Matty looks at what happens when a wrestling superstar has to be saved by a bunch of pesky kids.
Another production bankrolled by Jordan ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Belfort during his brief moviemaking career, THE SECRET AGENT CLUB was, amazingly, given a limited theatrical run here in the U.K. in August 1996 — a truly astounding notion considering the film is riddled with unsightly goofs, from boom mic drops to camera crew reflections, that are horrifically obvious on tape, let alone when projected on a 30ft screen. Cattiness aside, for undemanding moppets in the eight to twelve demographic — or weird adults with a penchant for charmingly naff kids’ flicks — The Secret Agent Club tickles a certain sweet spot.
While it’s hard to imagine even a particularly forgiving nipper finding the ineffective young cast anything but irritating, the grown-ups at hand get into the cartoon-y spirit of things. A kind of True Lies (1994) for pre-teens, wrasslin’ icon Hulk Hogan stars as a tough guy super spy masquerading as a bumbling, Jerry Lewis-ish toy inventor. Naturally, the Hulkster’s cover gets blown and before you can say The Goonies (1985), it’s up to his young son (Matthew McCurley) and his troublingly stereotypical pals (Brainy Girl, Tough Black One, Karate-Kicking Asian…) to save him from the clutches of Lesley-Anne Down’s squawking villainess. A gurning Jack Nance; a grinning Barry Bostwick; and the forever excellent Edward Albert and James Hong also appear and add a welcome splash of B-movie colour. However, acting honours belong to the scene-stealing Richard Moll as Downe’s grunting, robo-legged henchman who looks a bit like Rip Torn on steroids. It’s a broad, fun turn, and Moll serves as the punchline to many of scripter Rory Johnston’s best slapstick gags.
The awkward juxtaposition of tweens and mean-spirited violence, and the aforementioned flubs aside (if I were being cruel, it’s tempting to say the final fight between Hogan and Moll, which incorporates the most egregious use of stunt doubles, a bad wig, and a Smiffy’s bald cap ever captured on celluloid, is the only genuinely funny moment), The Secret Agent Club boasts a nice sense of forward momentum, and helmer John Murlowski does a decent job of balancing the film’s mix of goofy nonsense and surprisingly effective pathos. Indeed, there are traces of real depth on show, and the film’s poignant central themes of bereavement and being a sad kid at the mercy of a grieving parent’s difficult work/life juggling act are never completely eclipsed by the tepid James Bond spoofery.
Incidentally, upon The Secret Agent Club’s completion, Hogan, Murlowski, Belfort, and Belfort’s Hit Entertainment compatriots would quickly reteam for Santa With Muscles (1996). An oft cited kitsch classic, Santa With Muscles might be better known when compared to the relatively forgotten Secret Agent Club, but it’s not the better film.
USA ● 1996 ● Comedy, Family ● 87mins
Hulk Hogan, Lesley-Anne Down, Matthew McCurley ● Dir. John Murlowski ● Wri. Rory Johnston