Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Films of Michael Caine #59: Bullseye!

Cast: Michael Caine (Sidney Lipton, Doctor Daniel Hicklar), Roger Moore (Gerald Bradley-Smith, Sir John Bevistock), Sally Kirkland (Willie), Deborah Barrymore (Flo Fleming), Lee Patterson (Darrell Hyde), Mark Burns (Nigel Holden), Derren Nesbitt (Inspector Grosse), Deborah Leng (Francesca), Christopher Adamson (Death’s Head), Steffanie Pitt (Donna Dutch).

Crew: Michael Winner (director, producer), Leslie Bricusse and Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran (writers), John Du Prez (music), Alan Jones (cinematography), Arnold Crust (editor), John Blezard (production designer).

Synopsis: American scientist Dr Hicklar is in Britain working for Sir John Bevistock, developing cold fusion as a cheap source of energy. When they make a breakthrough, the pair decide to sell their secret to the highest bidder on the black market. The auction is taking place on a tour of stately homes. Two small-time British conmen, Sidney Lipton and Gerald Bradley-Smith, are almost identical doubles of the treacherous scientists. Sidney and Gerald are persuaded to replace Hicklar and Bevistock on the tour. The CIA and MI5 want the crooks to find the formula for cold fusion. But the secret agencies have a hidden agenda. They send the real Hicklar and Bevistock after the impostors. After much double-crossing and confusion, Sidney and Gerald find the formula and sell it to the British Government for £10 million. The pair retire to Barbados, hoping to live happy every after…


Movie producer Menahem Golan wanted Roger Moore and Michael Caine to star in an epic remake of the classic action-adventure film Gunga Din (1939). But the actors declined, pointing out they were far too old to be credible as corporals in the Indian Army. Instead Moore’s agent submitted a script called Train of Events by Oscar-winning songwriter Leslie Bricusse. Nine different scribes contributed to rewriting it. The story was eventually credited to Leslie Bricusse, Michael Winner and Nick Mead, while the screenplay was attributed to Bricusse and British TV sitcom creators Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran.

Winner was appointed director and producer of the $10 million project, with Golan as an executive producer. Filming began in October 1989, shot predominantly on location around London and Scotland, with a short sequence filmed in Barbados. Jerry Pam was Caine’s American publicist at the time. In Michael Freedland’s biography Michael Caine, Pam says he didn’t want Caine to make the picture. ‘I tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined. I think what he really liked was a chance to work with Roger Moore.’

The three-month shoot proved enjoyable, with Caine telling The Sun newspaper how much fun he was having. ‘Roger in particular is quite a trickster. He plays jokes on me all the time. I have to keep watching my back. He has also started on Michael Winner who has quite a short temper, but luckily he has taken it all in good form.’ For one of his dual roles, Caine adopted an American accent that became a running joke on screen.

The film arrived in British cinemas during November 1990, rated 15. Critics were savage and the movie bombed at the box office, grossing less than $200,000. A video released followed in 1991. Bullseye! went straight to VHS in America, making its debut in August 1991 with a PG-13 rating. The film has long since been deleted and has not yet been released on DVD.

Caine rarely discusses this movie. When doing publicity for his Oscar-winning roles in The Cider House Rules (1999), the actor often talked about how tough it was tackling an American accent. He would sometimes recall developing his Southern accent for Hurry Sundown (1967), but never mentioned the American accents he used in Bullseye! or On Deadly Ground (1994).

The actor did take about his lesser films during a public interview at the NFT in 1998: ‘Stinkers creep up on you. You’re sort of doing it and it’s going along, it’s going along, and then one day you go, oh God! What am I doing here? And you think I better make the best of it. I know what I’ll do – this is the review I’ll get for this: the picture stank but as usual Caine gave a good performance.’

Reviews: ‘Bullseye! is a galumphing farce played by two ageing and out-of-condition talents in the overweight shapes of Michael Caine and Roger Moore. A shot of two dogs copulating is funnier by far than anything the two stars manage.’ – Evening Standard
‘An absolute mess, with gags that wouldn’t pass muster in a Carry On film and two stars that make Abbott and Costello look like models of sophistication.’ – Empire

Verdict: What do you call an unfunny comedy? Bullseye! That joke may sound bad, but it’s infinitely funnier than anything to be found in this dreadful mess. Put aside the ludicrous, unbelievable plot. Ignore the feeble attempts to evoke the sort of saucy double entendres on which Benny Hill built a career. Close your ears to the ponderous, pointless voiceover narration delivered by Caine that redundantly explains the plot over and over again. Instead, look at the desperation in Caine’s eyes as he watches his career sailing away towards the sunset. Even in his most excruciating films, Caine rarely gives a bad performance. Bullseye! is an exception. His American accent is the stuff of amateur dramatics, while both Caine and Moore invest their dual roles with the charisma of guppies. Avoid this film at all costs.

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