The Fourth Protocol (1987)

It was around the period of this espionage thrillers release that I was able to start embracing more adult fare, when it came to movies. My parents were very cool (or very naïve, take your pick) and let me check out a number of the more hardcore type classics that were hitting the theatre’s and video store shelves at the time. I got a typical ‘boys’ kick out of the gory, over-the-top violence that the 80’s whole heartedly spooned out, with key, hyper-violent moments from movies like Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987), Robocop (1987), Predator (1987) and Die Hard (1988) (damn, ’87 was a solid year for genre flicks!), among many others being routinely discussed among us 10-12 years old dorks as being ‘awesome!‘ or ‘rad!‘, just due to how much spraying red and gunfire they showcased. In among the plethora of flicks being released at the time was this adaptation of a spy novel by renowned spy novelist Frederick Forsyth, starring well-established thespian Michael Caine (A Bridge Too Far) and a young, up-n-coming (and future James Bond) Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye), fresh off his turn on Remington Steele (1982 – 87). Despite having fallen in love with the Roger Moore Bond flicks (blasphemy, I know), and spy movies in general, at the time, this one passed me by.

What got me curious was when one of my little knucklehead buddies DID see it and took great pleasure in describing to us dorks the opening scene, which allegedly began with some dude getting his brains unceremoniously blown out in some kind of double cross or blah blah blah. Anyway, being that we were typical 80’s boys, we were too young and stupid to comprehend the actual horrors of real world violence and death, and just thought blowing some asshole away was just fine, as long as you had a snappy comeback waiting (again, the 80’s). SO, for many, many years (33 years, to be exact), the notoriety of that opening scene, and the fact that it was yet another West vs USSR thriller that was all the rage at the time (oh, those good ole Cold War days), starring the two aforementioned gentlemen, was all I knew.

*Personal Side Noteat least in those good ole Cold War days, we ‘knew’, for right or for wrong, specifically where the so-called threat was coming from – the USSR and, to a lesser degree, Communist China. There was a definitive ‘them’ to fear and to unite together against (as fucked up as that also is in the Big Picture of our whole species). But now, in the mercurial unpredictability of the days we find ourselves in…who the hell knows where the next inevitable threat or atrocity is going to come from.

*steps off soap-box*

Today I decided to change that, and FINALLY gave this flick a shot, to see if it may actually warrant 3 plus decades of mild curiosity.

Before we get to my scribbles, The Fourth Protocol centres on two parallel stories, the first being the trials and tribulations of upstart Secret Service spy catcher ‘Preston’ (Michael Caine) after he stumbles onto a much bigger and more dangerous plot than he anticipated while investigating a corrupt British official. The second narrative follows Soviet agent ‘Petrofsky’ (Pierce Brosnan) as he carries out a clandestine operation near a nuclear-armed British / American Air Force base, where he plans to set off an atomic bomb in a bid to force the American military presence from English soil, thus destabilizing NATO. These two men find themselves on a collision course as tensions mount and double crosses ensue.

So, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to grab my pad and pen and fire up The Fourth Protocol, to see if 30+ years of waiting was worth it.

Was it?

Read ahead to find out!

Here lie them scribbles, folks!

Classic Intro. Blammo!  SO, after all this time, did the notorious (for Yours Truly, anyway) opening scene live up to what my lil goof buddy Brad had to say way the fuck back when?  Pretty much. Not exactly a spoiler but sure enough, the flick opens with what I think is supposed to be a British-turned-KGB agent arriving at a snowy KGB training facility for an important-secret meeting…only to quickly end up with a bullet through the head, impressively splatting blood around and all that good stuff. Now, it may have been revealed in a line of dialogue or something…but I’m not too sure as to why buddy needed to get blown away…but apparently, he did. End scene.

Young Pierce. In my humble, heterosexual opinion, Pierce Brosnan (Dante’s Peak) is a damn fine male specimen, who has actually grown more into his good looks as the years have gone by. Which is not to say that he was an ugly mofo back in the day, not at all, but he simply wasn’t as striking as he was in the 90’s, when he took on the 007 mantle. Just saying.

Michael Caine, you sly bugger. Cool intro. ‘Preston’ is first introduced feigning a drunk, clumsy bastard to gain entry into large party being hosted at a suspected double agents not-so-humble abode. While inside, he engages in some cool espionage shit to gain access to his objective.

Julian Glover! Now, to be honest, I really only know Julian Glover from first, his role as the traitorous Nazi agent ‘Walter Donovan’ in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), but also for his teeny but somehow memorable turn as the lead AT-AT walker commander in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). He’s got a good face for this kind of role and it was cool to see him in something else.

Cool Spy vs Spy shit. Tailing scene. Reminds of Enemy of the State. There’s a sequence where a slew of undercover Secret Service agents are tailing the suspected traitor and it reminded me of one of my favorite Tony Scott (RIP) flicks, 1998’s still awesome Enemy of the State. Obviously, this wasn’t as stylized, but the tense and tricky espionage ‘feel’ was there.

Some of the score could be better. Too whimsical or bombastic at times. The music started off really promising! I liked the ominous tone that was musically set in the opening scenes, but as the flick went on, the tone got strange and, to me, stopped representing the serious flavour the movie was going for. It ALMOST became distracting.

An American Russkie! Secretary completely North American. No attempt. Yeah, for the most part, they don’t even ATTEMPT to do a Russian accent. All Americans playing Russkie’s? Maybe director John MacKenzie directed them with a case of – Fuck it, just speak Yankee, ya lazy bastards! Regardless, a bit of effort would’ve gone a long was to help ‘legitimize’ the story.

But Ned Beatty sorta tries an accent (?). A surprisingly fit-looking Ned Beatty (Superman) plays a shadowy Russian official and, at odd moments, it sounds like he’s trying…something…with an accent of SOME kind. But then other times, it’s right back to ‘Fuck it!’.

F-111’s! Cool. Never see those. The F-111 Aardvaark was an American swept-wing, tandem-seat, nuclear-capable fighter bomber that the USAF permanently put out to pasture in 1998. It’s not a jet that ever got a lot of glory or prestige in Hollywood, but in this story, they do actually play a key role (well, their base does specifically) and we’re treated to a few cool shots of them (and some F-4 Phantoms) in operation at, and above, the base.

Weird edit. Night courier scene to morning scene and then back to night courier scene? This one had me baffled. It felt like it was totally cut out of sequence by someone who hadn’t actually read the script. There never should’ve been a break in the entire first courier pick-up scene, certainly not using a scene that clearly takes place at a completely different point in time, only to then go back to what is clearly the rest of the first courier scene. It just didn’t make any sense and I’m not sure why it would’ve been left like that. *shrugs*

Not sure of the timeline. Days? Weeks? Some of the pacing is muddy and it’s tough to get a grasp on how much time all the drama is playing out over.

Accents are distracting. Those damn Yankee accents getting in the damn way! Again!

Nice! A little vigilantism to take the edge off. Underground punks. This was a total throw-away scene, but it was cathartic and made sense for the ‘Preston’ character. After having just had yet another run-in with his at-odds “asshole” boss, which resulted in a seemingly inevitable suspension, the angry and bitter operative blows off some steam by laying out a pair of racist shit-head punks as they torment a poor black girl on the Tube.

Ah, the ole ‘pretend to be gay to kill a dude’ trick. Saw this also in one of my guilty pleasure flicks, The Jackal (1997), incidentally also based on a novel (The Day of the Jackal) by Fredrick Forsyth. The actual murder, though quick, is a little blood-curdling and ugly, I will admit.

Matt Frewer! ‘Max Headroom’ (who I proudly classify as a true Canadian acting icon, despite his dual citizenship) himself turns up for a couple scenes as Brosnan’s VERY obnoxiously American, none-the-wiser neighbor ‘Tom’ and I hoped he wouldn’t go getting himself killed off.

What the deuce?! Frewer is RIGHT THERE, lady! Ok, so Frewer’s obviously-sexually frustrated and clearly in heat wife ‘Eileen’ (Betsy Brantley) makes almost no attempt to hide her intention to eventually crawl into Brosnan’s panties and practically dry-humps him on the dance floor, while her husband is RIGHT OVER THERE! She then tries to jump Soviet 007’s bones after giving him a lift home, to no avail.

Having a conscience must suck. Due to Brosnan’s interactions with ‘Tom’ and ‘Eileen’, as well a getting a close (and humanizing) look at his target…and the people that occupy it, it would seem that ‘Petrofsky’ isn’t quite the Terminator he set out to portray. I thought this aspect was interesting, and helped flesh our villain out a wee bit.

Swingers party? Ya perv! ‘Petrofsky’, who we see in the throes of mounting sexual frustration, discovers that a swinger’s party is going on across the street, and can’t help but to watch the action via the VERY OPEN CURTAINS, like a creepy bastard.

Ladies and gentlemen…Joanna Cassidy. Blade Runner‘s ‘Zhora’ turns up here as a MILF-ee Russian agent overseeing the assembly of their rudimentary nuclear bomb, who eventually gives in to Bronsan’s searing animal magnetism and of course they fuck each other’s brains out, giving the actress yet another opportunity to flash them beautiful boobs again (Every role of hers I’ve seen, it seems like. Mind you, no complaints.)…right before he puts a bullet through her (funny, he mostly just seems to kill fellow Russians, now that I ponder it.).

Act 2 a lil drawn out. Pace lagging. The mid-section is where you can really start feeling the 1 hour and 59 minute run-time.

Not the manliest of runners, huh Caine? There are a couple scenes where Michael Caine has to run somewhere and he trots along with his arms all a flapping as he goes. Not exactly Special Forces. It bordered on hilarious. But hey…it’s Michael Caine.

Mark Rolston?! That’s right, the OTHER ‘smart’gun operator (beside the forever awesome ‘Vasquez’ (Jenette Goldstein)) ‘Drake’, from my Favorite Movie Ever, Aliens (1986), makes a cameo-sized appearance as some random Soviet code-breaker. He has maybe, two lines. Still, nice to see the guy.

FINALLY, some action! Brief car chase. And when I say brief…I mean brief. Also, this is one of those ‘car chases’, where one party doesn’t even know they’re being pursued and instead we get one of those ‘race against the clock’-‘can we find the target in time?!‘ type scenarios. It was a short respite from all the talky-talky, of which there is a fair bit, maybe too much (Caine himself later went on to say that The Fourth Protocol is a “talking picture, not a moving picture”).

Why a Russian pistol, Pierce? Ok, this just annoys me when I see it in movies. An enemy secret agent in a foreign country carries around a military pistol from his own goddamn country?!! In my opinion, a GOOD foreign operative would make a point to carry something common to the region and most certainly NOT from the very country that’s carrying out whatever nefarious operation he / she happens to be a part of. Seriously though, at one point, he just whips out a Markarov, or Tokarov, or whatever the hell, and I just found myself shaking my head. We already know he’s a Soviet spy!! We don’t need to be led along by the nose on that point with really obvious props and in doing so, it makes the flick seem less smart than it probably wants to be.

Good climax. Suspensful. Finally, clandestine British military operatives close in on Brosnan at the house by the base where he’s preparing to activate the nuke and we get some good, but again brief, gunplay and blood-letting to finish things off.

Ha! Cheezy freeze-frame ending! *facepalm* This was a horribly misused application of your friend and mine – The Freeze Frame. When the dust settles, after another undetermined period of passing time, we see ‘Preston’ meet his young son at school, where the little boy runs into his father’s arms, the two of them grinning away as Caine lifts the kid up and…freeze!

Credits roll

Then…another seemingly random FF appears, this time one of Brosnan decked out in his Soviet military uniform, from some totally unimportant moment WAY earlier in the flick (literally just him walking through snow on his way to a KGB briefing). Both frames shrink back into the top corners, where they sit as most of the credits roll between them. Much like that ‘had to be a mistake’ edit part way through (courier-morning-back to courier), this made no sense…even just on a stylistic level. Odd.

And there you have it, Dear Reader!

All in all, I can honestly that that oh so mild cinematic itch, that has haunted me (not really) for over 30 years, that is The Fourth Protocol, has FINALLY been scratched. I have FINALLY seen some random spy movie from way the hell back when, that likely most people don’t even have any idea exists. But…it does. And it’s NOT terrible. In fact, there’s some pretty cool spy shit in The Fourth Protocol. But then again, there’s also some long, drawn-out and admittedly sluggish scenes and pacing. too. As I mentioned earlier, Michael Caine himself classified this flick, of which he was also a Producer, as “wordy“, saying – “We wound up with a wordy action movie which, although it was quite a good picture, and did fair business, never had the speed and pace of the best American action movies“. That kind of says it all right there. Personally, I’m glad I finally got to check it out, but I can’t ever see myself having an undeniable hankering to throw it on again. It’s a well-constructed espionage film from the height of 80’s Cold War paranoia, premised on an intriguing (and scary) concept but bogged down by an uneven pace, questionable music choices, too many talking scenes and admittedly, not enough action. If you like slower, more thoughtful spy thrillers or the works of Fredrick Forsyth, this might by worth checking out for you. Also, if you’re a fan of either Michael Caine or Pierce Brosnan and also JUST HAPPEN to be a completist of some kind, this may also be worth your attention. But, to the average movie-goer, should this modest, little known spy movie from 1987 never cross your looking-balls, you’re not going to have missed anything.

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