“Who are the other two lugs on this poster? And who’s the dame? Baby, I just don’t give a damn…” Robert Mitchum in Agency.
Like a lot of writers who occasionally have issues when it comes to balancing ambition with time management, I’ve discovered that it helps if I listen to music while I write. For instance, while writing the majority of the reviews for Shattered Politics, I’ve been listening to Big Data’s Dangerous.
And that choice of music has actually turned out to be extremely appropriate. No, not just because it’s dangerous to write about politics. But also because the official music video for Dangerous deals with advertising and, more specifically, how sex and violence are used to sell everything from shoes to politicians.
Now, I don’t know about you but, whenever I see that video, I feel like I’m ready to put on a sports bra, running shorts, and of course my Big Data running shoes so that I can take control and headbutt my way through life! A good commercial can do that. (And don’t even get me started on what I’m going to do to the next person I see eating a hot dog…)
Interestingly enough, the 47th film that I’m reviewing for Shattered Politics also deals with the power of advertising. First released in 1980, Agency stars Robert Mitchum as Ted Quinn, the mysterious new owner of a major ad company. Out of all of the old school movie stars, Robert Mitchum is one of my favorites because he was not only a great actor but he was also a very honest one. If he didn’t give a damn about a role, he wasn’t going to try to fool the audience otherwise. Instead, he was going to deliver his lines and kind of smirk with his eyes, his way of subliminally asking the audience, “Are you actually watching this shit?” And while this may have led to Mitchum giving several performances that were unworthy of his talent, it also means that if you see Robert Mitchum actually invested in a role than that means the film must be something really special.
Unfortunately, Agency is not one of those “something really special” films. And Mitchum’s bored performance reflects that fact.
“Just try to make me care.” Robert Mitchum in Agency.
Anyway, under Ted Quinn’s leadership, the ad agency is doing commercials for all the usual clients. The movie starts with one of those commercials — a leather-themed, disco-scored short film extolling the virtues of No Sweat deodorant. And then there’s also the big chocolate energy drink commercial. However, copywriter Sam Goldstein (Saul Rubinek) suspects that Ted might have sinister motives. After a right-wing candidate comes out of nowhere to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, Sam suspects that the deodorant commercial may have contained subliminal messages…
That’s right! It’s exactly like that episode of Saved By The Bell where Zack Morris brainwashed Mr. Belding by giving him that subliminally-spiked tape of the Beach Boys.
Well, before you can say “Zack Morris is a blonde Tom Cruise,” Sam has been murdered and it’s up to Sam’s best friend, Philip Morgan (Lee Majors), to reveal the truth about Ted’s sinister agenda…
Like many U.S.-set thrillers from the 1980s, Agency was actually a Canadian film. Montreal stands in for an unnamed American city where it frequently snows and the supporting cast is full of actors with noticeable Canadian accents. Mind you, that’s not a complaint. I love Canada, I love Canadians, and I especially love Canuxploitation films.
That said, Agency is probably one of the least interesting Canadian thrillers that I’ve ever sat through. (I should add, of course, that I saw Agency on a very low-quality DVD that was released by Miracle Pictures. And I really do have to say that this was absolutely one of the worst transfers that I’ve ever seen. It appears that the DVD was copied from an old VHS tape.) It’s not so much that it’s a terrible film as much as it’s just not a very interesting one. With the exception of Rubinek, the actors go through the motions with little enthusiasm and the story plods along. Maybe back in 1980, the whole idea of subliminal advertising seemed exciting and relevant. But seen today, it just all seems incredibly silly.
So, in the end, Agency did not make me want to headbutt my way through life.
(I still love you, Canada!)
(And you too, Robert Mitchum!)
“Baby, I just don’t give a damn.” Robert Mitchum in Agency.