The Evil That Men Do (1984) Review
The Evil That Men Do was directed by J. Lee Thompson (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, King Solomon’s Mines), written by John Crowther (Kill and Kill Again, Hands of Steel), R. Lance Hill (8 Million Ways to Die, Harry Tracy), and Fred A. Wyler (Eischied, Carpool), who adapt their script from a novel by Hill.
It stars Charles Bronson (10 to Midnight, Never So Few), Theresa Saldana (The Commish, Angel Town), Joseph Maher (Sister Act, Under the Rainbow), Joseph Maher (Neon Rider, Superbeast), John Glover (Smallville, Gremlins 2: The New Batch), Rene Enriquez (Hostage Flight, High Risk), Raymond St. Jacques (Cotton Comes to Harlem, Cool Breeze), Amanda Nicole Thomas, and Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac, Bloodtide). It follows an ex-assassin as he comes out of retirement to avenge an old friend’s death at the hands of a despotic doctor.
The Plot: After his serious cementing as an action star in the mid 1970s, those who collaborated with Bronson lost their appetite for creativity. Among the tens of similar actioners lies The Evil That Men Do, whose literary origins give it a leg up on the pile.
In the height of Cold War proxy combat, Latin America was a hotbed for unsavoury practices. Combatants and intelligence operators were the targets at the time, so serial fiends like Dr. Molloch (Maher) who torture innocents, slipped through the cracks. Ex-hitman Holland (Bronson) finds out through Hector (Ferrer) that one of his friends has become a victim, and soon pairs with his widow Rhiana (Saldana) and – needlessly – his daughter Sarah (Thomas) to infiltrate the doctor’s ring. There’s quite a bit to like here, with a different causal spark than most vigilante fare and a tinge of espionage reconnoitre, the structure is the same as normal but given some kick.
Arriving in Guatemala, Holland and Rhiana meet with the former’s friend Max (Enriquez) who informs the pair of Molloch’s inner circle like Briggs (Glover), Randolph (St. Jacques), his sister Claire (Bower), and his routines. Crowther, Hill, and Wyler don’t bother splitting the movie into subplots, keeping The Evil That Men Do disappointingly direct when it had the chance to further separate itself from other films. With their acquired information, the twosome chip away at their target, piece by increasingly predictable piece.
Maintaining a glimmer of novelty keeps the film afloat, as it works through engaging subject matter via prefab plotting. It’s better than most of Bronson’s equivalents but still misses many opportunities.
The Characters: Expectations must be met in some departments, I suppose, and the cast populating The Evil That Men Do is almost entirely generic. Every arc and backstory shown here has little weight and less personality.
Holland is essentially a spiritual cousin to Bronson’s rendition of Arthur Bishop from a decade prior as he is the best hitman money could buy, at least until settling down on a Mexican beach. He’s quiet, calculating, and efficient when on the job but a ladies’ man when the chance presents itself. Depth is absent, and the writers try to make up for it with a romance element, but that only makes Holland flatter as a protagonist.
Rhiana and Sarah are too present for their own good. Neither of them has much to do throughout the feature that Holland couldn’t have done on his own, leaving a half-baked surrogate family arc to pass as development even though both women are blank slates. Rhiana isn’t much of a foil to Holland, and her clear frustration at her husband’s death leads her to constant (though justifiable) complaining, dragging The Evil That Men Do down with her.
Molloch – in case the name wasn’t obvious – is one bad fellow, and the movie’s standout character. Whereas other movies in a similar vein usually make their torturous villain a sadist, this one makes those activities merely part of the job. He just wants to do the work and pass on his skill set to those who pay a little extra. Molloch’s stolid demeanour and practical (if crude) attire seal the deal on the only character worth paying half a mind to.
The Action: Urban justice is normally the ethos of Bronson’s action, but The Evil That Men Do is too tropical for that trope. However, it still abides by audiences’ cravings for brutality and quantity, even if the quality is a little shaky.
Setpieces are paced out in a slightly slowed timeline, but Thompson keeps violent outbursts common before they arrive. Preparing Holland for risky territory, the protagonist defies the expectation of stopping a criminal as he, Rhiana, and Sarah pass into Mexico, instead letting the airport police shoot the man on sight. It’s jarring but works to sell the threat. Another minor encounter is one where Holland crushes a henchman’s junk during a bar fight. Score one for brutality.
None of the major displays of action are all too special, but once Holland finds Molloch’s leading henchmen, they occur at more regular intervals. After taking down the first of the crew, the ex-hitman works on whittling down the defences of Molloch’s compound, causing a series of shootouts during a car chase. It’s a bit underwhelming because Molloch is said to have provided his services to at least 14 governments, but The Evil That Men Do doesn’t stack him with gunmen like a man as (presumably) threatened as himself should be commanding. Stunt coordinator Ernie F. Orsatti (Tremors II: Aftershocks, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka) did an okay job with these few sequences, but they don’t stick.
Another car chase gives way to a gunfight between Holland, Rhiana, and crooked CIA agents that almost gets them out of harm’s way, but the villain needs comeuppance, so a standoff is in order. An uncertain trade is often the climax of movies like this, and while the script doesn’t have an original one to show, the action which follows it is decent. It’s not as explosive as one might expect, but it’s still cathartic; such as the action in the film as a whole.
The Technics: By this point (their sixth collaboration) Thompson still had no style or specific technique for Bronson vehicles, just a blueprint that he followed beat by beat. It’s another competent but bland film from a technical point of view.
Shooting entirely in Mexico gives The Evil That Men Do a bit of texture to stand out in a slight way, with greenery present but not abound, and different architectural styles making the sandbox more enticing. But, since Thompson directed, the filming style is as unremarkably competent as ever. Journeyman cinematographical choices by Xavier Cruz (Alucarda, Chicano) don’t help matters, with nighttime scenes appearing as though they were ripped from any number of other 80’s action movies.
Basically, all other attributes of the feature are palatable but not worth giving special mention. Some minor slip-ups are clear, such as a few badly ADR’d lines not matching the actors’ lips, and at times an overbearing score, and a couple of plot holes, but nothing overwhelmingly bad.
I’m not sure where The Evil That Men Do ranks among the projects shared between director Thompson and Bronson, largely due to how forgettable it is. There’s a solid villain and an engaging plot idea, but on its own, it’s just acceptable.