a critiQal film review If Looks Could Kill (1991)

  • DVD

Plot: Mistaken as a secret agent while on a class field trip to France, high school student Michael Corben (Grieco) suddenly finds himself mixed up in a high-stakes game of espionage, romance and adventure.

594 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 58s)

As I was perusing the NetFlix® queue of instantly available films, I stumbled across one I hadn’t even thought of in years: If Looks Could Kill, the mistaken identity action comedy starring Richard Grieco. Having an inkling of a fond memory of this one (and not much else), I decided to check it out.

Would a film I first saw while I was in high school still be as fun to watch today? Or has age changed my view of this tale?

Richard Grieco, known back in the 80’s for his role in 21 Jump Street (TV) (co-starring with a young Johnny Depp), gives action comedies a try with If Looks Could Kill. True, the effeminate pretty boy image (complete with some obvious eye make-up) isn’t exactly akin to what viewers of today expect from their action stars. Still, Grieco turns in a decent enough performance as a high school kid mistaken for a CIA spy while on a French class trip to Europe. Sure, he’s not exactly up to par with action heroes like Schwarzenegger or Stallone. But he delivers his lines – including the comic relief punchlines – with a sarcastic wit reminiscent of many of the action heroes of the 80’s his character is so obviously a satire of.

The rest of the cast, even love interest Gabrielle Anwar (“Burn Notice” (TV)), are mostly a backdrop for Grieco’s exploits through France. They are given little to do but provide the film with a bit of a prod in the right direction. Linda Hunt (“NCIS: Los Angeles” (TV)) and Roger Rees provide the villainous ne’er-do-wells for Grieco’s character to play off with decent aplomb. Roger would later amp up his villainous performance and parade it out again in the spoof Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

Mistaken identity was already overplayed in theaters, even by ’91. The slight spin of a high school student being mistaken for a super spy that If Looks Could Kill gives to the cliched routine actually breathes a bit of fresh life into the old plotline, and gives rise to numerous new encounters. Michael’s obvious desire to escape from the prying eyes of his French teacher help him – and the viewer – accept his new-found role. The perks, like a sports car and spending cash, help keep him there.

The film plays out well as a satire of action films. They even satire the songs, as they include a song subitlted ‘(Love Song From The Film)’! If the viewer makes the mistake of taking If Looks Could Kill seriously, however, they will find the film disappoints on more than one level. Whether it’s the obvious green-screening or the always primped action star and his gel hair, there’s flaws galore to choose from.

If you go into If Looks Could Kill looking for some campy teen comedy fun, you’re in luck. With it’s satire on the over-the-top action stars of the 80’s. The satire even includes a spoof of one of super spy James Bond’s most memorable enemies, Jaws (complete with a gold hand, which brings a bit of Bond villain Goldfinger into play as well). With spoof in mind, If Looks Could Kill provides a light-hearted hour-and-a-half of fun with a side of cheese.

It, of course, was never in the running for an Oscar, and spoof films like Robin Hood: Men In Tights, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) and Top Secret! have quite a few more laughs. But, If Looks Could Kill still provides a cheesy yet enjoyable mix of action and humor that compliments your bowl of popcorn quite nicely.

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