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ICYMI: If Looks Could Kill (1991)


Before there was a technical term for it, I had a “man crush” on Richard Grieco. Yeah, I admit it. Most of the teen scene in my day that was hooked on 21 Jump Street tuned in to watch Johnny Depp, Dustin Nguyen or even Peter DeLuise, but I was all about Grieco when he showed up in Season 3. There was something instantly appealing about him from the sleek hair, to the sculpted eyebrows, mascara-enhanced eyes, and don’t get me started on that Adonis-type body……so when does a “man crush” just become a crush? Anyway, my fandom was officially solidified after one season of the Jump Street spinoff, Booker (I have it on DVD).

And while Grieco never became a megastar like Depp, he at least got off to a solid cinematic start in 1991’s goofy and surprisingly charming If Looks Could Kill. From Director William Dear (Harry and the Hendersons, Angels in the Outfield) and writers Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad) and Darren Star (Beverly Hills 90210, Sex and the City) comes a sharp spy spoof just six years ahead of the Austin Powers series. The film finds Grieco playing Michael Corbin, a high school senior who is mistaken for an American spy while on a Paris trip with his French class. The mix-up may seem far-fetched but no more unfeasible then a 25-year-old Grieco trying to pass for 18.

Along the way, Grieco is a kid in candy store as he is handed the keys to a suped-up sports car and gadgets galore. He also finds romance with a young Gabrielle Anwar, who joins the mission as a part of her personal vendetta. It sounds pretty standard but this film has plenty of surprises and fun in store.

Half the fun comes from the imaginative gadgets which includes exploding gum (later featured in 1996’s Mission: Impossible), x-ray glasses (later featured in 1999’s The World is Not Enough), and a tuxedo with security measures (later featured in 2002’s The Tuxedo). The other half is supplied by the over-the-top bad guys portrayed by Roger Rees and Linda Hunt. Rees’ Augustus Steranko is intent on ruling over a unified Europe with Hunt’s Isla Grunt as his enforcer, utilizing an imaginative “choker” necklace as her weapon of choice.

The film is light and efficient, with some effective action sequences. Watching it recently I was reminded of 2008’s Get Smart. I do wonder if this film has had something of a cult influence on Hollywood, especially thinking about the featured gadgets. The film also features a cameo, that I will not spoil, from a renowned 60’s rocker as a fellow spy and longtime character actress Robin Bartlett as Grieco’s French teacher, who gets mistaken herself for a Cold War operative known as “The French Teacher.”

The more I think about it, a lot of talent and craft went into If Looks Could Kill. And while it didn’t open up doors in the career of Richard Grieco, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and is far from a “guilty pleasure” for me. In the very least, it’s a better way to spend your evening than watching Depp offerings like The Tourist or Mortdecai.

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