of his personal opinion of getting shot at, bullets (and their many uses), thugs, and some vital personal information.
Malone has been hired to retrieve a case from the safe in the hotel. After getting shot, having the case stolen from him by a thug named Pencil Stache, chasing this guy down in his resto-rod, shooting out his tires with a shotgun, and letting Pencil’s van smash through several parked cars, Malone visits his mother, Gloria, at the retirement home.
Apparently Malone only visits her when he’s been shot, stabbed, or is in desperate need of medical attention. Gloria doesn’t use anesthesia, so Malone’s screaming can be heard inside (and outside) the nursing home. After getting fixed up, Malone opens the case and finds a blue toy elephant inside.
Returning to his handler’s home with an empty case, Malone wants to know who his client was. Enter Evelyn (Elsa Pataky), a femme fatale in a red coat who claims she must trade the case and its contents for her brother, Sam, or he will die.
And to top everything off, we have Boulder (Ving Rhames), a tough-as-nails hood working for Whitmore (Gregory Harrison), the crime boss of this city. Boulder needs Whitmore’s money to keep his wife’s life-sustaining equipment running, so Boulder goes to track down Malone and get the case back, with a little help from the psychopathic pyromaniac Matchstick (Doug Hutchison).
Along the way, Matchstick sets things on fire, Malone’s mom gets drunk, Evelyn seduces Malone, and Malone runs out of bullets (a rare thing for an action movie). There’s plenty of humor, plenty of action, plenty of surprises, and plenty of nods to the hardboiled heroes of yesteryear to keep any movie fan pleased.
Thomas Jane was born to play Malone. The cadence in his voice, his swagger, the way he uses that huge revolver--everything about Malone--seems effortless for Jane. He makes these kinds of parts look easy. He also makes you cheer for Malone, laugh with Malone, and feel sorry for Malone, sometimes all at once. If there were ever a guy to recreate Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, it would be Thomas Jane.
Elsa Pataky is smoking hot as Evelyn, the woman who twists Malone from love to hate and back again. The shower scene in the motel room (where Malone can see half of her taking a shower in the bathroom mirror) stood out to me as being very Raymond Chandler and Donald Westlake, and her whole attitude and demeanor were dead on the money for a film with hardboiled themes. Any actress can be easy on the eyes, but it helps if you’ve got the talent to back it up. Pataky is the full package.
Ving Rhames showed flashes of his brief but memorable turn as Kojak in this film. Boulder is a man who used to work with Malone, but turned to a life of crime in order to keep his dying wife alive. Repeating throughout the movie “She’s gonna pull through” to almost every character, Rhames shows that this is a guy who doesn’t really believe in what he’s doing anymore. Does he make the right choice come the end of the film? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but you’re in for a treat with Rhames’s deadpan humor and gangster swagger whenever he steps on screen.
Writer Mark Hosack scribed a terrific script that hits all the action-lover and noir-lover notes just right. Director Russell Mulcahy (of Highlander and Resident Evil fame) put his years of experience to good use in Give ‘Em Hell Malone, pulling off some great stunts, lighting, sets, and special effects on a low budget. Cinematographer Jonathan Hall did a terrific job as well, getting all the film noir trademarks in there--silhouettes, slat lighting, and shadows.
The music, however, is the real treat in this film. The musical score by David Williams features a slow, saxophone love theme that evokes shades of the opening credit music to Basic Instinct and Body Heat, but he didn’t stop there. He added synthesizers, mini-moogs, and crazy drum beats to the action and chase scenes to show the modern side of the production, while keeping the old film noir sound. I’ve never heard music done like that before, and Williams is now my favorite movie composer because of it. Watch out for this guy, folks--he’s going to go places.
So, with all of this going right for Give ‘Em Hell, Malone, what could possibly be wrong with it? Not much, but I did find it a little confusing near the end of what screenwriters call Act Two (the middle section of the film), because there were one or two twists that twisted a bit too fast. You also have to take into account that this is a Russell Mulcahy film, and that means logic can sometimes go out the window.
Other than those two quibbles, I enjoyed Give ‘Em Hell Malone a ton. It had laughs, action, and suspense, and the whole homage to the hardboiled era only enhanced the fun factor for me. This was worth every penny of the ten dollars I spent on it, and I’m looking into some of the other titles that its distributor, National Entertainment Media, has available. I wish they made more movies like this and in this style, but for now, I will sit back and watch Give ‘Em Hell Malone till they discover a way to bring Chandler and Westlake back to life...and that could be a while.