Can a spy spoof starring another unseasoned refugee from a tacky TV show possibly succeed? In the case of IF LOOKS COULD KILL, surprisingly, the answer is a resounding yes!
When Michael Corben (Richard Grieco) fails to graduate from high school, he's forced to spend his summer vacation abroad in pursuit of elusive French credits, with a don't-spare-the-rod teacher, Mrs. Grober (Robin Bartlett), in command. Promptly mistaken for a dashing British operative, also
named Michael Corben, the teenager is pursued by a lovely girl, Mariska (Gabrielle Anwar), whose father was murdered by Augustus Steranko (Roger Rees), a whacked-out crime mastermind involved in a deadly plot to steal most of Europe's gold supply and siphon it off into his own coffers. In short
order, Corben becomes the near-victim of vehicular homicide by one of Steranko's goons, and is seduced and nearly incinerated by a sultry spy.
Mrs. Grober, meanwhile, finds herself in equally dire peril, having been confused with another megaspy called "Mother." When she and Michael's fellow students are kidnapped by Steranko and his loyal accomplice, Ilsa Grunt (Linda Hunt), Corben and his main squeeze Mariska storm the villain's
fortress and are briefly captured. In addition to freeing a school bus loaded with his terrified classmates, who are in danger of being lowered into a bubbling vat of gold, Corben also foils Steranko's major game plan: With venal visions of owning all of Europe's gold dancing in his head, nutty
Steranko sets out to poison his guests--Europe's most powerful leaders. In what turns into the ultimate espionage climax, Steranko and Ilsa turn on each other after he decides she's expendable. Endeavoring to escape in a currency-laden helicopter, Steranko dies trying to hang onto his stolen gold.
Saving the day, Corben turns his back on spydom although British intelligence would like him to continue his secret agenting. Instead, he's pleased with the passing grade Mrs. Grober will give him for his extracurricular activities. With Mariska on his arm, he takes a well-earned vacation.
Despite the over-familiarity of this James Bond Jr. territory, IF LOOKS COULD KILL is a high-spirited entertainment that manages to poke fun at high-tech thrillers as well as satirizing the war between teens and teachers. Devoid of the mean-spiritedness that mars most teen pics, in which every
adult is portrayed as a moron, IF LOOKS COULD KILL propels the audience onto a roller coaster that just won't quit. The anti-villain devices are clever and later are beautifully integrated into the plotline; the mixups involving the real master spy and his teenage surrogate are handled with the
dexterity of polished French farce. Although the movie is silly through and through, it remains true to the fantasy P.S. 007 universe it creates. It never betrays the expectations it sets up for the audience.
Spiritedly directed from Darren Star's tongue-in-cheek screenplay and acted with finesse, this fun house ride never stints on action or amusement. Almost every scene evokes laughter, but the most priceless moments may be the ones in which arch-fiend Ilsa poses as a stewardess and is continually
forced by an officious boss to perform like one. Another highlight is the playful scene in which Mrs. Grober realizes her tour bus has strayed dangerously from the path of conventional sightseeing.
Two divinely nutty actresses must be singled out--Linda Hunt has a ball on a vacation from her usual Chekhovian chores and the versatile Robin Bartlett manages to invest the cliched battle-axe schoolteacher with well-rounded humor and pathos. Mrs. Grober even gets her own moment of Joan of
Arc-like victory in battle. And TV star Richard Grieco exhibits enough charm to ensure an easy transition from teen heartthrob to leading man. (Violence, adult situations.)
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