Primary Target (1989)- * *
Directed by: Clark Henderson
Starring: John Calvin, Joey Aresco, and John Ericson
When a CIA guy named Phil Karlson (Ericson) summons some Vietnam vets he used to know for a meeting at his home in Thailand, you know some sort of rescue mission will be forthcoming. That's exactly what happens, as we see when Karlson lays out his plan to the four men. The former soldiers are now mercenaries, led by Cromwell (Calvin). It appears that Karlson's wife has been kidnapped and spirited away to somewhere in the Golden Triangle, and it's up to Cromwell and his compatriots to rescue her. If they do that, they'll be richly rewarded, but it won't be easy, as their enemies in the jungle will be shooting at them the whole time. Will our heroes complete their mission - or will there be one final twist before we find out who is the true PRIMARY TARGET of the operation?
John Calvin was born in 1509 in Noyon, France. With his major work, 1536's Institutio Christianae Religionis, he became one of the leaders of the Protestant reformation of the era. By the time of his death in 1564, Calvinism was known worldwide and his status as an influential theologian was assured. At the beginning of his career, he...wait...what's that? Hold on, I'm getting a late-breaking news report. Well, it turns out that the John Calvin described above is not the John Calvin that stars in Primary Target. Hm. Color me surprised.
Nevertheless, Primary Target is as generic as its box art. No wonder it failed to find an audience during the video store heyday. It's yet another in a seemingly-unending stream of jungle-set exploding hutters, and it does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from its many, many competitors.
That's a real shame, because all the ingredients are there for an entertaining romp: it opens with a bang (literally), machine guns are shot, guard towers and huts blow up, there's a barfight, there's a couple of car chases in silly fast motion, and at least one person screams while shooting a machine gun. But with a lack of character development, plotting, or anything even remotely resembling emotion or originality, Primary Target flounders.
Adding insult to injury is the age-old problem of not having a strong, central villain for our heroes to fight. Much like a James Bond movie, outings like this are only as good as their villain. Sure, we've got John Calvin, and that's great and all, but we needed a serious foe for him to come up against. Any sort of edge at all that would have taken this out of jungle slog territory and put it on a more solid footing would have helped a lot as well.
One thing that should be pointed out, however, is how odd the music is here. I don't know if it's on purpose or by accident, but much of the music seems highly inappropriate. Jaunty, upbeat sax or jazzy blues for action scenes? A sort of lite-rock for the supposedly dramatic ones? It feels completely mismatched, almost like the music tracks and the footage got mixed up somehow. It also doesn't help matters that the MGM/UA VHS tape (at least the one we watched) has very poor sound quality. So that made an already bland movie even harder to sit through.
It seems that the fourth time was the charm for director Clark Henderson, because after his debut, Warlords From Hell (1987), then Saigon Commandos (1988), then Primary Target in '89, he finally hit paydirt with the highly entertaining and enjoyable Circle of Fear (1992). Perhaps by that time he had perfected the formula, which is a shame as it's his last movie as director. He later went on to other roles in the film industry.
So, if you see only one Clark Henderson movie, see Circle of Fear. Primary Target, even with the presence of John Calvin and Philippines-film regulars such as Henry Strzalkowski and Joonee Gamboa, doesn't set itself apart in any way.
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty